Yak, Skinny Girl Diet – Village Underground, London, UK (16th October 2017)

Technical glitches ahead of Yak’s appearance mean it takes three attempts to get their intro music going. It’s a trippy, proggy keyboard track, accompanied by a knot of fans in the pit shouting “Yak, Yak, Yak”. A monster low-end synth resonates while the beat builds up, augmented by whirling guitar and thundering bass. This is ‘Harbour The Feeling’, the first number in a 13-song set that keeps the trio on stage for over an hour. The term “on stage” is not literally true — singer/guitarist Oli Burslem spends a lot of time throwing himself into the pit, while bassist Vinny Davis is off stage fixing a string during most of ‘Words Fail Me’. The set is chaotic and energetic.

Far less showmanship and posturing is on display earlier, from support Skinny Girl Diet. The band have entered a new phase as a guitar/drum two-piece, after bassist Amelia Cutler left earlier this year. They’ve adjusted well, ripping through nine songs in about half an hour. Skinny Girl Diet guitarist/lead singer Delilah Holliday defiantly opens with the grungy ‘Okay’, drawling “You can knock me down, Kick me on the ground, But I, I won’t give up today.” 

She turns up the guitar reverb for ‘Yeti’, evoking the throaty roar of a motorbike engine. The song’s thrash rock ’n’ roll ending is fast and heavy, laced with punk attitude. The guitar on ‘Lazy Eye’, tonight’s third and final track from album ‘Heavy Flow’, screeches over a big deep end, while drummer Ursula Holliday joins in on vocals. By now, the small band of energetic teens in the pit is moshing enthusiastically.

‘Witch Of The Waste’ rattles up through the gearbox, Delilah screaming “oooowwww” and delivering a splintered guitar solo. The dim lighting turns from red to blue for the swaying hypnosis of ‘Fire’ and to yellow for the monstrous fuzzing reverb and buzz-saw whiplash of ‘Human Zoo’, Ursula drumming frenetically into a thrash metal ending. ‘Ideal Woman’ is a twisted love song… the protagonist cries, dies, changes her clothes, her soul and her eyes; and all for some object of desire. 

The compact group of moshers is by now in full flow, no more than a dozen of them, who make up for their lack of numbers by dialling up the energy for the last three songs. Delilah’s guitar throbs, bristles, shakes and quakes while Ursula’s drums snap even more loudly towards the end of the set.

Energy levels stay high for Yak. Their tight band of fans moshes concentratedly, but not in front of the centre of the stage. Instead, they are off so one side, drawn to Burslem. He gives them the mic to shout back his lyrics and falls into their arms. Trouser-shaking heavy riffs define the sound, mixed with psychedelic grooves from Burslem’s guitar and keyboard (sometimes both at the same time) as he channels Jim Morrison. Circular drums and bass accelerate and Burslem extemporises on classic vocals (“he’s got the whole world in his hands”) in post-modern fashion.

The throw-back ’60s psychedelia is emphasised by Burslem’s use of a wah-wah pedal. His howling “rock god”-style vocalising on a psyched-out cover of soul rarity ‘All I Need is Some Sunshine’ invites more singalongs from the hardcore fans, while Skinny Girl Diet dance at the side of the stage. 

One, two, three, eight,Burslem says to count in the slowly psyching ‘Smile’ and, after riffing on “warm leatherette” like Grace Jones crossed with Morrison, he dives onto the mosh pit. It doesn’t quite catch him, but he’s soon shoulder high. Fast, wired rock on the next few tracks highlight how Yak do slow-fast but, aside from the occasional screech on Burslem’s guitar, the sound is resolutely low resonance. As much as the groove, a Yak show is about his antics (throwing and swinging guitars, smashing an amp screen, jumping into the crowd, tossing mic stands). Burslem delights the adoring Yak fans in front of him, and that’s the point.

Yak setlist from Village Underground:
Harbour the Feeling
Heavens Above
Roll Another
Take It
White Carnivore
All I Need is Some Sunshine [Dixie Nightingales cover]
Alas Salvation
Use Somebody
Words Fail Me
Victorious (National Anthem)
Hungry Heart

Skinny Girl Diet setlist:
Lazy Eye
Witch Of The Waste
Human Zoo
Ideal Woman
La Sirena