(Guest Review by Gentleman John Battles) It's been several years since we last caught up with The Yardbirds. The previous lineup did two shows in Chicago and two in Addison, Illinois, but, the band hasn’t been seen here, one of their true spiritual homes, in about a decade. Timely visits to YouTube find the lads still going at it, full steam ahead, but with significant line-up changes. Since the last time they played in Chicago, The Yardbirds' Singer, bass player and Keith Relf-channel-er, John Idan, a native of Detroit, has been replaced by Andy Mitchell on vocals and harmonica, plus David Smale on bass. Former lead guitarist, Gypie Mayo (Late of Dr. Feelgood.) has also stepped down, with Ben King now handling lead guitar duties. Original band members, drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja remain with the group, however, Dreja has recently taken ill, and is still in recovery . It was not possible for him to join this edition of The Yardbirds on their second tour of the states (the band did a brief tour of the states a while back, but, were not able to play Chicagoland).
So when The Yardbirds took the stage at Space in Evanston, Illinois fans could have been forgiven for not knowing what to expect . I spoke with some of my younger friends who weren’t able to catch the band on the last go 'round. We all trusted McCarty to bring ace musicians with him, and agreed to go in with an open mind .Naturally, I couldn’t help bragging a bit about the previous shows I'd seen, and still considered these gigs a very probable indication of what was in store, regardless of the radically altered line-up.
"Train Kept A-Rollin',” frequently the set opener in The 60s, kicked things off. Ben King produced a hard-hitting sound from the word "Go,” owing as much to Jeff Beck as to those that inspired him, in this case, Paul Burlison from The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio. The band did not waiver from there, pulling out what the groovy hipster creeps call "Deep Cuts" (In other words, great songs you won't hear on the radio), pulling heavily from the band's Psychedelic peak. "Little Games,” "Lost Woman,” "Drinking Muddy Water,” "Rack My Mind,” "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” "Think About It,” "I'm Confused " aka "Dazed and Confused,” the song many consider the gateway drug from The Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin. I don't buy that, but I walk the less-travelled path, the one scattered, occasionally, with Yardbirds rarities (one is strongly advised to investigate the new "Glimpses" CD set), and where Led Zeppelin is tolerated only in very small doses.
Singer Andy Mitchell was very good at getting the crowd worked up. His vocal stylings are of a decidedly more "modern" bent than John Idan's, but he sang with conviction, and seemed dedicated to the idea that these songs were not "Oldies,” and could be, arguably, treated differently every time. But, I think it's fair to say the whole band felt that way. Even when they did play the hits, they all brought something new to the table, something not lost on Jim McCarty, a non-argumentative bandleader who carried the set like an old school jazz drummer, keen to feature new talent. As a matter of fact, "For Your Love" came on harder than anyone had a right to expect. David Smale handled the bass with fluidity and injected his own personality into the mix, not out to replicate Paul Samswell-Smith, but, like the others, do something different, while sustaining his influence. It is a decidedly different band from previous incarnations, and in that, they are a confident and strong ensemble of musicians. As noted earlier, Ben King drew from Rockabilly and Country as well as the Blues, coming on like a seasoned pro, despite his years, but, also a proper student of Beck and Page, not content to merely ape their records. It has to be stated, also, that Andy Mitchell plays one mean Chicago blues harp. The future of The Yardbirds remains secure, if people will only realize that this is a hardworking band, dedicated to doing it up proper. When Chris Dreja returns to his place on guitar, they will, inarguably, be coming on that much stronger. "Very Hot and Still Alive, Five Live Yardbirds!”