The Yardbirds

June 8, 2017
Don The Beachcomber
Huntington Beach, CA

Review by Shawn Perry

In 2011, I wrote a piece called 'Why The Yardbirds Will Always Matter,' based on interviews I had done with two of the band's founding members — drummer Jim McCarty and guitarist Chris Dreja. At the time, they were part of a new Yardbirds lineup that included Andy Mitchell on vocals and harmonica, Ben King on lead guitar, and David Smale on bass.

They were touring the States, playing a repertoire that covered the cream of the crop — "For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul,” "Shapes of Things," “I'm A Man,” “Over Under Sideways Down,” “Train Kept A- Rolling” and “Happening Ten Years Time Ago.” I caught a show at the Coach House, and noted how the night was more a celebration of the songs than the members. That was the challenge for a band that had Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page in its ranks.

I asked McCarty and Dreja about the possibility of making new music with this lineup, and while both were optimistic, they realized the task was easier said than done. “It has to be very Yardbirds,” Dreja said. “It’s not easy getting new songs because it’s a very strong repertoire. It’s difficult to get a song as good as ‘For Your Love’ or ‘Smokestack Lightning,’” McCarty added.

Six years later, the Yardbirds are still at it, though Dreja has retired, leaving McCarty as the sole original member. Ever vigilant to keep the music alive, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer assembled a new lineup in 2015 with guitarist Johnny A, bassist Kenny Aaronson, singer, blues harpist and percussionist Myke Scavone, and lead singer and guitarist John Idan. This time, I didn't get the chance to talk with McCarty or any of the other members about their plans, but I did catch a 75-miinute set they played right around the corner from my house at a quaint restaurant and bar called Don The Beachcomber.

They've just started to book touring bands at Don The Beachcomber, and by all accounts, it just might pan out. The Hidden Village Room is festooned with an inviting, tropical flavor of bamboo and tiki decor. Tonight it was packed with an odd mix of Tommy Bahama boomers who rarely creep out past the persnickety confines of Huntington Harbour and younger hipster types, appropriately coiffed and tatted, seemingly hoping the magic of a golden bygone era would rub off and make life meaningful again. Never would such a combination of people assemble together under any other circumstances. It says a lot about the transcendent power of music.

The Yardbirds certainly looked the part — smart haircuts and buttoned-down collared shirts befitting of both the band's legacy and the venue. We were assured of their authenticity when a kind-hearted bumbler standing behind us in the beer line exclaimed: "I've seen them a million times. They're great." We'd have to take him on his word until 9:15, which is when the Yardbirds appeared on stage and fired off "Heart Full of Soul."

Right out of the gate, it was obvious the songs are what’s being celebrated with this unit. Johnny A extrapolated the leads to service the songs, instead of trying to hotshot his way to the Hall of Clapton, Beck and Page. Aaronson, a veteran who's logged studio and stage time with Bob Dylan, Neal Schon, Billy Idol and a host of others, firmly manned the bottom end with McCarty ably keeping pace. Idan, at times, sounded a lot like Keith Relf is that nasally tone that provided the bite. Most impressively, Scavone blew some serious harp on nuggets like "I'm A Man" and "I Ain't Got You," and nicely enhanced songs like "For Your Love" and "Shapes Of Things" with bongos and tambourine.

If anything, the spirit of the music was captured. Hearing "Evil Hearted You" transformed the whole room back to 1965, as a group of dancers at stage right appeared like a trip out of Swinging London’s Marquee Club. Minor confusion set in when they went into "I'm Confused," Jimmy Page's precursor to Led Zeppelin's "Dazed And Confused." Someone earlier in the evening had yelled out "Whole Lotta Love," and McCarty snapped, "No, that's Led Zeppelin." Without the violin bow and Robert Plant's wailing vocals, parameters were established, though the song was well received and finished off the main set.

It didn’t take much persuasion to bring the band back out for a two-song encore of "Train Kept A Rollin'" and "I'm A Man." Everyone was on their feet, some dancing wildly — so wildly, a woman shook her hips into a drink-filled cocktail table next to yours truly and proceeded to soak my left leg in rum, triple sec and pineapple juice. The bartender took pity and poured me a free beer. If Clapton, Beck or Page had been on that stage, it would have probably played out in a similar manner. Only the drinks would have been spiked and the crowd a little less nostalgic.

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