Before Led Zeppelin there was The Yardbirds.
Before Cream and The Jeff Beck Group, there was The Yardbirds. This is an immutable fact that cannot be rewritten to suit another’s version of rock n’ roll history. The Yardbirds were the proving grounds for some of rock’s legendary guitarists…Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton.
This petrie dish of rock innovation brought to my generation some of the best music to come out of The British Invasion of the Sixties. That innovation includes Jimmy Page playing his guitar with a violin bow. Page was ahead of his time when it came to bringing unusual progressions to the table. Double guitars, the theremin and very old British madrigals from the 1600s (Stairway To Heaven) to name just a few.
When The Yardbirds played Catalina Island’s Avalon Ballroom and Casino in 1966, I did manage to see them, but a lot of that show and its details have been lost over the decades. During the tour of 1967, The Yardbirds were managed by the future manager of Led Zeppelin…Peter Grant.
What does remain is the sounds of this phenomenal band which play in my head anytime there is a lull in my activities where I have to wait in line for something or take a train or airplane.
I can remember many a squabble in college over the evolution of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, and the squabble would always be brought to me to settle. Yes, Jimmy Page played with The Yardbirds before pulling Led Zeppelin together. In fact, Page had inherited The New Yardbirds and was working on filling already booked gigs with a new line-up. Yes, Eric Clapton did something to Jeff Beck’s sister that caused a huge rift between the musicians. Thankfully, there was never the scandal with this legacy as there was with the death of The Rolling Stones’ bass player Brian Jones where there is much lore still circulated about his “murder” over other band members’ desire to take control of the band and change its direction. Jones’ death is on the books as a drowning and not murder.
On June 7, 2018, L.A. was gifted with a gig provided by The Yardbirds at The Fonda Theater in Hollywood that was one for the books.
I almost was guilty of selling this groundbreaking band short due to its age and various line-ups over the decades. After listening to the chatter on social media of fans and musicians telling how this current line-up is the best since the original band hit the road, I had to go and check it out. Jim McCarty and I have been chatting back and forth for a few years on social media and I have gotten to know the veteran drummer for The Yardbirds in a more personal way. This led to my getting permission to video them at this show.
I’m glad that I didn’t underestimate them, as this show rocked the building. It didn’t make the plaster fall off of the ceiling like they did at their Catalina gig, but this was an exceptional interpretation of original material by The Yardbirds 2018.
All around me, people were saying that they had been following this particular version of The Yardbirds around the country and it was the best one since the originals. Also, after the show, many people said it was the best show yet on this tour. When the doors first opened it was pretty thin in the theatre and I was getting pretty nervous. The security guards said that there had only been 200 tickets sold. As the clocked inched closer to showtime The Fonda began filling up. I’m told that there were around 100 people in the lobby sitting as well and listening to them.
This stellar line-up for the 2018 version of The Yardbirds are Kenny Aaronson on bass; John Idan vocals and guitar; Jim McCarty on drums; Myke Scavone percussion and backing vocals; Johnny Antonopoulos on lead guitar. Granted that McCarty is the only original member of The Yardbirds, but this particular line-up are seasoned musicians in their own right which blends well with the bangin’ drums that McCarty brings to the table. There are no extended drum solos, and endless jamming from these guys, but that’s ok because I didn’t come to hear that. I wanted and expected tunes from the original line-up of Jim McCarty, Keith Relf, Chris Dreja and the revolving door of lead guitar maestros. That is what I got. I closed my eyes and note for note it nearly registered perfectly. There were a few variations and a bit of panache that could not be duplicated, but that was to be expected because all musicians bring with them their own particular style which is just what these rock n’ roll veterans did.
“Smokestack Lightin,” “Dazed and Confused” and “The Train Kept A Rollin’” demonstrated the influence of the original members while wonderfully executed by this current line-up. All are guitar-driven songs which is what The Yardbirds are well known for given who their former guitar players are.
A faithful interpretation of “Shapes of Things,” “For Your Love,” “Evil Hearted You,” “I’m Not Talking,” “You’re A Better Man Than I,” “Heart Full Of Soul,” “I’m A Man” was not possible, but it came as close as it could. Keep in mind that I own The Yardbirds on CD and on my iPod and I have had many an opportunity to memorize each song as I am sure their other fans have done as well as many musicians that were in attendance. On the cover of “The Best Of Yardbirds” has a cover photo of McCarty, Page, Beck, Relf and Dreja which I’m guessing are the ones featured playing on this 2008 release which is the one I listen to the most when I am home.
Johnny Antonopoulos intrigued me with his personification of a seasoned road warrior much the same as Jeff Beck did back in the day when I saw him. I loved that he came onto the stage wearing a black vest and a white t-shirt. Not wanting to sell the other members of this ensemble short, I will add that Aaronson and Scavone added a dash of cool and hepcat attitudes matched by the younger Idan’s wanting to blend in with the others’ brilliance, but seemed to be afraid to cut loose and actually play with the others as they did amongst themselves. While the others would move in close to each other and in front of McCarty’s drum kit, Idan just hung by the right side of the stage. Also, the vocals were hard to make out a lot of the time and was wondering about the sound person and their ability to mix the vocals better. Idan did come close to Relf with the vocals and I didn’t feel let down when the band broke into their encore song of “I’m A Man.” I think that Idan is the youngest member of this line-up.
I think perhaps Facebook friend and musician Bil “Wild Bil” McCombe said it best for all of the concert goers. “This is the litmus test for sure, my first concert was seeing The Yardbirds in 1967. I’ve seen every line-up since 2000 and I think this is the best overall crew of great players who are also fans of the music.”
When the show was over I wandered over to the merchandise table and purchased McCarty’s book “Nobody Told Me!” which has an introduction by The Yardbirds’ guitarist Jimmy Page. The book is very interesting and chronicles McCarty’s life and features lots of photos which lends more to the interest of the book. McCarty autographed my copy and did remember that I wrote for the NoHo Arts District. McCarty is in his 70s now, but apparently, still has it because on his way to the merchandise table a younger female fan jumped out and grabbed at him. I think she even planted a kiss on him.
A shout out to my BFF friend “Lennie” for allowing me to convince her to come to meet me at the theatre and enjoy the show.
While traveling around the area to attend my favorite street artist Teachr and one of my favorite writing subjects, I’ve met a multi-talented young man by the name of James Shen. He’s a DJ, a promoter, art enthusiast and now host of a podcast he calls “Paint The Town” on Soundcloud. Some might recognize his name as he has DJed at The Federal.
He recently hosted Teachr and Colette Miller whose “Wings” Street Art can be seen all around L.A. as well as the world. Miller has been traveling the globe with her “Global Wings Project” and has had some pretty harrowing experiences most notably in Mexico where the cartels’ are a scary proposition. Miller has also traveled to Africa, Egypt, China, France and Japan to pursue her “Global Wings Project.” Miller has also performed in the punk rock genre.
Miller’s intent behind the wings is to put up life-size wings to inspire people to find their inner angel.
At the close of the show, Shen gave the NoHo Arts District a shout out as always being supportive.
Go to soundcloud.com\pttshow to catch the latest show.