Timeless Yardbirds soar with vintage rock

“Come tomorrow, will I be older?
Come tomorrow, may be a soldier
Come tomorrow, may I be bolder than today?

Now the trees are almost green
But will they still be seen
When time and tide have been?

Fallin’ into your passing hands
Please don’t destroy these lands
Don’t make them desert sands”

“Shapes of Things,” the Yardbirds

Although the Yardbirds first self-written song to reach the singles’ charts was released in 1965, issues of the day really haven’t changed.

“Shapes of Things,” which featured feedback from Jeff Beck’s guitar, is widely considered, the first psychedelic rock song. The Yardbirds performed at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe June 21, providing a flashback to the songs from the group’s short heyday, 1964-67. It was the contemporary Yardbirds fourth recent appearance in the South Shore Room. I am lucky to say I have been to all of them, and the sound was the best it’s been. It might have been the band’s best performance there, as well.

Singer-harpist Andy Mitchell performed with a loud yet tasteful confidence, which surely is a challenge for filling the spot of the late Keith Relf. Original Jim McCarty played as greatly as his peer Ginger Baker, and without the drama. His work on the drums was the highlight of the show. He and bassist David Smale kept the rhythm tight and never rushed.

While the Yardbirds are best known for lead guitarists Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, the original guitarist was Anthony “Top” Topham, whose parents made him quit because he was just 15 and they didn’t want to travel. Topham lamented he would have earned twice the wages his father made. But he had a good career as a session player and performer. Topman became a Yardbird again 50 years later when original rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja left for health reasons.

Now 66, Topham, the second guitarist, was allowed a solo on “My Baby,” and he played it flawlessly.

The gunslinger nowadays is Ben King. We have watched him grow from young prodigy. “I’m A Man,” applies to King, who at times made his Les Paul sound as if his first name was Albert.

The Yardbirds debut album featured covers by bluesmen Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Slim Harpo and John Lee Hooker. As it evolved and the guitarists revolved, it became the pioneering rock band. Its last album included the song “Glimpses,” which Page rearranged to “Dazed and Confused” with Led Zeppelin.

The Yardbirds played their greatest hits during a set that was longer than a typical South Shore Room show. Songs included “Five Long Years,” “Drinking Muddy Water,” “Smokestack Lightning,” “Train Kept-A Rollin,’ ” “I’m a Man,” “Heartful of Soul,” “For Your Love” “Back Where I Started,” “I’m Not Talkin,’ ” and “Over Under Sideways Down.”

It was a rock ’n’ roll history review with contemporary relevance and revelry.

Editor’s note: Photography by John C. Cocores

About Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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