Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the classic British band the Yardbirds entertained an enthusiastic crowd is Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room with an inspired mix of rock and blues. As one of the most influential bands of the ’60’s British Invasion who cross our shores and changed our music forever, the band staged a performance that combined new and old, that had the audience on its feet.
“Fifty years ago today, we were playing Studio 51 in London,” said drummer and founding member Jim McCarty. “We’re thrilled to be playing here today.”
Back with the band after a 50 year hiatus was guitarist Top Topham, an original member of the group. Topham, 15 at the time, was not allowed by his parents to tour with the band, according to McCarty. “They let him play with us now,” said McCarty, getting a laugh from the Harrah’s crowd. Topham has replaced rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, who has retired for heath reasons. Dreja is the Yardbirds original bass player.
Members of today’s group include bassist David Smale, soulful vocalist and blues harp player Andy Mitchell and lead guitarist Ben King. The 30-year-old guitarist King, a versatile musician who is gaining notoriety for his technical skills, played his Stratocaster with the passion, reminiscent of the styles of past Yardbird greats Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
The band got the audience on its feet with Southern blues classics like “Sweet Little Woman” and “Drinking Muddy Water.” When the band belted out the first few chords of their classic hit, “Heart Full of Soul,” I thought I was back listening to an 8-track in my 1967 Javelin.
Not forgetting its roots, the group played more bluesy classics like Jeff Beck’s “The Nazz are Blue,” “Five Long Years,” made famous by Clapton and “Smokestack Lighting.” The band got the audience enthusiastically participating shouting the familiar “Hey!” with its ’60’s hit “Over Under Sideways Down.”
The songs featured several soulful jams between guitarist King and Topham, who is playing only his fourth gig with the band after the half-decade break. The audience appreciated seeing see this style of rock and blues alive and thriving.
Before the group went into its version of Led Zepplin hit “Dazed and Confused,” McCarty said, “this song was taken by Jimmy to his other band, though we were playing it first.” They closed the set with their classic ballad “For Your Love.”
Not wanting the show to end, the crowd, many of whom looked the vintage to have seen the show 50 years prior, demanded an encore. The band responded with the vintage tune “I’m a Man,” complete with a ’60s style female dancer decked out in a tight British flag dress ala Austin Powers.
With the passion and enthusiasm the Yardbirds, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 played, fans might be hearing them play their time-honored hits in another 50 years.
— Author Paul Andrew is a vintage Tahoean who occasionally writes concert reviews for Tahoe Onstage.