While seemingly stuck between the rock of wax museum replication and the hard place of breaking new ground, the reunited Yardbirds — keyed by founders Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty — wriggled free rather easily at this buoyant show, the Yardbirds’ first Gotham appearance in more than three decades.
Opening with a spiky, breathless version of “I’m Not Talkin’ ” and running through such blues chestnuts as “I’m a Man” and “I Wish You Would,” the quintet eschewed ephemeral frills, not to mention treacly testaments about the joy of rising from rock history’s boneyard. About half of “Birdland,” the band’s return, recently issued on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label, is given over to revisions of old favorites — a percentage that was a bit higher at this perf — but most of those songs took on new shapes, befitting the band’s original rep as an improvisatory force to be reckoned with.
The set’s more tailored pop numbers — “For Your Love,” “Heart Full of Soul” — sounded quite stilted, but when the time came, guitarist Gypie Mayo and singer-bassist John Idan showed a predilection for tightly wound extemporization — one that peaked on set-ending takes on “Train Kept A-Rollin’ ” and “Dazed and Confused.”
Neither Idan nor Mayo was positioned as a Yardbirdsmania cast member: The singer did recall the late Keith Relf from time to time — particularly on the set’s moodier, less blues-inflected numbers — but he stopped short of the sort of mimicry that often proves the undoing of new recruits.
Mayo — a Brit veteran whose longest stint came as a member of Dr. Feelgood — was likewise free to throw his own shapes. His angular playing was most reminiscent of Jeff Beck, bringing a fractious energy to bygone hits like “I Wish You Would” as well as fresh material, notably the stuttering “Don’t Tell Me ‘Bout the News.”
Studio return is chockablock with big-name cameo appearances, foregone at this perf. Band was joined, midway through the 90-minute set, by Boston blues veteran Johnny A, but his contributions didn’t figure all that prominently in the mix.
The Yardbirds play the House of Blues in Los Angeles on June 25.