A review of last month’s Live At Leeds festival, written for a university project.
Just like the build-up to Christmas, the festival season seems to start earlier every year. And with the weather as unpredictable as it has been lately, the first day of May seems a little premature to be thinking about spending a weekend in a field vomiting into your wellies.
Fortunately, Live At Leeds eases its audience into the festival routine a little more gently. The event engulfs 17 of the city’s best venues, cramming 170 bands into the Saturday all-dayer. Which is good news for camping-sceptics and discerning indie consumers alike.
After meeting up with Yonderboy for a chat at the Brudenell Social Club (see below), Fused scurries into the city centre to catch the cacophonous closing bars of Sheffield’s Rolo Tomassi. Latecomers struggle to squeeze into the tiny Cockpit backroom, but the sheer force of the band’s feral hardcore sound could set off nosebleeds in Headingley.
Vessels, who follow, seem relaxed by contrast. But that is not to ignore the complex framework on which they hang their ideas. Their opening track is a slow-builder, which develops layers of melody into eventually a pulsating post-rock colossus. The track’s progression feels compellingly organic, though as their set progresses, their imagination seems to stagnate, and the structure of their songs begins to meander rather than captivate.
The slack is confidently picked up by Yonderboy, whose songs articulate a distinctive character, enthusiasm and energy that underpins them. The band must perspire hooks, because their set is full of them, and they are all tightly woven together within tight parameters that define them as recognisably their own. This resolute focus suggests a band of few insecurities, whose performance struts from quiet concentration to frantic irreverence.
Over at Leeds University Stylus, Lightspeed Champion (a.k.a. Dev Hynes) is showing similar confidence – though with him it feels misplaced. Opening his set with The Beatles’ ‘It Won’t Be Long’, Hynes sets the standard of songwriting a little too high too early. His jangly pop tunes are sweet enough, and on a technical level, their composition and performance show skill. Unfortunately, in trying to match up to the great songwriters of the past, Hynes is too backwardly referential. In a sense his ambition should be applauded, but his talent is lost in the whitewash of nostalgia. Ultimately, his set loses relevance, as he shows he has yet to write anything as timeless as John, Paul or George (sorry Ringo).
Next door at the Refectory, The Bronx offer a welcome respite from the chronically self-aware indie bands that dominate the festival. Their loud-as-fuck hardcore punk prompts and promotes a string of wildly reckless circle pits, which in its own warped way makes it energising to see a band who can invoke absolute anarchy for an hour. Admittedly there is little in their music to set them apart from a host of other bands (fans of early Thrice, for example, will feel at home), The Bronx are special in the way they deliver their songs. Few other bands perform with this kind of unreserved fury, which attaches importance not to what The Bronx play, but how they play it.
‘Furious’ would not be a word to describe The Crookes, who played at Mine in the Leeds Students’ Union. Back in Sheffield where the quartet met at University, praise has been coming their way for a while, and it would be unfair to suggest that their set feels like a half hour that could have been better spent. But it has to be said that The Crookes are a band who play very safe. Their upbeat twee Vampire Weekend-esque balladry is likeable, but is unlikely to inspire a musical revolution. Jerking around the stage, the band put a lot of energy into their performance, but the songs themselves are too anonymous to get overly excited about. Similarly, casting themselves as privately educated fops in their teddy boy shirt sleeves seems like more of a gimmick than an honest subversion of contemporary trends.
Back upstairs at the Refectory and Blood Red Shoes prove bigger isn’t better, as Laura-Mary Carter on guitar and Steve Ansell on drums fuse ferocity with eloquence. Fitting somewhere in between Bikini Kill and Death From Above 1979, their grungy set is tight and leaves a lasting impression, creating a spectacle of its raw simplicity. They do lose some of their edge in a room this size, but Blood Red Shoes just manage to assert their paradoxically huge sound.
Sky Larkin close the festival back at The Well in the town centre. After a few secret shows earlier in the year, this is the Leeds trio’s first proper headline show for some time. In it, they showcase material from their forthcoming second album, sees them exploring the spaces in between the sound they established on The Golden Spike. At times they are faster and punkier than ever before, while at others they shrug off the three-minute pop song strait jacket, in favour of more ambitious motifs and highly developed melodies.
These new tracks, combined with imaginatively wild renditions of singles ‘Beeline’ and ‘Molten’, set Sky Larkin on a promising path towards revitalising their sound without losing their character. This set confirms them, much as it confirms Live At Leeds in general, as one of Yorkshire’s most interesting, exciting and inspiring projects.
- robertcooke posted this