As is the yearly tradition, it’s impossible to go five minutes in Live At Leeds without hearing a chorus of “Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!” or “Yooooorkshire!” (and repeat). Local pride swells up in the streets and couple-of-dozen participating venues. The surest test of success at the fest, then, is if these customary chants get replaced by band names. 2015 sees familiar faces and baby-faced newcomers getting the treatment, from “Cribs! Cribs! Cribs” to “Yak! Yak! Yak!” By the end of play, bands are sharing the spoils with the city’s very own rep.
One hour into the festival’s long stretch - which surges past midnight without any second thoughts - it’s early in the day for Live At Leeds, but you wouldn’t be able to tell over at the O2 Academy. The room’s packed out for Dry The River, whose majestic offerings resound around the room. Unsurprisingly, ‘No Rest’ goes down a right treat and, despite suffering a few technical difficulties earlier on in the set, the band’s time on stage is an early treat.
Leeds Beckett, Leeds Met, whatever we’re calling it these days, it isn’t long before it’s packed for Menace Beach. On their own turf, it’s easy to see why. A year before they played the same venue, pre-album, and smashed it out of the park. With a full-length now behind them, they’re even better - scuzzy but catchy rugged gems at every turn.
Clue’s in the name for The Big Moon. Every one of their tightly-wound songs contains at least one werewolf howl, Juliette Jackson letting out an “ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh!” without warning. If Jackson’s gone a bit doo-lally, she’s not the only one. It’s early days for these four, but they have a bright spark, a dynamic that doesn’t strike mere humans. They even manage to transform Madonna’s ‘Beautiful Stranger’ into a rabid beast. Nothing’s standing in the way of these curious, howling newcomers.
It’s easy to have more questions than answers about Rat Boy. Why is he Periscope-ing his gigs? Where did he get that Burberry-decorated Rover for his music videos? And how the hell did he get this big so quickly? Kids flock towards this Essex kid and his barely-out-of-school backing band. Collectively they probably have more fake IDs than instruments, but they do a great job of enlivening Jordan Cardy’s scrappy demos into fire-breathing giants. It results in the fest’s biggest stage invasion. There’s a momentum behind Rat Boy that can’t be replicated right now. He might not be doing anything drastically new, but bloody hell does he have a following.
This isn’t the biggest, most engaged crowd Gengahr will play to in 2015, but the London four-piece use relative sparseness to their own advantage. With debut album ‘A Dream Outside’ out next month, they decide to experiment. ‘Dark Star’ - a smart, disjointed highlight from their debut LP - gets its first ever live outing. ‘Where I Lie’ is another new number, adding a nightmarish slant to their already deadly material. Holding it all together is a ridiculously tight rhythm-section, one that won’t be rivalled all weekend.
Yak’s Oliver Burslem wouldn’t stop playing if he had the choice. Like a puppy wading through a sea of chewy treats, he’s never more at home than when he’s on stage. A beaming grin spreads wide across his face throughout, while bassist Andy Jones and drummer Elliot Rawson follow the frontman’s every move. Half the time it looks like Yak are making it up on the spot. Spontaneity serves them well, in that case. They deliver one of Live At Leeds’ defining sets. Burslem climbs stage interior, shreds his guitar on any flat surface he can find and turns old-school organs upside-down. Interacting with the crowd, photographers and his own weird imagination, Burslem is a star, and there’s no stopping Yak’s rise.
The hype machine is only really getting started in earnest with Black Honey, but from the looks of today, they’re ready for it. After a 2014 shrouded in secrecy, in 2015 they’ve arrived. More robust live than on record, Izzy B Phillips’ occasional pitch perfect yelps showcase the kind of talent that most bands would fall flat with if they dared try it on stage.
Bloody Knees, on the other hand, just want to get on with it. Demanding the Brudenell crowd gets closer, they’re determined to start a party. Specifically a birthday party for drummer Tom Wilkes. It works, too - with grown men taking selfies on shoulders of their mates, it’s never quiet when this lot are about.
As if that wasn’t enough, they’re back in the audience, starting a pit to make sure it goes off for The Magic Gang too. The fact that The Magic Gang aren’t the sort of act to strictly need a pit matters not. Fresh off the back of touring with Wolf Alice, both bands find themselves front and centre of a scene of new bands itching to break through. Elsewhere in the audience are members of Swim Deep, Crows and Black Honey. Every song sounds like a not-too-far-in-the-future anthem. Something special is happening, don’t expect it to be too long until the world wakes up to it either.
Opening tonight’s proceedings at Leeds Town Hall is not for the faint-hearted but luckily, Dutch Uncles are anything but shy. Faced with a full room of punters from the get-go, their quirky musical cuts provide an addictive introduction to the evening. Darting around the stage lights and throwing shapes like there’s no tomorrow - we’re looking at you, Duncan Wallis - here are a band as intriguing and interesting as they are pure-fun.
Nashville group Bully are a must-see May fest staple. A stopover in their first ever UK tour, tonight’s Beckett set is a lesson in force. There’s purpose in Alicia Bognanno’s every move, her voice seething with as much venom as the band’s thrashing power chords. ‘Brainfreeze’ and ‘I Remember’ are maniacal bursts of energy, but Bully have a brilliant habit of making the extreme seem effortless.
Nowadays it’s not often that a show will go uninterrupted by the glare of mobile phone backlighting but for anyone in attendance at Tobias Jesso Jr.’s set this evening, taking photos is buried at the back of their minds. Whether he’s tinkling on the ivories or picking up a guitar, the singer is enrapturing throughout. Entirely charismatic - who else could get away with declaring any and all of his fuck ups? - and wonderfully unpredictable, he’s a pleasure to watch. The only pity is that his thirty minutes is up all too soon.
There’s no time for a breather by the time Spring King arrive at the Brudenell. Not even after frontman-slash-drummer Tarek Musa’s desperate requests. “Can we do a jazzy one or something?” he asks his band as they relentlessly race through bratty garage punk like there’s some kind of timer that’ll self-destruct instruments if they play any slower. Usain Bolt would have trouble keeping up with this. Straight out the blocks and surging to the finish line, jazz numbers will have to wait.
There are no ifs or buts about it: tonight, really, all that most of Leeds want to do is watch The Cribs. That much is evident from the one in-one out queue alone. Granted, the choice of venue might feel a little salubrious when the pints start flying but there’s magic in the air tonight as the brotherly trio take to the stage at Leeds Town Hall for the first time in a decade. Unsurprisingly, they’ve come prepared: whether showcasing new material or running through the golden oldies, the crowd meet their every turn with roars of approval. Ryan Jarman might start thing off by asking, “Leeds, are you ready to rock?” but it doesn’t take long to figure out that the answer is, “well, duh.”
It says a lot about the reception for Slaves’ Brudenell-closing set when Laurie Vincent can ditch his guitar and crowdsurf between songs. No music and just rabid chants of local pride would do the job, but that doesn’t stop the two-piece from living up to headliner status with a relentless set. Twenty seconds in and Isaac Holman’s decided it’s too stuffy for a puffa jacket, so it’s sleeves up, drum sticks out and off they fly. There isn’t much that can rival Slaves when they’re in their prime, and it’s this live rep that’s seen them soar from Kent thrashers to a national concern. A mix of the theatrical and outrageous, this is a set that proves these two are where they deserve to be. And it can only end one way - in a boozy, celebratory medley of “Yorkshire!” “Leeds!” and “Slaves!” chants.
Photos: Emma Swann. Words: Stephen Ackroyd, Sarah Jamieson, Jamie Milton.
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