For anyone with an interest in discovering new music, Live at Leeds is invariably a boon, and getting down early doors and taking a punt or two can often yield unexpected highlights. With 2016 marking its tenth anniversary of the event that effectively launches the festival season, the lineup was a classic example of why Live at Leeds is such a great day out. Striking a balance between big names, local acts and (inter)national emerging talent while showcasing the full span of the city’s venues, it’s got the lot. Chances are a number of the acts playing the smaller venues this year will be major-league players in a year or two’s time. This year, my itinerary was planned to accommodate as broad a range of bands and venues as possible, without killing myself by running miles between the four corners of Leeds in the process.
And so having picked Fighting Caravans on the second stage at The Beckett because they looked to be one of the more interesting acts on at midday and in a venue near the Arena where the wristband exchange is located, I held no real expectations. Any expectations I may have had were completely reconfigured within a couple of minutes: their brand of twisted country and dark Americana is delivered with a psychotic energy. The moustachioed front man is gloriously volatile, flailing maniacally, kicking mic stands into the crowd and leaping from the stage recklessly and without regard for his safety or that of the audience. You just don’t expect to witness this kind of pint-spilling mayhem at midday, and they not only make a serious impression, but an astounding start to the day.
Strolling over to The Belgrave for some more early doors local talent, ZoZo deliver a lively set amalgamating hyperactive Gang of Four-style choppy guitars and funk-influenced bass grooves sliding into post-punk reggae in the vein of The Slits to a decent-sized and enthusiastic crowd. The singer’s twitchy movements, paired with a hectoring vocal style provided a unique twist, and the manic sax worked well. But what’s with the rolled-up jeans?
With time to kill before Holy Esque, I landed at Oporto just as Face are about to play. It’s a terrible name, and they look horrendous: the singer’s wearing a tassled leather jacket and studded shoed and the bassist’s wearing a hipster vest under his open shirt. There’s something familiar about this mysterious act with no music or images on-line, and I later discover I’ve endured them in their previous incarnation of Team Modeliste, playing in the very same venue. Musically, they’re even worse than they look: a poor man’s Wham! with some of the most vacuous lyrics about sensible and happy faces, it’s beyond heinous. Sometimes, it’s healthy to contrast music you enjoy with music you don’t. But there’s simply no excuse for this kind of vapid bilge, so after a couple of songs, was time to nip round the corner for a restorative bevvy at the Brewdog pub while waiting out their set.
Glasgow foursome Holy Esque more than compensate though. An unusual lineup comprising drums, two guitars and synths (including synth bass), they serve up impassioned indie with dark undercurrents. The heavy-duty drumming and textured guitar sounds clearly owe a debt to The Twilight Sad, but singer Pat Hynes’s vibrato vocal has hints of Feargal Sharkey about it. They’ve got a real energy about them, too, and it all adds up to a strong performance.
While waiting for Holy Esque to begin their set, I got chatting to a guy who was off to see FEWS at A Nation of Shopkeepers and was after directions. With a gap in the itinerary, it seemed like an idea to head over too. And lo, the Swedish act proved to be a complete revelation. Image-wise, they’re unusual, to say the least, and it’s obvious they’re not from round these parts. Musically, they’re of another planet, fusing psychedelic alt-rock with an insistent krautrock sensibility. They’re unaccustomed to playing in the daytime, and they’re amazed people are drinking at this hour (it’s 4pm and most of the audience have been on the sauce for four hours already).The final song of the set is a ten-minute tornado, which sees the mic passed around the venue while the band create a maelstrom of sound. The crowd go berserk, and rightly so. So a big thanks to Dave (I didn’t catch his last name) for that, and certainly no regrets for checking them out instead of queueing round the block for two hours to see Mystery Jets at the O2 (although kudos to the organisers for – once again – putting on a big name early in the afternoon to get people down: it’s a scheduling trick that serves Live at Leeds well).
The big news of the day was the cancellation of poster-girl and major-name draw Jess Glynne due to ill health. Leeds punks Kleine Schweine took great delight in announcing that it was because she’d died, before asking ‘who the fuck is Jess Glynne anyway?’ There’s nothing subtle about their full-throttle, old-school politically-driven punk racket. With the dirty anti-establishment grit of Anti-Nowhere League and a hell-for-leather bass-led sound, they’re all about boisterous sloganeering, railing against the Tories, UKIP, all forms of bigotry, racism, ignorance, and all the other cunts (one of Neil Hanson’s favourite words), twats and bastards etc. you could name, and do so with a self-effacing humour and brute force. By the third song the guitarist’s broken a string, and by the fourth he’s split his finger and shed half a pint of blood over his pickups, all without missing a note. The re-emergence of sneering protest music like this is perhaps the only good thing to have come out of austerity Britain.
Offering more powerhouse rock with a punk edge over at the Key Club are Max Raptor. Having just unleashed their second album, the Stoke quartet are going from strength to strength, and they sure know who to work a crowd. They not only get the packed-out venue jumping, but moshing, hugging and even get a circle-pit going. There’s still a pop edge to their hook-laden anthems, which are delivered with real passion and the right level of aggression to give them real bite. ‘England Breathes’ is a fist-pumping pro-multiculturalist paean, while set closer ‘The King is Dead’ finds singer Wil lofted above the crowd. The guy couldn’t have wished for a more euphoric birthday celebration.
Staying at the Key Club, Asylums have been on my must-see list since the day their ‘Wet Dream Fanzine’ EP landed in my review pile, and the Southend quartet don’t disappoint in the wake of the rave reviews their recent shows have been receiving. Indie in the sense that Blur’s ‘Song 2’ is indie, their concise punk-tinged alt-rock songs are bursting with hooks and energy, and for some nerdy looking dudes in chafed-up trainers, sporting geeky specs and haircuts, they really do give it some. Luke Branch makes numerous excursions into the crowd, and at one point, ends up on the bar and bearing his chest. It’s exhilarating and entertaining in equal measure.
It’s 6:45pm – almost 7 hours since things got going and we’re 8 bands down, so it seems like an idea to skip InHeaven in favour of a bite to eat before getting a decent spot in the main room at the Beckett for The Duke Spirit. As ever, they’re good, their rock sound is solid and Liela Moss is as commanding and compelling as ever. Throwing poses and lofting her tambourine, her voice with just the right level of huskiness, she’s an outstanding front woman. But the mix lacks punch, and with a set that’s missing obvious festival crowd-pleasers like ‘Everybody’s Under Your Spell’ and ends ten minutes short of schedule (after a late start), it’s not the strongest performance I’ve seen them give.
With Band of Skulls, We Are Scientists, The Boxer Rebellion, Circa Waves, Coorrine Bailey Rae, Blood Red Shoes, Los Campesinos! and Ghostpoet all on offer, there’s a lot going on over the 9:30-11:30 period, but for me, both personally and in my capacity of reviewer, there could only be one headliner for the day, and that’s Future of the Left at the Key Club. To see any band who can sell out the 400+ capacity Belgrave in a 120-capacity basement has to have a certain appeal, and when it’s band as intense as FOTL… well. And hell, they’re on fire. There’s a reason people go nuts for their quirky brand of frenzied, screamy punk rock. Short, sharp jolts of searing, spasmodic noise littered with obscure references interspersed with wry, sarcastic between-song dialogue, they really are a unique proposition. And a killer live act. They mix things up throughout the set, starting with the oddly-string guitars, switching through keyboard / bass combinations through the twin bass assault, hurtling through a career spanning set that manages to raid the Mclusky back-catalogue as well (‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues), and end in the kind of chaos only Future of the Left can create: Julia Ruzicka is somewhere in the crowd, Andy Falkous is dismantling the drum kit and scraping his guitar strings against the drums while Jack Egglestone is still playing them. It’s grade-1 cathartic carnage and a spectacular end to the day. And what a day. Thank you, Leeds.