It’s not the brightest of skies today, in fact its outright cold, but that’s where the stereo-typical ‘grim up north’ accolade ends, with almost 200 performers playing the best in contemporary music to a dedicated audience city-wide bringing only warmth to Leeds this Saturday. In this its ninth year – not bad an accomplishment for an event initially planned as one off – Live at Leeds is now a well-oiled machine, impeccably well organized and drawing in plenty of local acts and many from around the globe. The organisers have stuck with a formula which proved effective last year, reserving a spot at the First Direct Arena for wrist-band collection and making sure mobile apps, play list print outs, maps and plenty of pre-event advertising have even the most disorganized amongst us struggling to put a foot wrong today. The only element of difficulty appears to be deciding upon whom to see, so much talent being on offer.
With something of a plan in our minds, it’s off to the O2 Arena for festival kick-off to see another well-oiled machine, Gaz Coombes. Not that he’s covered in Extra Virgin today, I’m referring more to his ability to withstand the elements of an ever-changing industry, but would hate to offend by calling him an ‘old-timer’ (besides, he’s younger than me..) And really, what better way to start an event, placing he who is bound to pack in a crowd at one of the events larger venues, grabbing the attention of most punters who are in this from the start today; folk are queueing around the block for this gig, and judging by the lack of room to move on the dancefloor, all are let in. He and accompanying band deliver a steady set, mid-tempo, with enough of a pulse to get everybody present revved up for a day’s live music. Quite the clever one, Coombes switches continuously throughout his set from keyboard to electric guitar to acoustic guitar to machines; his musical style remains similar, whatever the instrument, and his voice strong and loud as he belts out a handful of songs from his three albums since turning solo artist. A more than satisfied audience hand-clap along to help close out a fine set from our Oxford friend.
The Belgrave Music Hall is next on the tick-list, here to witness one Chloe Black, Australian by all accounts although not sounding so Aussie when chatting with the audience in between numbers – which she did with gusto. Her style is very Lana Del Ray, with dramatic yet monotone keys and haunting vocals, songs like Wonder Years and Polaroid taking the sizeable crowd’s minds away somewhere temporarily. A charming voice and amusing lady.
Next, to one of Leeds best venues by far, the Brudenell Social Club. Favored by many, thanks to some of the industry’s best names playing here regularly and its no-frills demeanor, this is a spot where many a magical music moment can occur – and today is no different. After walking into an almost empty venue, the place rapidly fills out some five minutes prior to a Russian ensemble who call themselves Pinkshinyultrablast produce what turned out to be one of the day’s best sets. Despite having no sound on the microphone for the first song, Lyubov (vocalist) soldiers on regardless, and the band provide a break-less set of hypnotic beats and psychedelia topped (eventually) with high pitched floating vocals, creating the most beautiful collective sound. Everyone here is encapsulated, a swaying mass, mesmerized by the band in some way or another, whether hooked on the beats Sergey the drummer is fanatically banging out military style or the humming from Rustam’s machines, or even Lyubov’s jerky dancing which is quite difficult to take your eyes away from. It felt as though several decades had collided, 70s swirls fused with 80s attire and 90s beats, all with a post-millennium edge.
After hanging around longer for Broncho (a five-piece made up of four guitaritsts – one a bass – and a drummer, who provide a tight but uneventful US post-punk set) and Black Honey (awesome female vocalist - think a slower version of Blondie’s “Atomic” for their opener Spinning Wheel).
An Uber taxi provides a quick ride down to Becketts, what was once the Leeds Polytechnic Uni dance hall and a stage which has seen many a band perform over the years. West Yorks born Hookworms are a noisy, neo-psychedelic lot who put on as great a show visually as they do in terms of sound. With machines being an integral component here, they blow Becketts apart with their loud industrial sounds and dazzle everybody with projections that almost hang in front of the band creating a flashing strobe-like force-field. If there is a musical equivalent to being smacked around a boxing ring, this is it – except no broken bones, only minor bruising to the eyes and ears.
Eagulls followed, another local act, bringing with them a very different vibe albeit with a similar level of noise. They’re labelled as post-punk, although a slower beat to many of their songs plus an element of darkness has them teetering on a grunge-fuelled shoegaze. Plenty are here to see them perform, judging by the turn out, and are not disappointed with this well delivered set with singer George Mitchell’s vocals being the appropriately dour cheery on top.
It’s not a festival without a clash of bands, and this one makes for some tough decision making. Old versus new, US versus UK, heart versus head: on this occasion, the heart won.
While The Cribs were undoubtedly rocking the Leeds Town Hall to its rafters, the Thurston Moore Band – ahem, ‘super band’ – played a splendid set to a half empty but extremely receptive Becketts audience. Since Moore saw fit to re-align with former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, this was always going to create a sound very similar to one of post-punks finest; throw My Bloody Valentine’s bassist Deb Googe into the mix and this can only be magic to anyone who enjoyed either band in their hay day. The set commences in true Moore style, with a ten minute experimental style jam, no lyrics, all random guitars and changeable drum beats. Then finally the vocals emerge, few as ever (again, standard Moore) as they deliver a stream of songs from their album of last year, The Best Day. A pioneer of the 80s Alt Rock scene in the US, Moore was always considered experimental and he manages to retain this sound today, if delivered a little more conventionally than once over.
How many Kent lads does it take to cause a riot? Two, it seems, in the form of Slaves. Tonight they prove all the hype is indeed warranted, with an exceptional show full of sweat, shouting and crowd surfing. Oh, and really good punk music. What a tremendous noise from just two people, a guitar and a drum kit; while this is not exactly unique, the London twang evident with every lyric certainly sets them apart from other duos and helps to give them something of an edge. Together, they immediately whip the Brudenell crowd into a frenzy, kicking off with a ‘Yorkshire! Yorkshire!’ chant – one they keep returning to – and Laurie Vincent (guitarist) jumping into the crowd for his own surf session, while Isaac Holman (lead vocals/drums) bangs ferociously at his kit from a standing position and begins what turns into one continuous Cockney rant to music. They keep the crowd completely engaged from start to finish, particularly those upfront in the mosh pit, White Knuckle Ride seemingly a favourite and drawing a constant stream of punters up on the stage for their turn at a dive – keeping Security at the Brudenell a little busier than usual. Slaves have been hotly tipped, even referred to by some as the band of 2014, which could well spill into this year if shows like this are standard.
Which brings things to a close. What an amazing day, a cracker atmosphere and some proper good sounds and sets city-wide - for less than thirty quid. Well done, Live at Leeds. More of the same for next year’s ten year anniversary celebration, please!
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