Festival review: Live At Leeds 2014

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With more than 200 acts performing at 20 venues across the city to an audience of 15,000 people, the eighth Live At Leeds festival was the largest yet. Here are our writers’ views on the day.

Anthony Longstaff’s Live at Leeds 2014

Clean Bandit at Live At Leeds 2014. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Clean Bandit at Live At Leeds 2014. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Twelve months sure has flown by very quickly to bring together Live at Leeds 2014. Yorkshire’s biggest urban music festival is bolder and bigger than ever before with the addition of extra venues and more bands. Over 200 bands and artists will grace the stages of venues such as Leeds Met Uni, Leeds 02 Academy, The Faversham, Cockpit and many more right across the city.

With the addition of Leeds’ biggest venue, the First Direct Arena as wristband exchange and media hub, the LaL team have already overcome one of the major hurdles from last years event, that being queuing times to ticket exchanges. Arriving on site about 11.30am the city was already buzzing from revelers making their way to various venues in each corner of the city. The arena was catering for the masses very impressively with hardly a queue in sight. Chatting to other festival-goers in the area the comments were already very positive and, with the weather being glorious, spirits were high and most were ready for a heavy day.

Studying the band planner via the Live at Leeds mobile app we had already decided on the schedule and by goodness this year we were going to stick to it (see later for man-size blisters as schedule was completely thrown out of the window). Making our way to catch our first batch of acts over at Leeds Uni sees us start with Allusondrugs. The five-piece kickstart the day with a Nirvana-esque sounding set from the brash Castleford-born band, eerily frontman Jason has a rather Kurt Cobain look about him too. Down at Leeds Met Uni we catch City of Lights. An impressive performance from the Leeds-based four piece whose heavy hitting indie rock impressed a packed venue.

A massive trek down to The Wardrobe saw us take in electro alt rockers Fickle Friends, then a quick dash back up to the 02 Academy to see popular singer/songwriter Laura Aquilina. By accident we headed back over to Leeds Met Uni where we had a space in the schedule so decided to stay for two bands, Hero Fisher and Colt Luna. As happens, sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time and we were so for Lola Colt. Their spaghetti western influence twists Twin Peaks with the sound of T-Bone Burnett. A fantastic band I’d not heard of previously but would recommend.

As the day rolled on we manage to soak in music from goth rockers Black Moth, American rock hipsters, Wild Cub, critically acclaimed, Gloucester-born Josh Record, London-based alt rock foursome, Lyger and the immensely beautiful and very talented Nina Nesbitt

One band who I’d been looking forward to all day were Lanterns on the Lake. The Newcastle alternative rockers were a very positive addition to this years Live at Leeds line-up. Their melancholic indie rock-influenced sound took over Leeds Town Hall with a spine-tingling ambiance, a set which went down an absolute storm.

Heading back over to Leeds 02 Academy saw me catch the last two acts on my list Clean Bandit and the very popular Ella Eyre. Ella’s rise to fame has included being educated at the famous BRIT school and is more well known for her collaborations with Rudimental. The singer/songwriter’s set was very fast paced and expectedly influenced by heavy break beats and and some big bass lines.

It was a very well organised event this year, most artists started on time, minimal waiting in most venues but unfortunately some acts just out sold the venue they were in which is a real shame. I really wanted to catch the likes of Palma Violets, Frank Turner and Royal Blood but these popular acts needed much bigger venues.

Luckily the Live at Leeds app updates were very informative about queues so allowed me to venture elsewhere, but rather disappointing if you couldn’t queue early enough to get in.

I hope they take the format of this year, tweak it slightly and continue with the good work, all in all Live at Leeds 2014 was a pretty awesome one.

Phil Harrison’s Live at Leeds 2014

HAVING crammed six shows into as many hours, it was the last performance that provided the most memorable moment.

A tea-time slot at Holy Trinity Church for New York singer-songwriter Matthew Siskin – billed as a cross between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and better known as Gambles – was ample opportunity for him to produce an audacious 30-minute set.

Having dispensed with the microphone and amplifier, Siskin decided to make full use of the church’s natural acoustics. By wandering among the audience as he sang and played – occasionally fixing someone with an intent stare – it was an entertaining diversion, even when he stopped mid-song to take on board a pint of beer.

Despite the seemingly light-hearted approach, though, it only partially masked the emotionallycharged content of some of the eight or so songs he performed, the most memorable of which was ‘So I Cry Out’.

It had been a quick dash to Holy Trinity Church from Leeds Uni Refectory where Ezra Furman had opened proceedings at 4pm.

The Chicago native, backed by his four-piece band The Boyfriends, stomped through a lively half hour set, the pick of which was the single ‘My Zero’ from his most recent album ‘Day of the Dog’.

Gengahr barely filled 20 minutes at the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen, but were good value with their guitar-driven falsetto pop.

They had followed Disraeli Gears on to the stage, a four-piece fronted by female singer-guitarist Teia Fregona and offering a mixture of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. There was plenty to admire – in particular with ‘Back of My Eyes’ – in a crowd-pleasing half-hour set.

The Hi-Fi club joined proceedings this year and opened up with local three-piece White Royal who, while quiet as mice in-between songs, produced some truly gorgeous moments with their synth-driven sound, particularly on the atmospheric ‘Embassy’.

By contrast, a more upbeat sound emanated from Oporto at midday as popular Leeds band Happy Daggers packed out the venue with their catchy fusion of rock and soul, closing a thumping set with the crowd-pleasing ‘Get Yourself Together’.

Martin Ross’s Live At Leeds 2014

After last year’s arduous queues at Leeds Museum, this year’s wristband collection point at the First Direct Arena ran smoothly, so there were no hold-ups for our first show at The Wardrobe, where the punchy soundsystem proved a good fit for Brighton quintet Fickle Friends, their polished energetic 80’s-tinged guitar pop and lush vocals reminiscent of Alphabeat and Sophie Ellis Bextor at their uplifting best.

A brief detour took us into Sela Bar for a bit of rockabilly from The Xray Cat, but they’d been held up so we headed up to Nation of Shopkeepers to be riffed into happy submission by rock duo God Damn. Sounding like Black Sabbath if they’d grown up listening to Nirvana, they’re a glorious, passionate riff riot, with the Shopkeeper’s raised stage flexing madly beneath the drummer’s pounding limbs.

Southern, from Belfast, but now based in Liverpool, feature brother-sister duo Thom and Lucy Southern. With shuffling beats, twanging guitars and attractive vocals they play a really enjoyable, rousing set that nods to 60s’ rhythm and blues and Americana.

The slog up to Leeds University Refectory didn’t prove worth it, as indiepop band Wild Cub seemed to be more about looking good than doing much original. And with a small bottle of Magners an outrageous £3.85, staying to catch Josh Record lost its appeal.

We swung down to the Belgrave Music Hall for beer and pizza and then kept going to Holy Trinity Church, where Londoner Denai Moore had the audience in the palm of her hand with her perfectly poised, haunting songs. With just heartfelt vocals, acoustic guitar and discrete embellishment from a drummer and keyboard player, she filled the venue with spine-tingling sound.

After that, we headed back up to Leeds Met and while my companions enjoyed some solid pop-punk from Pup I joined the crowds milling around as The Bug – aka producer Kevin Martin – tried to solve a technical problem somewhere in his huge deskful of kit (while the soundman inexplicably played Lavender by Marillion).

Once up and running, The Bug quickly got into his stride, with guest vocalists getting the crowd moving and the deliciously bass-heavy acid ragga and dubstep giving you no choice but to be there in the moment, head bobbing and trousers flapping.

Sadly our last choice proved to be a damp squib.

To be fair, electronica duo F*** Buttons aren’t an easy proposition, known for counterbalancing melodies and rhythms with bursts of distortion on their recorded output, but here they just opted for an alienating cacophony of distortion that drowned out any nuance, detail, tunes or texture.

It was all dismally self-indulgent, but, thanks to the sterling work of the acts we’d seen earlier in the day, didn’t take the shine of what was another fun-packed Live At Leeds.

Duncan Seaman’s Live At Leeds 2014

And so to Leeds Met – or should that now be Leeds Beckett University? – for Courtney Barnett, the Australian alt-rock singer songwriter who has found a niche in Britain with her new CD A Sea of Split Peas.

Though the venue is oppressively heaving, the 26-year-old Melbournite makes the discomfort worth it with a pithy set full of guitar-mangling vigour and deadpan wit. There are certainly hints of Moldy Peaches here as well as Jeffrey Lewis, but also a little grunge and Patti Smith. There’s catchy whimsy in her song Avant Gardener but, importantly, she also rocks.

Over at the Belgrave Music Hall the atmosphere is pleasingly laidback and the venue’s rabbit warren of rooms and decent beers wins approval before we even catch a couple of bands.

Years & Years are an electro-pop outfit whose frontman Olly Alexander sports a T-shirt, shorts and tattoos – in contrast to his studious bandmates. Their singles Traps and Real are instant earworms and by the end Alexander, who’s soon to appear in the musical film God Help The Girl, wears a grin almost as wide as the room.

Eliza and the Bear, on the other hand, might promise much with their twin vocal attack and rabble-rousing indie folk-rock but it soon palls. For all their energy, their music is a little too pleased with itself and by the fourth number it grates.

At Nation of Shopkeepers young Leeds/Bradford septet Modo Star show considerable promise with their atmospheric, M83-like blend of synths, saxophones, drum machines and bass guitar. The insistent This City is a standout, but then they go and blow their cool quotient with a cover of the old Boy Meets Girl hit Waiting For a Star to Fall, a staple of cheesy 80s radio that’s presumably intended to be kitsch but has us scurrying for the nearest exit.

Judging by the rather depleted bar offering at Holy Trinity Church, things are winding down by the time we get there. Nonetheless the bearded troubadour Patrick Craig, from south-west London, seems genuinely thrilled to have won a spot on the bill via a competition. “This is an amazing thing to be happening and I’m very excited,” he beams. His own songs, delivered in an Ed Sheeran-like voice, are pleasant, but more memorable is his gutsy a capella rendition of the traditional ballad Barbara Allen – as he reminds us, “one of the oldest songs in the English language”.

At the HiFi Club, Y.O.U. cut a comical dash in their matching white satin tour jackets embroidered with the name of their band on the back. It’s certainly more entertaining than their stubbly 80s retro-pop.

A sparse crowd remains for the highlight of the day, Detroit rapper Lizzo, whose risque raps remind us of Missy Elliott. “F***ing Leeds!” she gasps after one enthusiastically received number after another. There’s a “love song” to tequila and another that asks “Have you ever been to Paris at night? Neither have I.” A slightly bemused male audience member is enlisted to twerk with her on stage and Lizzo and sidekick Sophia Eris whip up a frenzy with the raucous Batches ‘n’ Cookies.

The perfect end to the best Live At Leeds festival yet.

James Nuttall’s Live at Leeds 2014

An eternal mixed bag, the most powerful deliveries at this year’s Live at Leeds seemed to be provided by the young up-and-coming female acts billed to play the festival.

After Lauren Aquilina packed the O2 Academy at 2.30pm, winning over even the casual observers, the all-male band Hudson Taylor failed to meet the standards of much of the same crowd just one hour later, and the balcony was seen to be considerably emptier.

Holy Trinity provided the perfect atmosphere for Orla Gartland’s intimate set of acoustic folk material, which had the small audience captivated as the sunset came through the stained glass window, shimmering through Gartland’s long ginger hair. Her anecdotes and excellent voice convinced virtually everyone that this 19 year old singer is one to watch. A sublime Spring evening performance.

Night time at the Academy took on a much more fierce tone. Ella Eyre was like a ravenous lion as she strode onto the stage, making it quite clear she was not about to take any prisoners. The 20 year old’s R&B set had a very young audience jumping up and down in the stalls. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the crowd of older observers on the balcony, many of whom left before the halfway point. That being said, nobody present could say that they were not impressed by Eyre’s ability to remain pitch perfect as she jumped and kick boxed her way around the stage. Great festival fun.

Clean Bandit’s set ended the evening on an upbeat note. Like a 21st century Bucks Fizz, the youthful group were smiling from ear to ear as each song received a rapturous applause.

Electro-pop glamour was provided over at the Belgrave Music Hall by Swedish/Australian duo Say Lou Lou, consisting of twin sisters Miranda and Elektra Kilbey, who delighted a predominantly male audience with tracks from their upcoming album. The 22-year-old sisters were both in fine voice, and their effortlessly cool stage presence, matched with their gritty dream-pop tracks, make it no surprise that they have been included in the BBC Sound of 2014 list.

Juliette Bains’ Live at Leeds 2014

After the buzz of Ella Eyre’s performance has dissipated, the crowd continues to pack into the O2 Academy in Leeds to catch a glimpse of Clean Bandit.

The four-piece have attracted a lot of attention recently thanks to their number one hit ‘Rather Be’, which stayed at the top of the charts for four weeks.

Despite just being best known for the one song, they still manage to draw quite a crowd.

Rather than burst onto the stage, they start with a chilled-out, reggae vibe.

Two female singers have also joined the ranks for the performance, which seems a little unnecessary, as the cellist has a subtle and engaging enough voice.

There’s no doubt that the electric cello and violin is what the crowd wants to hear, and they roar the loudest when the strings take centre stage, so it’s a shame they weren’t featured more and were often over-powered by the synths.

The new single Extraordinary, whilst not as catchy as its predecessor, is still a fairly decent follow-up.

It was difficult to tell what were songs and what was just instrumental fillers, but eventually they covered ‘Show Me Love’ by Robin S, which was greeted by rapturous applause after the first few bars.

However after about five seconds, it ended up sounding almost identical to the original and again the strings faded to the background, which was disappointing.

As expected, ‘Rather Be’ went down a storm, even though Jess Glynne wasn’t there herself for the performance.

Clean Bandit have genuine talent (most of them met whilst studying at Cambridge University) and the original concept of mixing dance music with strings offers something different for music fans.

But somewhere along the way they seem to have forgotten what it is that makes them unique.

London Grammar

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