Festival review: Live At Leeds 2019

Sam Fender at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Sam Fender at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
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One of the only UK metropolitan festivals to have maintained the mantra of promoting emerging new talent as opposed to turning itself into a clone larger event hit Leeds again last week. Twenty stages, 200 bands, 10,000 people there were some stand-out performances of the day for our writers.

David Hodgson’s Live At Leeds

Ibibio Sound Machine at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

Ibibio Sound Machine at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

With the benefit of hindsight and given their calibre, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that Mini Mansion’s set at the Brudenell Social Club was a fine gem to unearth. With band members from Queens of the Stone Age and The Last Shadow Puppets, the set overcame a slightly muddy sound mix with bass-laden accomplished tracks, two of which Gummy Bear and Vertigo are alone capable of propelling the LA-based band into the unchartered territory of a seriously important guitar band.

She Drew the Gun singer Louisa Roche would likely disagree with the idiom that a meat-free diet can only ever be healthy as an allergic reaction to a vegan sausage roll curtailed a rousing and consummate set early. The Liverpool band’s ‘psych-rock’ recent album is one of the finest of 2018 with Resister and Something for the Pain making an appearance here, all driven by the finest drumming performance of the entire day.

On a day when there are 200 bands vying for attention, it’s rare for a band to garner the sort of crowd response usually set aside for the day’s headliner but Ibibio Sound Machine elicited just that. Their afrobeat, rock, funk set got even the most leaden of feet in a packed Beckett University moving. The first band of the day to be summoned back for a deserved encore, the entire band (and there’s a lot of them) smiling and dancing their way through the finale.

Fatherson threw out their fellow Glaswegian Biffy Clyro influenced riffs under the stained glass window of The Church, their dedicated following driving them on to deliver spiky rock tracks with a pop indie spin. Fatherson are three albums into a career that is knocking on a number of doors, it feels like they’re that one elusive track away from kicking one down.

Dream Wife at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Dream Wife at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Also being worshipped under the same stained glass window were The Mysterines, whose momentum has accelerated recently when national radio picked up their latest single Gasoline. The trio, fronted by Lia Metcalfe, produce a set of ferocious energy, songs are formed of heavy guitar, thrashing drums, energy levels defying the mid-afternoon slot. At its conclusion, a microphone stand is summarily despatched by Metcalfe, a venting of energy built up through the band’s frenetic energy. This is a band that after only three singles, will fly.

Jesse Jo Stark is a bohemian rock deity with a history of supporting some of the world’s largest bands, Guns’n’Roses and Jane’s Addiction to name but two. The pedigree runs strong through Stark’s blood, her songs jump from hard rock to a more earthy, bluesy-type feel, delivered whilst prowling around the stage. An established fanbase greeted Stark with roses and gift bags at the conclusion of her set at the Belgrave, one that had finished on an unusual note, given the rock credentials, with a cover of Bette Davis Eyes.

Sports Team are on an upwards trajectory, hence their evening time slot but they still found the time to distract shoppers on a Saturday afternoon on Briggate. With his Iggy Pop disjointed limb moves, lead singer Alex Rice spits out lyrics from their crunchy guitar rock debut EP. There is a wider groundswell building about this six piece, and not just amongst afternoon shoppers.

The HiFi Club offered some respite from the May cold wind, the underground venue the ideal location for Sea Legs, a three-piece riding on the recent successes of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. It’s a polished set with great things expected from imminent debut releases.

She Drew The Gun at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

She Drew The Gun at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

Household Dogs presented a brief set at Oporto, their drummer having to leave early to play for Sea Legs, of songs that are melodic mixed with levels of aggression. There is a fine line between enthusiasm and trying too hard, but lead singer Declan Newcombe deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt, lurching as he does between sung and screamed vocals with considerable ease.

Zoe Peck’s Live At Leeds

Live At Leeds 2019 upheld the festival’s tradition of showcasing a varied sound palette from talent both local and international.

Leeds-based electro-pop songstress Tallsaint kicked off proceedings at Brudenell Social club, her dreamily hopefully romantic lyrics soaring over high energy dance beats.

Jesse Jo Stark at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

Jesse Jo Stark at Live At Leeds. Picture: David Hodgson

In contrast to the wistful hopefulness of Tallsaint was the more cutting indie-pop UPSAHL. “All Of My Friends Are Rich,” she laments, her songs mostly jaded critiques of LA excess and pretence. Her clear and full voice fighting an overbearingly loud backing track to a rather stingy, or perhaps intimidated, Belgrave Music Hall audience who failed to return her energy, her attitude however appeared undentable. The crowd seemed glaringly British in comparison, waiting to be invited before approaching the stage.

Where UPSAHL was cool and collected, Sheffield-based leftfield pop four-piece Sophie And The Giants were shamelessly emotional. Reminiscent of YONAKA in delivery, their explosive, impassioned vocals spit tales of protecting friends and escaping toxic relationships. Their sound was greater than the tiny Oporto stage could house and it was one in one out before the set even started. Catch them on the more fitting Festival Republic Stage at Leeds Festival on Sunday 25th August.

Next up were feminist punk three-piece Dream Wife who channeled The Runaways at Leeds Beckett Student Union to a largely unmoved crowd. It would be difficult to pinpoint whether their reception was due to distaste or their almost entirely unintelligible lyrics – although the chant “I am not my body/I’m somebody” did garner some self-conscious whoops. Clearly more about message than melody, this set was not for the the average festival attendee, save perhaps for their tight percussion.

One of the city’s farther-flung venues – the fashionably dilapidated Hyde Park Book club – set a perfect backdrop to Hotel Lux’s powerful set. Hailing from Portsmouth via east London, they had the air and politics of an 80s working men’s club. Their tackling of the disenfranchised working class and use of British pop culture nostalgia alone would not be enough to set them apart from other punk-inspired acts, though their sensitivity, introspection and humour in tackling the prickliest of subjects is remarkable. Their frontman’s visceral spitting of their gut-wrenchingly brave track ‘Daddy’ seemed both comical and eerie next to the thousand yard stare of his band-mates.

Water damage from a burst pipe at Leeds University’s Stylus venue thwarted Metronomy’s set but the festival’s headliner for myself and surely others was Sam Fender. The Brit Critics’ Choice Award winner never needed to win over his O2 Academy crowd, his set more than living up to the hype around him.

The songs that earned him critical acclaim ‘Millenial’ and ‘Play God’ were sung straight back to him as well as latest release ‘Hypersonic Missiles’. Fender is not one to shy away from difficult topics and there was something particularly poignant about a crowd of mostly young men throwing their bodies into each other to ‘Dead Boys’ a lament of male suicide rates in small towns.

Tom Grennan at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Tom Grennan at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Ending his set with a cover of ‘Morning Glory’ by Oasis was surely a crowd pleasing choice though learned fans may have preferred another of his own tracks, ‘Greasy Spoon’ being sorely missed from the set-list. Fender continues to cement himself as an artist to take note of, a master of producing arena anthems with substance.

Goat Girl at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Goat Girl at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Marsicans at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Marsicans at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Black Honey at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Black Honey at Live At Leeds. Picture: Anthony Longstaff