Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Leeds Festival: Day 3

Sunday 24th August 2008

British Sea Power is the perfect start to a Sunday at Leeds. Their eccentric and elusive media personality quickly becomes irrelevant in the face of a set composed almost entirely of new material from their 2008 LP ‘Do You Like Rock Music?’ as they push forward into the future with carefully pieced together musical soundspheres of the most consuming and absorbing variety. The Brighton four-piece are unhurried and unassuming, making no attempt to crowd-please with theatrics or musical acrobatics. They come off best in prolonged intros and outros that drift and swell into the blue skies of the early festival day.

Mystery Jets follow the seamless, urban-inspired dramatics of Santogold a little later on the Radio 1 stage. Having played Reading the day before, they are obviously a little worse for wear, and arrive twenty minutes late, only leaving them time for a fraction of their set. Just at the Eel Pie Island pop-innovators are about to launch into sing-a-long favourite ‘Two Doors Down’, they are informed that they’ve run out of time. It looks for a moment like it might all kick off, with guitarist William Rees verbally abusing the festival organisers and then smashing up his microphone stand in disappointed protest, but the Leeds crowd doesn’t really seem that bothered, save for a smattering of token booing and bottling of onstage security. It’s a shame, but Mystery Jets with their self-conscious candy-coloured suits and shamelessly melodic pop are more of a Reading band anyway.

For the rest of the afternoon we make like one should at Leeds and trudge around the arena swilling warm lager with no where to sit, since the whole field is now a waterlogged muddy pitch, while mediocre indie from We Are Scientists and Dirty Pretty Things reverberates in the warm air.

Just before seven, The Raconteurs emerge, and it suddenly becomes apparent just quite how ahead of the game Brandon and Jack really are in comparison to their main stage predecessors. Their set has evolved over their summer festival appearances to become refined to the point of perfection. They slip between ‘Old Enough’ and ‘Broken Boy Soldier’ with an astounding drumming interlude that reveals the musicians behind the frontmen to be as outstanding as their more famous bandmates. Jack White is more solemn than on any other occasion this summer, especially during the prolonged piano riff of ‘You Don’t Understand Me’, yet the sound that emanates from Leeds’ dodgy speakers is more ferocious and convincing than ever. They are faux-humble, White muttering “We have one more song, then we’ll be out of your way,” before finishing on ‘Salute Your Solution’, privy to their own incomparable musical ability. Easily the highlight of the whole weekend, The Raconteurs are the kind of band that make you feel lucky just to have seen them play, as though a little bit of their greatness might just be contagious.

Bloc Party can’t match this musically, but they are on home turf and have happily managed to fill every inch of the hill infront of the main stage with an alcoholically-lubricated crowd of dry and well-disposed punters, ready to give the last of the British acts at the festival a proper reception. Kele is obviously a little bit drunk, but it in no way affects his delivery, instead adding to the general jubilant sentiment as they make their way through a well-paced, hour-long set that includes some new material. Though still indelibly in the same Bloc Party vein, added samples and electronic effects enhance their well-established trademark sound on the new tracks, which is promising for new album ‘Intimacy’. Towards the end of the set, however, Kele says that the gig could be the band’s last live performance for a while, raising questions as to how they plan to promote the new stuff.

For those that would rather hack off their own ears with a rusty penknife than watch The Killers close the festival, there is very little else to do. We try The Manic Street Preachers, quickly get bored, and then, with nowhere to sit and nothing to do except watch kids get high on old fairground rides and narcotics, take solace in the campsite and a bottle of whisky with friends, where aerosol cans and flares illuminate tired faces around makeshift campfires. It seems the only thing to do at Leeds, a lot of the time. As other weekenders move in with fancy organic food, hand-tailored decorations and more home-comforts, it remains to be seen how much longer Leeds can hold its own, especially if they don’t sort out the basics in sound quality and security. But then, for those that want nothing more than to get smashed and smash things, it would be hard to imagine Leeds any other way.

Leeds Festival: Day 2

Saturday 23rd August 2008

It’s a young crowd that make it out of the campsite in time for Dizzee Rascal at 2pm, probably because they’re the only ones with enough hungover resilience to drag themselves though the foot-deep muddy ditches that have formed a moat in front of the arena entrance, or maybe because Dizzee and Leeds go together like, well, an east London grime artist at a luke-warm Tuborg-swilling Yorkshire festival. There’s a large amount of tongue-in-cheek bouncing along in the crowd, especially for ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’, as is to be expected, but the rest of the set is largely spurious fodder.

Over at the Lock-Up Stage Frank Turner is proving himself as Dizzee’s cultural antithesis. His band have stepped straight out of Napoleon Dynamite: the guitarist is visibly terrified by the crowd before him while the bassist attempts nonchalance by leaning on an amp, looking every inch like a mathematics lecturer. The keyboardist is just a mass of hair on a stool. And the music is almost unbearably cheesy in the most wonderful, northern, sing-a-long way imaginable. Everyone is singing. Everyone knows all the words. Frank shamelessly instigates as much audience participation as possible (at one point getting everyone to do-si-do), cites the experience as the highlight of his career, gives a shout out to his little sister, and then leaves the stage grinning.

Which is much more than MGMT can muster over at the Radio 1 stage. Today the Brooklyn duo look and sound like a pretty nasty comedown, perhaps due to their previous night’s success at Reading. They have pulled in a huge turnout, unsurprising considering MGMT’s astronomical leap into psychedelic-rock stardom this year. Their set does very little to excite the punters, not helped by Ben Goldwasser appearing utterly vacant, his baby-face pallid and clammy. Album tracks and downtempo numbers such as ‘The Youth’ and ‘Pieces Of What’ disappear into the ether, while even ‘Kids’ is entirely driven by the defiant energy of the tipsy mid-afternoon crowd.

Saturday night boasts the double bill of Queens Of The Stone Age and Rage Against The Machine. It has the potential to be a defining moment of the summer festival season, but technicalities complicate both performances, and festival greatness proves elusive. Queens Of The Stone Age suffer from shockingly poor sound during their 8pm set on the main stage, both patchy and too quiet to do justice to the awesome, polished American rock that exudes from up front. Favourites ‘No One Knows’, ‘Go With The Flow’ and ‘Little Sister’ are dispersed between tracks from last year’s Era Vulgaris album, all delivered with a slick ease that cements Josh Homme’s place among the American rock greats.

Rage are thirty minutes late, and do not give Leeds the same theatrical performance as the previous night’s set at Reading, where they emerged onstage sporting Guantanamo boiler suits. Instead, the cameraman up front keeps rather pointedly zooming in on frontman Zack de la Rocha’s Nike trainers, as if to demonstrate his artistic hypocrisy. Which is almost criminal considering that the sound technicians and security alike should be doing a much more professional job than they evidently are. Rage only make it to fourth track, ‘Bombtrack’, before the sound dies. Moments later de la Rocha begins to plead with the crowd to move backwards so that the people at the front can breathe, saying, “We don’t want to have to stop the show.” Eventually they plunge straight back in where they left off. There is a huge, moshing, metal contingent up front, but most of the crowd are clearly loitering on the fringes, waiting to hear ‘Killing In The Name’. Again, Rage prove themselves masters of their craft, especially with Tom Morello’s driving guitar work, but their set irretrievably suffers from technical problems that mar its impact.

Leeds Festival: Day 1

Friday 22nd August 2008

After weeks of heavy rain, the fields around Bramham Park are as saturated as the festival market this August. With numerous smaller festivals and one-day events emerging to compete with the big guns like V, Glasto and Leeds itself, the August Bank Holiday weekender formerly sponsored by Carling had its work cut out to hold its own this year. Leeds is the bread-and-butter of all the festivals: a no-nonsense, northern staple that attracts those who like their music with a side-portion of smash-ups, pies, rioting and toilets that are the sanitary equivalent of battery chicken coops.

This year the lineup veered from the musically extraneous likes of The Wombats and The Enemy to legendary American metal acts, Rage Against The Machine and Metallica. In between these opposing poles, the discerning festival-goer could pick from some of 2008’s biggest bands, including Mystery Jets, Glasvegas and MGMT, in one of the more impressive lineups of the summer. Leeds has the music and the mud covered, but with so many other competing festivals offering all that and much more besides, this year was a deciding time for the northernmost bastion of the British festival.

Gigwise starts the weekend by giving Wild Beasts another run for their money, hoping some of the hype surrounding the northern new-age pop act will finally rub-off. ‘Devil’s Crayon’, with its friendly calypso-chug, is a highlight, but vocalist Hayden’s shuddering falsetto that grinds to a forced growl is unnatural and affected. Coupled with the bands introverted, miserable stage manner, the set slips into the self-gratifying territory of the try-hard.

Adam Green’s set, over on the Radio 1 stage, is the perfect remedy. “I’m a sensitive fucking barometre for pleasure,” the statuesque ex-Moldy Peaches singer drunkenly drawls, before launching into casual musical obscenities such as ‘Novotel’ and ‘No Legs’ that have laughter reverberating around the tent. The soundmen have to pull the plug half way during ‘Crack House Blues’ due to overrunning, but Adam seems not to even really notice, happily receiving his applause and tumbling into the wings.

Holy Fuck give a mind-blowing mid-afternoon performance of introverted but not offensively exclusive analogue electronica. The Canadian five-piece recreate sounds DJs strain to conceive within the confines of their canvas venue, without the aid of any modern-day Mac-contrived confudgery. Their polish and poise become especially apparent when Crystal Castles follow them a little later on the Dance Stage. On record Crystal Castles sound like Alice Glass is doing dirty things to herself inside Ethan Kath’s gameboy. Live, seductive two-bit pop turns into Glass strutting and screeching over mediocre electro-formations. The wonder is that the audience entirely fail to notice. The Leeds crowd is doing what the Leeds crowd do best: getting off their faces and having a rave, mindless of the stuff coming out the speakers. And it’s only 5pm.

Consequently, by the time the evening shift comes around, reality is suspended, and there are enough wonky faces and wandering drunks to make the festival arena a walled confine of licentiousness and debauchery. Connor Oberst’s beguiling, trembling folk songs cement him as the Elliott Smith of his generation. His set with The Mystic Valley Band includes a cover of ‘Corrina Corrina’ that almost manages to anchor the crowd back to the field where we all began sometime earlier in the day.

All that earthy grass-roots folk is blown apart when Miles and Alex sweep onto the stage next to showcase the new-improved Last Shadow Puppets. They’ve dressed up for the occasion, too, in the sharpest of suits, their outlines illuminated against a velvet backdrop and a full-scale string orchestra. Magnificent, grandiose, and epic, of course, but we knew that from the record. Live, it’s a spectacle, but perhaps not quite kind of spectacle called for at a festival renowned for its outstanding capacity to get lagered up and throw piss. However, the duo, diminutive in stature but never understated in sound, get a hero’s welcome on their home territory, which will do nothing but cement Alex Turner’s ego as the fastest and most justifiably swelling in modern British indie.

The Kills are positively disappointing post-Puppets. Rather than physically manifesting the mature, overbearingly seductive garage-rock that has just about everyone from every walk of life slavering over VV’s sullen pout and Hotel’s filthy torn-up riffs in their bedrooms, The Kills walk through a wooden and worn routine, especially in terms of choreography. Midnight Boom is as brilliant as ever, but the duo’s typical proverbial sparks are dimmer than usual in the drunken, stale air of the tent.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Album Review: Thomas Tantrum (self-titled) released 25/8/08

From the bottomless couldron of rehashed hotch-potch indie-pop, another globule of reinvented same-old emerges. Thomas Tantrum is the watered down remains of the recently deceased Be Your Own Pet, without any of the venomous attitude: where Jemina Pearl growled, Megan Thomas whines. Literally. On ‘Shake It! Shake It!’ Thomas’s lyrically cyclical refrain, “I wanna talk, I wanna talk though, I wanna talk though,” is ingeniously fringed with the words, “I just wanna be good at it, but I can’t do it.” Sadly this is only track four and Thomas keeps attempting ‘it’ for another seven tracks.

Having released singles on deaf ears for a good few years now, Thomas Tantrum unveil this self-titled debut LP off the back of support from new fan, Lily Allen. The pink-haired tabloid darling recently ‘discovered’ the Southampton four piece and posted some kind words on their myspace, declaring them one of her ‘top friends’, and immediately multiplying their hits by at least a million, probably. Ironically, Lily Allen’s support is perhaps the best advertisement that this band could ask for. Penultimate album track, ‘Blasé’, pretty much is a Lily Allen song. Thomas Tantrum deliver parma violet pop of the this-could-be-interesting variety, which by the second listen reveals itself to be a steady stream of homogenous purply saccharine.

Underpinning all the humdrum jingly guitar-pop is the sense that Thomas Tantrum could well be a thoroughly entertaining live act. There is comic-strip drama in the component parts of several tracks, with more percussive add-ons than you could shake a stick at. It’s as though Thomas et al have instructed an overenthusiastic class of seven year olds to ensure every bang-crash is as overdone as possible. Coupled with that, Megan Thomas is fit. At least she might be; it’s hard to tell beneath all that peroxide and lipstick.

‘Pshandy’ is an obvious high point, with well-defined riffs and structural variation that showcases the better side of this debut. It’s all in the name for Thomas Tantrum, however, whose noisy brand of indie-whine is only as interesting as a four year old having a hissy fit, and for about as long.