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.