Wednesday, 27 August 2008

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.

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