Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Leeds 2009 Day 1

Ah, Leeds. Where else would you find thousands of overdressed teenagers battling mud and queues to spend all of their pocket money on a tiny tray of chips and a paper cup of lager to the soundtrack of hundreds of crappy middling pop-punk bands?

Alright, it’s not all that bad. Those arriving early enough on Thursday and Friday morning caught a glimpse of the festival arena pre-carnage – a grassy, neon-lit circus of a festival site, all fairground rides and burger stands. Overcrowded sets from Wild Beasts and Blood Red Shoes attempted to entertain the early birds on Thursday night, but with so many people at the tiny BBC Introducing stage, it was impossible to catch a glimpse of the bands, let alone hear them properly.

Friday lunchtime heralded the start of the festival proper, just a red ribbon and a start line short of a race to narcotic oblivion. Newcastle’s Detroit Social Club did little to raise the pulse on the Festival Republic stage, sounding too much of a hotch-potch of Elbow and dad rock to make waves.

It was a special guest appearance – one of those secret gigs that everyone who wasn’t there kicks themselves for the whole weekend afterwards – that really set off Leeds 2009. Josh Homme, John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl turned up on the NME/Radio 1 Stage as Them Crooked Vultures, the QOTSA/Zepplin/Foo Fighters hybrid also featuring guitarist Alain Johannes. Homme should supposedly have played with Eagles Of Death Metal, the band he formed with guitarist Jesse Hughes, on the main stage that very day, but was apparently saving all his energy for the ‘Vultures, whose epic set finished with ‘New Fang’ and ‘Nobody Loves Me (And Neither Do I)’.

Later that day The Maccabees snatched the very same limelight for a packed out set to hundreds of punters, igniting a huge dance off with a mix of new and old material. Even Orlando looked to be enjoying himself as people jostled for a space in the massive tent.

Meanwhile things were heating up on the main stage for Friday’s headliners. Prodigy cemented themselves as undisputed kings of British rave, attracting a crowd that moshed right up to the sound desk and beyond. They mixed old classics ‘Firestarter’ and ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ with newer material from Invaders Must Die, never once letting up on intensity.

There was much speculation as to the direction that Arctic Monkeys would take before they hit the main stage – and while sceptics were momentarily silenced as Alex Turner entered with dark glasses, leather and a swagger, the ensuing set violently divided fans. Much has been made of Turner’s drunkenness, austerity and lack of chatter on the night, but the bottom line has to be that this was a set constructed to reinvent a band bored of the relentless smalltown louts turning Arctic Monkeys gigs into hooligan affairs (many of whom found apt accommodation in the kindly branded ‘Relentless’ tent a little later).

A month in the desert has transformed this band into one of depth and distinction – so much so that even old favourites ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ and closer ‘505’ came off darker and more accomplished than ever before. It’s unsurprising that the indie-pop plaudits were pissed off. It takes courage to slap thousands of fans in the face with the cold water of a new musical direction (no wonder Turner took to the bottle before the stage), but ultimately, it’s what’s required for a band to keep the cogs turning, the kids guessing, and their career alive. What’s more, the hoards of fans word perfect on new tracks like ‘Crying Lightning’ and ‘Propeller’ prove that there’s more than a little on ‘Humbug’ to get at, should the critics open their ears before their mouths.

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