Leeds this year was blessed with one of those most British of bank holidays, where the clouds bluster past at the rate of knots and you’re one minute set for sunbathing and the next scrabbling for wellies and waterproofs.
The changing seasons were nowhere better demonstrated than on the miserable chops of one Charlie Fink, Noah And The Whale frontman, who’s suffered in the last week from a horribly embarrassingly personal interview with the Guardian in which he waxed lyrical about new album ‘The First Days Of Spring’ being all about his break up with Laura Marling. Marling isn’t there for the Leeds show, and neither is any other female backing vocalist, a conspicuous omission after their prominence on the band’s debut. Instead the set is dark and electric, Fink’s stubble and furrowed brow a constant reminder that this is no long the happy-clappy band that gave us ‘5 Years Time’.
In sharp contrast, The XX manage subdued miserablisms so restrained and self-contained that they crawl under the skin. The stark, unharmonised melodies of vocalists Oliver Sims and Romy Madley Croft whisper outwards throughout the tent and raucous, neon-faced kids stand quietly in awe at such unexpected and unusual subtlety. Meanwhile, in a triumph of street team PR, roaming promoters hand out t-shirts and badges for free, and suddenly giant white X’s brand every other torso in sight.
Broken Records smash all subtlety out the water with their string flanked Scottish folk. A regular at many a festival this summer, their infectious jigging and cleverly orchestrated songs gather quite a crowd. It’s a well-deserved success that can only augment as the year draws on.
Now, there was a time when Brooklyn’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs had bite and guile to spare – a rip-roaring mess of distortion and screeching, furious vocals to make your stomach turn and the whites of your eyes bulge. And while ‘It’s Blitz’ was a very lovely slice of disco – ten points for diversity, guys – where was the hacked up guitar riffs, the sawn off Zinner magic, that made earlier stuff so striking? New sources show that it may have been hiding in an amp on the mainstage at Leeds, just waiting to blow the socks off the assembled festival-goers in 2009. This was a stormer of a set including ‘Black Tongue’, ‘Rich’, ‘Cheated Hearts’ and a mesmerisingly well-executed acoustic version of ‘Maps’ alongside the new stuff. It was all perfect – vocals, pacing, guitars and, of course, delivery from the inimitable Miss O.
A Bloc Party interlude – three years on the trot at Leeds and still holding out for that headline slot – preceded the moment everyone had been waiting for: Radiohead. Well, everyone apart from the screaming hoards of girls who trotted off to see La Roux. Two hours passed in moments as Radiohead set the bar higher than ever. Their set was a proper mix of all seven of their albums, from the lesser known ‘Wolf At The Door’ and ‘Gloaming’, right through to anthems ‘Idiotheque’ and ‘Just’, finishing with the cinematic ‘Everything In Its Right Place’.
It was musicially flawless, Thom Yorke’s vocal so well-timed and glorious that it could have been pre-recorded. Depite this, Yorke revealed to a photographer straight after the gig that he wasn’t happy with his performance at all, perhaps due to his slightly squiffy banter between songs, where he once asked Johnny Greenwood for the chords to new song ‘These Are My Twisted Words’. A perfectionist, no less – the rest of us were left speechless.