Two (semi) cool scribes report on different acts at Leeds Festival 2012 for Soundsphere magazine.
It’s been thirteen years since Reading Festival bounded up the M1 to share its impressive rock pulling power with us rough Northern types. Thirteen years ago, two of this year’s headliners were doing the rounds: The Cure, two years away from a greatest hits collection and the Foo Fighters, finally beginning to shake off the ties of Dave Grohl’s Nirvana legacy with the release of their third album. Thirteen years later, along with crowd UK-based favourite Kasabian, music gods, music journalists and music fans alike gather under Leeds’ ardent impression of an August summer to experience Leeds Festival 2012.
So…yeah. I arrive a bit late! I have been carrying the Paralympic Flame in York (no, really!). Anyway, I still get to see the Foo Fighters who are honestly one of the best live bands on the planet. It’s a pretty emotional experience, all in all. Seeing ‘Everlong’ and ‘My Hero’ performed out within the live arena is just incredible; absolutely mind-blowing in fact! Also, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins’ banter with the crowd is absolutely priceless; it’s a shame because these performances have been billed to be the Foos last ones for a good while now, and to be brutally honest, dear readers, you just need to see this band before you die. The energy and humour that surrounds everything the Foo Fighters do as a unit is highly infectious. One of the many highlights from this wondrous set, is when Taylor takes up vocal duties before introducing Roger Taylor (Queen)’s son (Rufus) to the stage to perform drums (with Dave taking a back-seat and performing guitars) on a rousing cover of Queen’s ‘Tie Your Mother Down’. It is ‘amazeballs’, as they say!
Opening proceedings and playing to a home crowd on the Main Stage, Pulled Apart by Horses are a fantastic start to Leeds Festival 2012 (for me), declaring as ever in ‘High Five Swan Dive Nose Dive’ “I’ll make you dance with my balls on fire!” and I can confirm that PABH triumphantly do (well, we presume about the fire part). Songs from their latest album such as ‘I Punched A Lion in The Throat’ are played with gusto and it’s clear that the band is certainly chuffed to be there.
With the festival well and truly under way, Southampton threesome Band Of Skulls give a solid performance, enthusing the crowd with an early Kings Of Leon, late Black Keys sound. Dressed all in black and long hair aplenty, Band Of Skulls aren’t short of attitude.
A perfect act to follow then are the ever-entertaining Eagles Of Death Metal, part dirty rock, part pantomime, Jesse Hughes‘ Eagles of Death Metal play-up to the crowd, chugging whole bottles of Jack Daniels and declaring their love for “English girls”. Dedicating the set to their good friends, (this evening’s headline act), the Foo Fighters, we can only imagine what sort of crazy happenings have been going down backstage on this opening day of the festival.
Americana is certainly the flavour of the day so far, with The Gaslight Anthem drawing the crowd closer for sing-along tunes ‘Great Expectations’, ‘The 59 Sound’ and tracks from their new album ‘Handwritten’, all adding up to a lengthy set, leaving little respite for Brian Fallon’s raspy vocals.
Moving to the Dance/Lock-Up Stage which is tucked conveniently near the main stage, are our soon to be interviewees, The Skints (see below). An overwhelming turn-out for the East London band immediately lifts their performance and they’re not short on energy and personality. Ska-punk and reggae are on the menu this afternoon, inviting the crowd to bob their heads unison to their effortlessly cool tunes.
Trudging back to the Main Stage, I am just in time to catch Leeds’ own darlings the Kaiser Chiefs returning to roost and play a set to coincide with the recent release of their greatest hits. “Already?” I hear you shout, well it seems the Chiefs are just one of those bands that have far more hits and recognisable tunes than we (at Soundsphere) realise until we find ourselves fist-pumping to ‘The Angry Mob’!
The penultimate act entering on stage at twilight are The Black Keys. Ohio duo Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney get straight down to business, doing what they do best from behind a single guitar and an unimposing drum kit. With seven albums under their belt, the have plenty of stellar material to choose from, though unfortunately the crowd only seem to come truly alive at the opening vibrations of the recent hit tracks ‘Lonely Boy’ and ‘Gold On The Ceiling’. Nevertheless, there’s no doubting that they remain one of the most dependably good live acts you could hope to see on the festival circuit.
And from one famous drum kit to another as the band that, it seems, many have solely bought tickets for begin their long-awaited set under a now raining Bramham Park. When Foo Fighters (the only act for review myself and Dom will do together this weekend…promise) enter, no one pays much attention to the downpour as iPhones and cameras flash a sea of light in the hope to capture a glimpse of one of the most loved rock bands of recent years. Not to mention the charismatic frontman, Dave Grohl, who manages to make every gig crowd feel like the best bunch he’s ever played to. Including an emotional and moving speech from Grohl concerning his first performance at Reading with Nirvana, the Foos saunter through a set which comprises hits ‘This Is A Call’, Breakout’, ‘All My Life’ and ‘The Pretender’ alongside plenty of tracks from their latest album ‘Wasting Light’. A brief stint on lead vocals from drummer Taylor Hawkins saw Roger Taylor of Queen’s son Rufus Taylor taking the drumming sticks for a version of the Queen classic ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, all adding to the rock and roll juggernaut experience we’ve come to expect from a stadium-filling Foo Fighters. Long may they reign.
Starting Saturday rushing about (as ever), I check out Coheed And Cambria who “destroy” the Main Stage with a thoroughly epic set fuelled by “old classics” and the odd new track. Latest offering ‘Domino The Destitute’ stands up nicely against powerhouses like ‘Welcome Home’. Here, Coheed prove without question that they stand proud as saviours of modern progressive rock music. Massive!
Angels And Airwaves fire off next on the Main Stage but to be honest Tom DeLonge’s men come across as remarkably sub-par. Yes, it’s feel good music for a miserable day, but older tracks like ‘It Hurts’ (while pleasing to the die-hard A&A (and Blink…of course) fan, will most certainly not score the band any new fans today. It’s interesting to see on later efforts like ‘Saturday Love’ for example, how DeLonge’s men have made efforts to work with more complex (almost post-rock) sounds, and in the studio it’s definitely paid off, out live however it just doesn’t translate well into our ears; the sorely needed energy for this material just doesn’t seem to be with the band today.
Next I head over to the Festival Republic Stage to see current indie scenesters Alt-J get in on the action. Fortunately, unlike when I checked out ol’ DeLonge’s Angels on the Main Stage, this West Yorkshire lot are on fine form, and as they are armed with such delightful progressive indie sounds, it would be no surprise to me if they ended up hitting the main stage next year. Saves The Day follow by bringing their unique and anthemic brand of punk-infused alt-rock to the Lock-Up, and for a short period of time at least, it feels like I am back in the glorious 90s (my favourite time, musically) with ‘At Your Funeral’ blasting out at top volume. It’s frankly quite wonderful, and most certainly the “feel-good” moment of our weekend. ‘Can’t Stay The Same’ is also an excellent standout that keeps everyone motivated and ready for the rest of the weekend. I’m proud to have seen Saves The Day…err, today.
Next up, I attempt to try something a little different, new and exciting in Samoans. This Cardiff-based band are really enjoying their BBC Introducing shot and they’re peddling the ever-addictive Biffy style post-hardcore; despite the epic amount of rain that is pelting it down overhead, we are digging the band too. ‘Secret Sixth’ is a ferocious and powerful slice of pure rawk goodness with a real sense of intensity and a definite drive. Brilliant stuff, boys. No doubt we will see you very soon.
Back over on the Main Stage, I set out to enjoy Paramore and, you know what, they’re actually really, really good; live this band can back up the hype that’s been surrounding them for years. Hayley Williams and the band are very humble and energetic. It’s a nice touch of course that the pint-sized singer is rocking her favourite Cure t-shirt today, paying a fitting tribute to our illustrious headliners. Over the course of this set, there are the usual sappy love songs, and the emotional standout track ‘The Only Exception’ (from 2009’s ‘Brand New Eyes’) is really quite…yeah, exceptional. One of the more touching moments comes when Hayley admits that she is “done feeling spiteful and angry” before introducing the thumping anti-love song that is ‘Misery Business’ and inviting a lady called Lydia (from the audience) to perform the track on dual vocals to finish.
I could hype it. I know. I really could. It’s The Cure and it is big. When Robert Smith (complete with the iconic mop…we all want hair like that, right?) takes to the stage, we know we are going to get something special. Really darned special. ‘End Of The World’, ‘Lovesong’ and ‘Just Like Heaven’ are absolutely breathtaking to watch in this setting; the (rare) warm evening is a perfect backdrop for this dark orchestra of modern indie anthems. My favourite moment of this (probably) historic set has to be the one where (fairly early on) good ol’ Smithy states: “I am sorry for not talking, but it breaks the spell inside my head…”, or something along those lines. Aww Rob, you massive goth. Soundsphere does love you though. Obviously ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ waits until the last, and it’s as beautiful as the long-time Cure fan will imagine. You’ve just got to see them given the chance really, right? Whether of course, the casual dubstep fan would enjoy a three-hour Cure set is questionable, but really there’s enough hits in this set to please anyone and everyone. If you only know a few songs, it’s great to hear them and the nostalgia element will soon kick in to experiences relating to said songs (The Cure have always been good at all that important emotional stuff), and if you know them all, well then, you’re just in…err, heaven. Yeah, we went there. We put that in.
Sneaking off for a quick peak at US electro-rockers Sleigh Bells over at Festival Republic, I’m pretty bloomin’ excited. This band are just ace, and I’ve been looking forward to it for a while. It’s a three-piece live thing, and well, there are a lot of technical problems. Despite that, massive (should be) club bangers like ‘Infinity Guitars’ and ‘Rill Rill’ sound really big in the Festival Republic tent environment. Annoying tech problems are in abundance here, but the fact of the matter is, that this is the ultimate in electronic punk music, so nobody gives a flying fig and the show goes on. Derek E. Miller (guitar) Alexis Krauss (vocals) and (occasionally) Jason Boyer (touring guitarist) errr…slay the place tonight. Man, we’re on fire with these ridiculous puns, eh?
As I’m still recovering from a brilliant first day in Bramham Park, the Californian punk band Ceremony are a perfect tonic to kick me up the arse for another day of gigging. Energetic and raucous are just a few words to sum-up the atmosphere at the Dance/Lock-Up Stage. Playing through a brief torrential downpour (good ol’ Yorkshire), Ceremony are no stranger to Leeds having last played here at The Well in March. Frontman Ross Farrar is an eccentric performer: sometimes sloping across the stage with intensity, and at other times, jumping from amplifiers and playing up to the band’s hardcore live reputation. He looks tall and awkward in the short pauses between the songs, but once the searing guitars begin, Farrar is a man possessed. Ceremony finish with a song “about death, like losing your grandma or Jimi Hendrix.” Something for everyone then.
Moving on to the Festival Republic Stage, a steady crowd is gathering for We Are Augustines. Their brand of foot-stomping, plaid shirt-wearing, honest and heartfelt rock references early Snow Patrol and Doves with darker undertones connoting Interpol or The National. It seems this trio have been a benefactor of “word of mouth” hype in the previous months and this Leeds Festival appearance is to be their last show after 15-month stretch of solid touring. Declaring it a “big f’in deal” to be playing Leeds Festival, lead singer Billy McCarthy leads the crowd in a sombre piano accompanied final song, a fitting end to a rousing final performance on the festival circuit. Expect to see this lot as headliners in the coming years.
Catching a break from the menagerie of bands on offer this second day of the festival, I decide to catch a bit o’ comedy at the Alternative Stage. Australian Adam Hills has become a regular on the ever-popular panel show slot on British television and the witty “colonial” has made a point to appear at both Reading and Leeds for the last few years. It is not surprising then to find an eager crowd stretching from the stage to outside the tent throughout the entirety of this routine. Fans of Adam Hills or BBC’s Live At The Apollo may recognise some of this material, but it is delivered with an affably friendly Australian manner that is impossible to dislike. Pin-pointing cultural differences and finding humour in British Sign Language are the highlights of his set. This being the weekend before the start of the Paralympics and Hills’ Channel Four nightly Paralympics round-up, Hills mentions what we’ve all been wondering: “When is he going to take his leg off?!” For those who don’t know, Hills has an artificial foot and it’s now a Leeds Festival tradition that he removes it! Organised chaos inevitably ensues as Hills happily finishes his set by obliging his crowd: crowd-surfing towards his artificial foot (which is crowd-surfing from the other direction) to the harmonious humming of the ‘Chariots Of Fire’ theme. Now there’s a spectacle I never thought I’d see. Awesome.
Back to the Main Stage then and steadily moving up the bill in the previous years are Bombay Bicycle Club. Three albums under their belt in as many years has seen the band gain a loyal following in the indie music scene ever since first winning the Road To V competition in 2006 to perform at V Festival that year. The North London quartet has matured under the festival glare and most of today’s set feels like the perfect fest soundtrack. Songs from their first album (‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose’) such as ‘Evening/Morning’ and ‘Always Like This’ already play like indie classics to a crowd who go crazy the opening chords of either track. Singles from their latest album (A Different Kind of Fix) are relayed effortlessly, proving their plucky indie rock sounds as gripping on the stage as in the studio. Promising a more electronic sound for their upcoming fourth album (from which they played the track ‘Carry Me’), who knows where the Bombay Bicycle Club will lead us next year?
Taking a break from performing and recording with the band that made him famous, Blur, Graham Coxon pops up on the NME/Radio 1 Stage for a solid set from the bespectacled singer/guitarist. Having recently released his eighth solo album ‘A+E’ back in May which probably is his fuzziest album in years, tracks like ‘Advice’ and ‘What’ll It Take’ reinvigorate a crowd honoured to see a Brit music legend in action. Of course it isn’t Blur classics that dedicated Coxon fans have come to hear, but his lo-fi punk which has influenced bands like Dinosaur Pile-Up and The Subways to name just a small few. His biggest (arguably) hit ‘Freakin’ Out’ pleases the crowd no end, but Coxon simply takes another swig, mumbles some inaudible gem and hits back with a wall of guitar feedback and another blistering tune. That’s his way and I like it.
Starting off our day with Grimes, we are much less than impressed. Sure the dark electronic dubstep sound, and tracks like ‘Oblivion’ are amazing to listen to on record, but live their really is nothing to it. The performers (Grimes on keys with a live electronic drummer) don’t really do anything much. The highlight of this set comes when a dude jumps up and starts dancing on stage to the beats; his crazy long hair is mesmerising, and so he becomes the centre of our attention and as such, is the coolest thing about this set. Next we head over to the BBC Introducing stage to watch Hildamay do their heavy thing, and it’s another decent helping of post-hardcore that we’re willingly served; epic drums and emphatic guitar riffs introduce ‘Delicate’ and we are immediately hooked in. It’s easy to see that this Kent-based band will be next in-line to the current Brit-rock crown held by the likes of You Me At Six. Next up on the same stage, Max Raptor get their rage on. It’s all about the “balls to the wall” punk energy, and there’s a lot to it. Without doubt MR will have been one of the most energetic bands on Introducing this weekend, and armed with tracks the calibre of the raucous (and deliciously raw) ‘Bloodshot Eyes’ it’s not hard to see why. Excellent stuff.
Next up, I head over to watch Modestep on the Dance Stage (passing Rou Reynolds of Enter Shikari jumping off speakers on the Main Stage as we go…good lad). This band puts on the show of our weekend, and it’s the electronic and rock fusion that fans of Pendulum will sorely miss in their absence; there’s everything in here from Tetris samples to Rage Against The Machine breakdowns. Latest single, ‘Show Me A Sign’ gets the biggest shout of the day. It’s epic and the tent is packed out more than we have seen it be this entire weekend. Modestep are surely going on to huge things.
Following that mega show, I roll over to the NME/Radio1 stage to catch Mastadon performing the progressive rock masterpiece, ‘Curl Of The Burl’, which is pretty much the ultimate in pure metal awesomeness; it’s great to see Mastadon so high on the bill, and with so many die-hard rock fans here watching with me.
One of the greatest surprises of my weekend is The Cribs. This is indeed Yorkshire alt-rock at its finest. ‘Hey Scenesters’ is a definite standout here that most certainly captures the energy and sheer diversity that is constantly present within this band’s catalogue. It’s interesting, because the group have definite indie-by-numbers tunes and then ones that really surprise; a great example is ‘Victim Of Mass Production’ (dubbed by the band as their “metal” song for the evening. Again, we are suitably impressed. The band do very well here catering for a crowd of predominantly hard rock fans who have come to see Mastadon and stayed for the next (and last) band on this stage.
Indeed, At The Drive-In showcase a real intensity and while vocalist Omar Rodriguez Lopez looks pretty bored throughout, it’s still a damn good show…jolly good, and that. As Omar takes every opportunity to break and sip from his cup and flask, I do recognise that we are witnessing something special. Is this the very last time that we will see ATD-I live and on stage in the UK? Maybe. But, who knows? Part of this band’s charm is the unpredictable nature of not only the members but the music as well. ‘One Armed Scissor’, ‘Pickpocket’ and ‘Pattern Against User’ are obvious favourites and each one of the tracks readily showcases the group’s mastery over a range of instruments. Indeed, there is clearly a positive atmosphere here and the band seem to be on fine form. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to this innovative unit before the end of 2012.
Before finishing my Leeds duties, I head back to the Festival Republic Stage to catch what’s left of world-beating DJ Bassnectar’s heavy dubstep set and relax a little – we say a little, because it is ridiculously loud, you understand. As we get our “wub” on, I am left with some excellent memories of this year. from achieving childhood dreams (watching The Cure and ATD-I perform) to witnessing the most powerful new talent (everyone from Modestep via Young Guns to Hildamay) to the very best that they can to entertain the thousands in attendance this year. Yes!
The final day has come all too soon at Leeds Festival 2012 and there’s a tangible mood that everyone here is taking their final opportunity to make the most of their time under the sun. With that in mind, I jump at the chance to catch bright young things, Dry The River on the NME/Radio 1 Stage. Hailed as the band to look out for in 2012, this East London folk band appear to be the next one to benefit from the Mumford & Sons effect and be catapulted to folk stardom in the coming months. With matching shaggy hair and beards with soaring harmonies, this band make even a new listener (like me) conscious of the hairs raising on the back of her necks with songs like ‘Weights And Measures’ and ‘Bible Belt’. Promoting their debut album ‘Shallow Bed’ has proven fruitful of the band, with much of the crowd seemingly recognising every soaring chorus and violin-accompanying bridge.
Grammy-nominated The Shins grace the Main Stage after returning to the fore with their first album in four years. Their summery indie tunes seemed out of place on an afternoon plagued by occasional showers, but tracks like ‘Turn On Me’ and ‘Simple Song’ help transport an undeterred crowd into an atmosphere of James Mercer and co’s making.
Next, on the Festival Republic Stage are the impossibly young Dog Is Dead. Catchy sing-a-longs in ‘Glockenspiel Song’ and ‘Young’ instantly endear me (and incidentally the rest of this youthful audience) to this Nottingham troupe. Looking like a cross between geeky sixth formers and One Direction on stage, Dog Is Dead sound more like Noah & The Whale’s recent work, King Charles or The Mystery Jets. It’s staggering how much stage presence they seem to already possess at such an early stage in their careers. Honestly, we challenge you to see these guys live or listen to their singles and not smile. Go on, we dare you.
Scroobius Pip is flying solo this weekend in the Alternative Stage tent and I made sure I was down the front early for this exclusive performance which includes a full band alongside him. Armed with a big bottle of rose wine which he swigs intermittently (much to the delight of his fans), the highlight of the set is ‘Try Dying’ which whips up the crowd into a fury chanting “Who’s that waiting down by the graveyard?”. This being the day after the death of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong (R.I.P.) Scroobius Pip chooses to close his set with ‘Astronaut’ a song about unrealistic childhood dreams. Selecting tracks mainly from his 2011 solo album ‘Distraction Pieces’ which is more rock influenced than his work with Dan Le Sac, Scroobius Pip’s appeal is as much about his on stage personality and repartee with his fans as it is about his music. And at that, Scroobius Pip always excels.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Florence And The Machine in the last few years. First appearing at the Festival Republic Stage, Florence Welch and her band have earned their place on the Main Stage bill tonight. Countless record sales and numerous awards guarantee that it’s a full house. Though there’s never any doubt of Ms. Welch’s talents, especially live, her hippy-ish cries of “Hug each other! Express yourself!” appear to fall flat against a crowd eager for her next hit to be howled tunefully. Performing hits from first album ‘Lungs’ and follow-up ‘Ceremonials,’ cement Florence Welch however, as a singer rarely beaten in energy and magnetism. A refreshing exclusion of hit cover ‘You’ve Got the Love’ (originally by The Source) is good to see, perhaps being a marked effort to step away from a territory they now have little need to dwell much longer in.
Choosing to explore a non-Main Stage headliner for the closing night of Leeds Festival 2012, I drift towards the Festival Republic Stage to catch Feeder do their thing to a packed out and rapturous crowd. There is an audible buzz of excitement as the crowd eagerly waits for one of the mainstays of British rock to make an appearance at such a surprisingly intimate setting. Celebrating twenty years in the business and the critical success of their latest album ‘Generation Freakshow’, when Feeder do arrive onstage, they play a mix of hits such as ‘Just the Way I’m Feeling’, ‘Pushing The Senses’, ‘Insomnia’ and of course ‘Buck Rogers’- altogether making a brief 11-song set that leaves an electric crowd hungry for more. Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose could probably whip up frenzy in their sleep and tonight Feeder have brought out the big guns and delivered once again. Here’s to another twenty years of Feeder, if it’s anything like the last two decades, it’ll be worth the ride. Leeds Festival. It’s been amazing. We’ll see you again next year.
For more information visit the official Leeds Festival website.
WORDS: Dom Smith and Evangeline Spachis for Soundsphere magazine
Giles Smith (crowd)
Giles Smith (Band Of Skulls)
Giles Smith (Pulled Apart By Horses)
Pooneh Ghana (Eagles Of Death Metal)
Giles Smith (Kaiser Chiefs)
Pooneh Ghana (The Black Keys)
Giles Smith (Foo Fighters)
Ian Taylor (Paramore)
Pooneh Ghana (Sleigh Bells)
Chris Ensell (The Cure)
Giles Smith (Bombay Bicycle Club)
Chris Ensell (Modestep)
Pooneh Ghana (The Cribs)
Pooneh Ghana (At The Drive-In)
Ian Taylor (Florence And The Machine)