Festival Review: Sunday at Leeds Festival 27th August 2023 [Version 2 from Callie Petch]

By John Hayhurst
By September 2, 2023 Live, Reviews

Last minute replacement for Lewis Capaldi – The 1975 charm a Leeds Festival crowd with a run through of their debut album, or did they?? Callie Petch went there to investigate


Words – Callie Petch, Photos – John Hayhurst (@snapagig)


As I follow the signs to the car park on Sunday morning, I see them. The giant rolling dark grey clouds looming ominously over Bramham Park. Although I didn’t attend Leeds Festival on Saturday, I had seen that those who were there needed to bust out their ponchos in order to cope with the elements, and the weather report did forecast some showers for the last day’s events. Yet, when I do get parked and step out onto the fields, it’s all bone-dry and the clouds have even parted a little to let a few rays of sunshine beam down on the groggy festivalgoers. Like the total blithering fool that I am, I make the choice to venture into the grounds without switching over to my wellies. The rain was yesterday, this is today, everything’s gonna be fine!

Ten minutes before Baby Queen kicks off the day’s Main Stage East activity, I am made to pay dearly for my hubris as a torrential downpour hits and just drenches everything. Some of the assembled crowd frantically try to switch over to their pre-packed ponchos or open their umbrellas. Others, like I, am forced to just stand with our ineffectual hoodies and take it; getting our hopes up when it eases off, then putting the hoodies back up when it starts again. [So, yeah, anyone who was there around 12:45PM on Sunday can blame me and my tempting fate for getting soaked through.] It’s bad enough that Baby Queen feels a need to apologise between songs about the weather, like she has any control over it. Then again, maybe she does given that the rain suspiciously ebbs and flows based on how theatrically appropriate it would be for the current song she and her band are playing. Fading away during the shimmering lights of “Dream Girl,” only to roar back with intensity during a fiery climactic guitar solo.

Whilst awful to deal with later, the rain does kind of enhance the teenage melodrama of Baby Queen’s songwriting, a descriptor I use as a major compliment. The woman born Arabella Latham belongs to a generation of queer or queer-allying online-raised musicians who are fully open, messily raw, and emotionally intense. Where dating is a confusing life-and-death endeavour, self-loathing is a natural fact of living, the Internet is both the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems, and airing the kinds of overwhelming vulnerable emotions which would have previously seen you mocked and ostracised are now celebrated and validated. When wrapped up in the kinds of widescreen bubblegum-adjacent pop-rock that used to be all over the radio in the early-00s, you get songs which aim for the bleachers without sacrificing the kind of intimacy that makes people scream entire spoken-word verses back like they’re purging a demon from their body. A throng of super-fans make up the front barricades, and they look about ready to burst when Arabella jumps down from the stage during closer “Want Me” to embrace them, but pretty much everybody leaves her set with giant smiles on their faces. Whilst hiding in the press tent for another downpour to pass, I too search her upcoming tour dates.

A trek back to my car to sheepishly switch over my footwear to wellies means I arrive to Chalk’s BBC Introducing set already being deep in progress. Initially, the Northern Irish trio pull in a decent-sized crowd, albeit likely more from the Introducing stage having an overhang which could keep the rain at bay for the first five or six rows. Once the rain finally dissipates for the day, however, the crowd very quickly thins out. Turns out that 1:50PM on a Sunday at a festival where 95% of the attendees are barely of drinking age and rocking buckets hats with varying obscenities is not the sort of environment where confrontational, unsettling noise-rock thrives. A shame because the band do sound good and closer “Static” is bracing in its spiky charge, but you get the sense that Chalk are fighting a losing battle and their energy on-stage reflects that sentiment.

In general, the deck seems stacked against the BBC Introducing acts on stage today. The other two I manage to see end up having their sets cut short to some degree due to nebulous technical difficulties compounded by the hard-out of the nearby Main Stage West’s own sets starting. HotWax get visibly irritated as the seconds tick by to minutes without receiving the all-clear from their sound guy, who eventually has to sit directly underneath the barricade and wing his job with an iPad whilst leaning around press photographers to keep a clear line of sight and sound. Bassist Lola Sam eventually vents by way of introduction “we’re gonna play as many songs as we can fit in, I guess.” Fortunately, when they do get going, the trio are impressively swaggering and rocking. Sam’s bass and lead vocalist Tallulah Sim-Savage’s guitar intersect phenomenally, beefing up the riffs on “Treasure” to headbanging levels, and drummer Alfie Sayers alternates between being a stabilising presence and Animal-like bursts of energy. “Rip it Out” already sounds like a roof-tearing set-closer even in these settings; you can see new fans being won over in real time.

Lucia & The Best Boys aren’t so lucky. Their technical issues drag on for so long that, by the time they get given the go-ahead, they can only play three songs before needing to close up shop, much to the vocal disappointment of their fans in the crowd. You can feel the momentum being completely kneecapped when frontwoman Lucia Fairfull has to announce that they’re heading into the last song after less time than it takes to walk from one end of the festival grounds to the other. What she and her band do get to play is pleasant pop-rock anchored by Lucia’s impressive dexterous voice, but it doesn’t really stand out when subjected to the festival equivalent of a Spotify auto-play mix where something short and new gets immediately (often unwelcomingly) chased by a big hit you already know.

When I get to the BBC Radio 1 Dance Stage in time for Georgia’s set and she’s also running late due to technical difficulties, I start to worry about inadvertently being a walking bad juju magnet for any act I see today. These issues don’t subside when Georgia takes the stage, either, as she repeatedly has to storm off stage-right during opener “It’s Euphoric” to yell at her tech guys for having her in-ears stuck at a deafening volume. Once the track finishes and she’s put the issue on blast to the assembled crowd, things quickly improve. Unlike the other two times I’ve seen her live, Georgia is joined here by a bassist and live drummer rather than working entirely solo and the extra muscle adds a lot to the live experience of hearing these songs. It’s also befitting recent album Euphoric’s shift away from low-lit cubby synthpop to brighter indie pop, most highlighted by the new wave ballad “The Dream.” Georgia’s voice stretches and soars, whilst her crowdpleasing side breaks through in a surprise rock cover of Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At?” which gets the whole tent jumping. Alas, the technical goblins cannot be abated forever and a closing rendition of “About Work the Dancefloor” sees her rip out the in-ears after the second verse, give up singing, then immediately storm off-stage after saying goodbye presumably to read somebody the riot act.

There was a time where buzzy Santa Cruz hardcore punk band Scowl would be playing a stage at Leeds Fest entirely billed with likeminded heavy music acts and a packed crowd ready to start circle pits at the drop of a hat. At Leeds Fest 2023, their status as a band who bring unapologetic ‘make you feel like you can suplex a high-rise building’ energy feels weirdly out-of-place for a festival whose general vibe has trended more mainstream and hip-hop in recent years, and the circle pits have no risk of an errant bystander getting an accidental roundhouse kick to the jaw. Still, that fact wasn’t going to cause Scowl to phone it in and they proceed to put on the kind of blistering physical set you want from your hardcore experiences, battering their way through “Fuck Around” and “Psychic Dance Routine” with the urgency of a seasoned hardcore act who are incapable of not giving 110%. That commitment succeeds in drawing in more than a few outsiders, too; the crowd size at least doubles by the time “Opening Night”’s last chord rings out and their presence turns the pit out to something more befitting Scowl’s stature.

Similarly a throwback to the Lock Up Stage days whilst reflecting the alternative scene’s more inclusive and musically-adventurous present, non-binary dark hyperpop artist ZAND is a performer who feels right on the cusp of becoming a Very Big Deal. Fusing together metalcore vocal tricks, dubstep breakdowns, musical theatre camp, nu-metal sludge, rap cadence and rhythm, and really anything else that takes their fancy, ZAND’s music is tremendous fun and the prior fans in the audience are yelling back every word of blood-soaked revenge fantasy “I Spit On Your Grave” and self-pleasure anthem “DTF” with pure glee. ZAND themselves, however, refuses to break character on-stage for almost the entire time; rattling off lines with bored, Rihanna-esque dispassion and jerky Keith Flint-reminiscent leans that’s strangely magnetic in its own way. Very, very rarely, I glimpse a smile flash across their face, like they cannot believe other people are reacting so vividly to songs they wrote, but the mask doesn’t slip for long. It won’t be until later, when I interview them (more on that later this week), that they allow themselves to geek out over the reaction of the crowd.

And so we come to the reason I requested this assignment in the first place: The 1975. This marks the third time in four events that Britain’s biggest band have headlined Reading & Leeds, and the second year in a row that they’re doing so as an emergency replacement for a prior-announced headliner. Despite their (or rather Matty Healy’s) propensity for sticking their foot in it at almost every turn, this booking marks them down as an official safe pair of hands. The guys you call when you want a guaranteed good time serving to as many people as possible; weirdly fitting that their co-headliners are The Killers, who similarly fit that bill with professional aplomb. Perhaps as an acknowledgement of The 1975’s potential overexposure of late, including headlining several festivals up and down the country this Summer, the R&L announcement also came with the reveal that both shows would be full-album run-throughs of their self-titled debut, which turns 10 one week on from their performances.

For all the consternation and moaning which erupted online upon their reveal as Lewis Capaldi’s replacement, hearing The 1975 in full clearly shifted a bunch of tickets. You cannot move for 1975 and box shirts around Brabham Park well before it finally comes time for the band to close down Main Stage West. The nostalgia factor for 2013, Tumblr-era fashions, and feeling 17 again has pulled in enough people to successfully drown out Matty’s vocals on a bunch of songs. A sea of phones rise once the box lights up, the classic leather jackets and greasy hair instil gasps and “they’re so fit” proclamations, and slightly deeper cuts which rarely get aired in proper 1975 live shows – “M.O.N.E.Y.,” “Heart Out,” “Settle Down” – are given a reverential reception. It’s a pure exercise in nostalgia, a set with no stakes or aspirations to higher meaning other than taking a well-earned victory lap, and it also results in the most relaxed and happy band performance I think I’ve ever seen. Matty’s banter is much less prevalent or varied than usual, mostly based around him remembering that they’re about to play “another banger” and wondering why he doesn’t play them more, but the size and frequency of smile speaks volumes.

After The 1975 wraps up, the set’s remaining half-hour is dedicated to demonstrating why The 1975 have only gotten bigger in the decade since. A whipcrack sprint through standbys and new classics that blow out the scale of that debut, showcase the growth of the band’s lyricism – going from cheekily sweet “I’m In Love With You” to all-timer self-pitying break-up anthem “Somebody Else” and cam-girl addiction fable “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” – and experimentation with pop standards (like “Happiness”’ unconventional structure and lack of true rhyme). During this phase of the set, the crowd does start thinning out but that seems to be more a result of people wanting to stake out close spaces for The Killers straight after than a lack of enthusiasm for the songs being played. Most of the faces I see scoot past me for the pit exits are still singing and dancing to every word. It even seems to be encouraged by the band themselves, making the conscious choice to end not on jubilant house-pop hit “The Sound” but rather the reflective emo sigh of “About You” and an order to “enjoy ‘Mr. Brightside!’” Regardless, it closes down my time at Leeds Fest this year on a major high, sending me off back to my car in blissful reverie.

Even if they skipped “Is There Somebody Who Can Watch You,” meaning that they didn’t actually play The 1975 in full as advertised. Lying bastards.