Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Live Review: Leeds Festival 2011, Part 1 of 3

Reading may receive all the plaudits for being one of the UK’s premier music festivals, but it’s younger sibling Leeds is developing just as fine a reputation, if not more so. The two share identical lineups, and although all the media coverage comes from the south, Leeds has it’s own benefits including a better site and generally more active crowds. Since it’s inception in 1999, the festival has attracted some of music’s biggest names, and this year provided yet another stellar lineup, with a range of established faces alongside fresh acts looking to follow in their footsteps. It all promised for another fabulous weekend of music fit to round off anyones summer.

FRIDAY (26/08/2011)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a British summer without torrential rain, and right on cue the heavens opened as the first day commenced. This duly turned the entire site into a quagmire and caused most punters to head to the tents for shelter. No one seemed to choose the Lock Up Stage, though, where we got our festival off to a low-key start by watching up-and-coming punk band Fighting Fiction along with about 50 others. The Brighton quartet overcame the lack of an audience, though, to deliver a solid set of impassioned punk anthems which by and large went down well. Their debut album is out next month, and if the bulk of it can match up to the singles 'Rock And Roll Is Dead And It's Corpse Is For Sale' and 'We Will Not Forget,' then they could go far.

After that we headed off to the NME/Radio 1 Stage, where a far larger crowd had congregated. Whether they were there for Fucked Up's performance or merely keeping themselves dry is open to debate, but if one thing's for sure it's that the Canadians put on a thoroughly entertaining show and doubtless left the stage with a host of new fans. Frontman Pink Eyes inevitably entered the crowd during the second song, eventually finding his way to the back of the 9,000 capacity tent and not returning until his band had finished playing. The positive reception afforded to monstrous new album David Comes To Life seems to have boosted their confidence significantly, and this memorable performance was a clear sign of their rising stock.

Another artist on the up is Frank Turner, who was this year promoted to a Main Stage slot which we braved the rain to catch. But while his performance was as enthusiastic as ever and brought about a typically animated crowd response, the upgrade wasn't really one that suited him much. It didn't help that the weather dampened the mood and that the sound was frankly awful, but it was apparent that his folk-punk anthems are far more at home in the tents which he has ignited in recent years.

There were no such issues on the Festival Republic Stage, which had a particularly strong schedule this year with some of the most exciting new bands currently on the circuit. And although they're by no means the most original group on the line-up, Newcastle trio Little Comets did a great job at getting the crowd moving with their danceable and addictive brand of indie-pop. They did lose a bit of momentum with their slower songs, but they more than made up for it with gems like 'Joanna,' 'One Night In October' and 'Dancing Song.' Scene as they're local to me, I'm amazed that it's taken me this long to see them, and if possible I'll definitely catch them live again in the future.

After that stirring set, there was a lull with no bands we were particularly bothered about seeing, so we chose to watch events in the NME/Radio 1 tent to kill the time. The two that were on were Chapel Club and Warpaint, and although not really a fan of either it was plainly clear that the latter are by far the superior. Their music has an effervescent underlying energy that is simply absent from that of the gloom-rocker's, which can be like listening to wallpaper at times.

Appropriately enough, the rain had finally subsided before we headed to watch Friendly Fires bring their summer sounds to the Main Stage. Unfortunately, the backdrop was still a decidedly gloomy one, and this setting gave songs like 'Hawaiian Air' and 'Jump In The Pool' a rather uncomfortable irony. Still, you can't blame the band for such issues, and as ever they put on a fun show which kept the crowd warm. It's sets like this that have made them festival mainstays over the past couple of years, so much so that no one even bothers laughing at Ed Macfarlane's dancing anymore because, well, we've all become used to it

The drab grey skies found a far better fit when Interpol arrived on the same stage later in the day. The New Yorkers delivered a solid if unspectacular set, drawing from all four of their studio albums without ever really deviating from what you'd expect. They were followed by the similarly mid-paced, if rather more charismatic Elbow. The Manchester band have found great critical and commercial success with their past two albums, though I personally can't make it through any of their LP's without succumbing to boredom. A set complied of their best songs, however, is thoroughly enjoyable, and it's for this reason that they've risen to these early evening slots which suit their sound so perfectly.

Without a doubt the main event of the first day, though, was Muse's headline performance on the Main Stage. To mark the 10th anniversary of their seminal second record Origin Of Symmetry, they began by playing it in it's entirety, and as you'd imagine it was quite a spectacle. The show was perfect for fans who had become tired of the usual best-of set, and the fact that the entire production was based around the album's artwork and linear notes was a nice touch. They did, of course still find time to run through an hour of the hits, and did so with the confidence and precision you'd expect from a band headlining it's gazillionth festival. Closer 'Knights Of Cydonia' was particularly impressive, and did nothing to hurt their reputation as the Greatest Live Act on the Planet™. The only downside were the fans who were looking bemused during the likes of 'Hyper Music' and 'Citizen Erased' yet still found the energy to go apeshit to dross like 'Uprising,' though it was inevitable that some would miss the point entirely.

That set proved an epic conclusion to what overall was an excellent opening day. The weather certainly put a downer on proceedings, yet everything remained in good spirit ahead of two more days which looked just as strong. They will be covered in parts 2 and 3 of this write-up, which will appear in due course.

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