Monday, September 12, 2011

Live Review: Leeds Festival, Part 3 Of 3

Friday and Saturday of Leeds 2011 had been great, but even a cursory look at the lineup would tell you that the third and final day was where the fun and games lay. The NME/Radio 1 and Festival Republic Stages looked strong as ever, while the Lock-Up Stage made a welcome return after it had been transformed to the Dance Stage the day before. The days highlights didn't take much seeking out, though, since most of them were positioned on the Main Stage. Things came to a head with the festivals' first 'co-headliners,' The Strokes and Pulp, but there was also gold to be found earlier on in the day, with critical darlings The National, emo legends Jimmy Eat World and timeless festival veterans Madness all coming in late afternoon. It was a day that promised much, and proved to live up to every expectation and then some...

SUNDAY (28/08/2011)

After two days which had been mixed at best on the weather front, the sunshine finally made a long overdue appearance late on Sunday morning. This only worked to improve the atmosphere on site, but Main Stage openers The Joy Formidable still had the strong wind to contend with. Nevertheless, the Welsh rockers managed to battle the elements and played a solid set drawing from their excellent debut album The Big Roar - which is one of my personal favourites from this year. Some of their unnecessary instrumental jams did get lost in the bluster, but the quality of songs such as 'Whirring' and 'The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade' was more than enough to see them reign supreme. There are plenty of bands out there that try to resurrect the qualities of grunge and shoegaze, but few do it as well as this trio, and although this wasn't the best I've seen them it was still a solid way to get the day underway.

After that, we kept on the late eighties/early nineties revival trail by watching Yuck on the NME/Radio 1 Stage. What strikes you right away about the London quartet is just how shameless they are in their influences, with a range of predictable bands being aired before they took to the stage including Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine. The lack of originality shouldn't detract from how good some of their songs are, though, with the likes of 'Get Away' and 'Georgia' in particular impressing. To put it simply, Yuck are exactly the same live as they are on record, but they can get away with that because their album was great. There are no thrills or unexpected breaks, and there's very little personality in their performance, but as long as you don't expect any of those things then you're going to enjoy them.

Letlive. on the other hand could not be more different. Their show on the Lock-Up Stage was a riotous exhibition of relentless on-stage energy which seriously pushed the boundaries of what's physically possible in such a confined space. Frontman Jason Aalon Butler was the source of most the chaos, hurling himself across the stage and the crowd with a ferocity which added an extra dimension to his band's music, completely blitzing their comparatively lame studio recordings. Far from being simply a savage demonstration of hardcore muscle, though, there was also a genuine emotional depth to this performance, again stemming from Butler's vocals and enhancing their entire sound. It was a truly phenomenal thing to behold, and completely justified the hype that's been bubbling for the past 12 months or so. It might sound a little cliche, but you truly don't know Letlive until they've blown you away in the live arena.

Speaking of hype, Sunday afternoon was due to boast an appearance from Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, but they pulled out citing Tyler's two VMA nominations, and chose to attend the ceremony instead. Keeping it real? Yeah right. Fortunately, there were a few decent substitutes scattered around the site, not least Grouplove, who delivered one of the finest sets of the weekend on the Festival Republic Stage. With their debut album imminent, the sunny LA quintet were on top form, bouncing around the stage with an infectious enthusiasm which looked to have won over virtually all of the curious on-lookers who had turned up on impulse. The fact that they've amassed some truly brilliant tunes did, of course help, with lost summer anthems like 'Lovely Cup,' 'Colours' and 'Itchin' On A Photograph' sounding even more vital - not to mention brilliant - than they do on record.

The fun didn't stop there, with a sun-drenched Main Stage performance from the legendary Madness enough to raise a smile in even the most downbeat punters. Nutty classics like 'Baggy Trousers,' 'Our House' and 'House Of Fun' seem custom-made for late afternoon festival performances like this, and were met with a predictably ecstatic performance from the enormous crowd, many of whom spent much of the time pogoing along. Most of those people left before Jimmy Eat World arrived on stage, but it was they who missed out as the seminal alt-rock four piece delivered a similarly solid greatest-hits set. They're not a band that's going to blow your mind live, but they have a strong collective of songs to lean against which was more than enough to satisfy those watching. What was most impressive, though, was just how well drilled the quartet were, giving you a sense of their excellent musicianship which is unfortunately lost on record.

When the lineup for the festival was first announced, one name jumped out at me more than any other. That band was The National, in my opinion the best in the world at the moment, and easily my most anticipated performance of the entire event. That said, I wasn't really sure how their brooding and understated sound would translate on such a large stage, especially in such a high slot, but the Ohio quintet exceeded any expectations I had with a truly majestic set. The fact that they didn't play many of my personal favourites hardly mattered, as the immense strength and depth of their back catalogue virtually guarantees a great setlist, and so it proved. It might be a while before they get the mass fan-fare required to truly excel in such a high slot, but The National are a band on the up, and this show did nothing to harm that ascent.

As part of their "co-headliner" deal, The Strokes had appeared last at Reading the previous night, but here were forced to play second fiddle to Pulp. I like both bands, but coming into the evening wasn't a diehard fan of either, and that's pretty much how it stayed with The Strokes since they put in a solid, if unspectacular performance. The immense strength of their setlist cannot be denied, and it certainly got the lively crowd going - if only the same can be said for Julian Casablancas. If baffles me how someone can run through 17 stone-wall indie classics with so little conviction, and while most view his demeanor as being effortlessly cool, I just see it as half-arsed. As Letlive. and Grouplove had shown earlier in the day, a bit of enthusiasm can go a long way, and The Strokes would do well to take heed of that if they want to deliver a truly great live show.

There were no such issues for Pulp, who possess quite simply one of the most charismatic frontmen ever in the form of Jarvis Cocker. Crucially, though, they also have a fantastic canon of classic britpop tracks which ensured that every single song proved a highlight in it's own right. Jarvis was in top form throughout, pulling off his legendary dance moves, dry humping the stage during 'This Is Hardcore,' and entertaining the crowd with his sheer wit, which could easily have earned him a slot on the comedy stage as opposed to fronting the headlining band. Quite simply, the man is a genius, equally capable of adding surreal sexual tension to creepy cuts like as 'I Spy' as he is of enhancing utterly brilliant pop moments such as 'Disco 2000' to a whole new level. They added a nice touch mid-way through their set by introducing former guitarist Richard Hawley to the stage, but the moment everyone craved for was 'Common People,' the anthem to end all anthems which brought their stunning set to it's conclusion.

Really, you couldn't have asked for a more perfect way to end the three day event. Pulp delivered arguably the stand out performance of the entire weekend, and in 'Common People' waved farewell with one of the greatest songs ever written. In an age where bands are reuniting here there and everywhere, I can't think of a single reformation that has been greeted with as much enthusiasm as Jarvis and Co's, and it's easy to see why. They may have eclipsed everything before them, but all in all it was another fantastic year for the festival, and thoughts immediately turn to when it all begins again in 12 months time. Roll on 2012.

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