Sunday, 8 May 2011

Live @ Leeds Review

Live @ Leeds 2011

The sun radiates upon the collected wristband wearers sat outside the exchange as they listen to a band in a tent. It’s Rhubarb Bomb’s first festival of the year, the multi venue extravaganza that is Live @ Leeds. The weather has done the city proud, but I feel less good myself. A combination of having finished a night shift at 7am that morning and an incredibly snotty nose and sore throat don’t conspire to promise me an AMAZING time. But the vibes are instantly good. With a box of brand new Issue 2.1’s under my arm we pace up to Faversham for the first band of the day.

Arriving at The Fav we find many a friendly face outside. It’s a beautiful day and it’s pretty tempting to just stay outside on the picnic tables. We don’t though, because this is the Runaround Kids and, seemingly, wherever they go, Rhubarb Bomb must follow.

With an album recently complete (due in August) the band confidently showcase a lot of their new material. “Cant Lose Lover” stands out as breaking away slightly form their usual driving 2 chord variations with its sliding, weaving chorus (is it a chorus? I don’t know). Basically they seem to have expanded on all the good bits from their previous single and EP, namely, the expanded instrumental sections, the spiky vocal passages and the use of two vocalists, with Bassist Jack noticeably contributing more. They even drop regular closing track ‘Clandestines’, rightly choosing to move onwards and upwards. But most of all, and more than ever they look and feel like a group, 3 individuals, each virtuoso in their own right, but also tightly locked into together; like a proper band man. And they look like they are having fun too.

Outside for a pint and back inside for Piskie Sits. On form, as ever these days, they deliver a short sharp set of riotous yet honed slacker pop brilliance. Singer Craig is the focus; on the tight stage only guitarist Harry Rhodes has space to ‘rock out’ (which he obligingly does). Craig, with his band kicking out the jams around him seems to exist within his own bubble, off in his own world of imagination from which he draws his acute observations. I like that detached otherworldliness. It also makes me notice; I NEVER see him before a Piskies gig, hanging around, talking to people. He just seems to ‘beam in’, then out again. Otherwise the band are tough and tight and confident but pleasingly maintain a feeling that you don’t quite know what is going to happen. The only thing to let it down is the consistently bad sound within The Faversham. It’s never been a great venue for sound and today the drums are almost lost and the nuances of the guitar work not as pronounced as they should be. Still, most of the crowd, resplendent in their chequered shirts (at least 50% are wearing them) lap it up enthusiastically.

Foolishly ignoring many peoples advice to stay and watch Squarehead (who were amazing, apparently) I instead am recommended to go check out Arthur Rigby & The Bakervylles at Stylus. From the write up and the stage set up as I arrive I anticipate sub Mumford & Sons type folky balladearing (i.e. M&S’s turgid ‘mass appeal’ output). What I get is kind of like that, I guess. The singers voice from the word go reminds me of the Kings Of Leon guy (very bad news) and the music is probably somewhere between Mumford and Arcade Fire in that it is an intricately constructed sound around some basic chords and structures. There are 8 people on stage, a nice bit of brass and some keyboard all helping the songs of Arthur Digby rise and swell with emotion as required. It’s all very accomplished and polished, the sound is huge but accessible. Looking across the stage I can see that exact setup working on Jools Holland, that kind of music; the harmless folk section of the show. All very well, but I also find it very boring. Plenty of people in the crowd (including the chum who recommended this to me) are well into it, but it is not my cup of tea at all.

So instead I head off to catch Fight Like Apes. But for the second year running (last time for Middleman) I am unable to even get into the room at The Well. It’s chock full. Can’t even get my head round the door. Are Live @ Leeds putting too big bands in there? Or do they just happen to pop the ones with cult followings there? Shame, I heard the show was pretty cool.

By now it was time for dinner. Now, one of the great things about Live @ Leeds is that you don’t need to grab a dodgy burger or a Subway; you can actually eat somewhere nice. For me, and our group, it’s now part of the whole experience of the day. After dashing madly around, it’s a relief to sit down for an hour and relax. So, in the spirit of that, I will also review where we ate.

We stopped for tea at a place just over the bridge from The Well called Veritas. It’s a sweet little place, a pub that serves a selection of Real Ales and interesting wines. It has that sociable pub feel but is a little more classy. It’s got a deli with loads of different cheeses and olives. And a pretty cool menu too. I had the Moroccan Lamb Pie which was divine. Someone else had a burger which looked tasty too. A couple quid more than Weatherspoons and you can have a genuinely great meal. The fact you can do that is one of the things that makes Live @ Leeds special and ties it to the city it is celebrating. Veritas is a great little place with a varied menu. Without detriment to the musicians, sitting in there with a bottle of wine was one of the highlights of Live @ Leeds this year.

Refuelled, we headed over to Stylus once more. Compared to last year I didn’t get to see as many bands. Partly being tired, partly being ill, I didn’t feel like dashing about. But to be honest there wasn’t as much that grabbed me this year, and the majority that did was scheduled to overlap. I’d have loved to have seen The Twilight Sad, Honour Before Glory, or Frightened Rabbit, but couldn’t. Instead, in the interests of having a good time with a group of friends, we went for something we knew we’d all enjoy; Slow Club and The Futureheads.

I only caught the second half of Slow Club due to some RB delivering but Stylus was pretty rammed. The band should have been on tour promoting its new album, but due to sickness it has been delayed. Meaning this was their only gig in the foreseeable. The band seemed a little shaky and under rehearsed. For some bands this could be calamitous but in this case it just added to the charm of it. The simplicity of their songs combined with their ability to fill a space as big as Stylus with that sound shows what a great band they are. I do wonder where they can, or intend to go now. It feels like they have found their level; playing small to medium sized venues. Could they go any larger and keep that intimacy and sense of fun? I always remember seeing The White Stripes (who I am no especial fan of) at Leeds Festival and realising it could be done. Do Slow Club want to, or indeed need to? I don’t know, but here they showed themselves to be a fine festival band.

And finally The Futureheads. Wow, they do an amazing thing and almost make me feel 17 again, which is odd, because I was 20 when they released their first album. Half of the set tonight is taken from that debut album and it’s quite possibly down to this that myself and the entire audience have such an amazing time. A cracking 1-2 of ‘Decent Days & Nights’ and ‘Robot’ kicks off a bouncing set which sees the band in carefree, possibly drunken spirits, Singer / Guitarist Barry in particular looking like he was blagging his way through the lyrics quite often.

The lyrics and vocals were then surprisingly put to the forefront for an acapella interlude. Oh yes - showcasing songs they’ve been writing for a new purely vocal album they leave Stylus in shocked awe. Those familiar with the debut album would be perhaps less surprised by this turn of events, featuring as it did ‘Danger Of The Water’ a beautiful example of the acapella style. Here they expand that and it kind of develops into something like ‘The Crimp’ from Mighty Boosh. It’s that mind boggling and bizarre. When they kick into the second of their vocal only numbers you can feel the crowd feel uncomfortable – ‘oh, it wasn’t just a one song interlude… ok’. And then when they go into the THIRD!? But they nailed it and the audience totally went with it, even getting the chance to join in on a barroom singalong about The Dun Cow Pub in Sunderland (my favourite pub when I was at uni there, by happy coincidence).

However, they then crank up their guitars and blast out another fast paced run of classics, ending with the killer trio of ‘Carnival kids’, ‘Hounds of Love’ and ‘Man Ray’. Awesome, what a night. It made me wonder why I ever stopped listening to them.

Overall it was a different Live @ Leeds this year, for me at least. Due to either the scheduling, or simply my personal taste, I didn’t find myself running about all over the city trying to see as many bands as I could. Knowing I was going to end up in Stylus for the Slow Club / Futureheads double whammy kinda kept me round there. Overall the line up didn’t excite me too much but ultimately I had an excellent time; with so many places to go, so much to see and so much to do, it would be hard not to. I was also pleased with the general helpfulness of staff – even in the venues who presumably have no real connection with Futuresound. Perhaps I didn’t get to make enough of Live @ Leeds this year but for me the fact that I don’t feel pressured to see everything and be everywhere led me to have a more enjoyable day. Great times; well done Live@Leeds.

Words: Dean Freeman
Photography: Jayne Woodhead

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