Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Black Moth – The Cockpit

I’ve been keen to catch Black Moth live since reviewing their split 7” with XM-3A for Rhubarb Bomb.  Sadly, when they played with the excellent Gentlemans Pistols at The Hop in Wakefield I was at a wedding in their native Leeds. Still, the best things come to those who wait (Read my review of their single, it seems they like making us wait, their debut album was originally scheduled for last autumn but emerged on the 7th of May.)

The quintet’s set kicks-off with ‘Blackbirds Fall’, a crushingly heavy number that I’d originally heard on extreme metal magazine Terrorizer’s cover mount CD; that the song has also been garnering plays on Mark Radcliffe’s 6 Music show highlights their enormous cross-over appeal. An impressive turnout at The Cockpit for what is only the second of slot of the day at the venue underlines this. Those who have made the effort to get here early are not disappointed by a set that largely lives up to Black Moth’s potential. For one thing they sound huge; the recent addition of a second guitarist can’t have hindered them in this department, although having never seen them as a quartet (Curses!) I’m speculating somewhat. Harriet’s vocals, which still bring to mind Melissa Auf Der Maur, are most effective on the slower, doomy numbers. Occasionally during the faster sections of songs such as ‘Chickenshit’ she seems to stretch herself a little thin, but at its most powerful her voice has certain, mesmerising, black magic, quality. Not only do you feel like they dabble in the dark arts, but clearly they’re not averse to worshipping at the altar of their fellow Black prefixed Brits, Sabbath. In fact towards the end of their set they go straight to Black Sabbath’s self-titled anthem and adopt the spirit of THAT breakdown during ‘Plastic Blaze’.

As Rhubarb Bomb designer Matt Sidebottom points out after their set, Leeds has become a hotbed for heavy music of late and Black Moth are clearly one of their brightest hopes.

I Like Trains – O2 Academy

On our way up to the O2 Academy my girlfriend and I catch sight of comedian Rory McGrath, he’s taller and slimmer than we imagined, and sadly his wrists were covered so I couldn’t tell you if he was in town for Live At Leeds. One person who certainly was is the French girl who came over for last year’s Long Division just to see I Like Trains. Her dedication had lead to me watching them at Wakefield Town Hall that day and having been suitably impressed I decide to catch them at the rather less intimate Academy.

With most of the day still ahead of us we decide to watch them from the balcony seats, all of which had a flyer for the forthcoming Leeds Whisky Festival. Now I had a number of flyers for Long Division on me and was keen to distribute them around Live At Leeds’ venues but for two reasons I chose not to hand any out in the Academy. Firstly said Whiskey Festival clashes with Long Division and I had a feeling that the Academy staff would not take too kindly to me trying to entice their potential customers away. Secondly said potential customers just turned the flyers into paper airplanes and threw them at the crowd in the stalls. An activity that got several people ejected from the venue! Frankly I’m glad I didn’t waste the flyers here.

Choosing a target if you wished to throw rubbish at those in the stalls was like shooting fish in a barrel as they were nearly full by the time I Like Trains’ slowly pulsing intro to ‘Beacons’ began. It’s a pleasing sight given they are the opening band at the venue (Although later in the day I got the impression that once inside most of the punters didn’t leave here) and what little space remains is effortlessly filled by the sounds the band generate. For the most part they concentrate on new album ‘The Shallow’, although airing seven of its songs means there is a lot to try and take in. As a result they don’t quite scale the heights of their Long Division set. Still with Chris Urbanowicz recently departing Editors, a band who I Like Trains remind me of, it would be quite easy to imagine them building up a similar following given the size of the audience they’ve just performed to.

Bears Killing Bears – The Well

I was drawn to The Well for Bears Killing Bears purely on the strength of the description of them in the programme “Thrash punks kicking out loud fast and dirty jams in the vein of Motorhead and Black Sabbath…” and the accompanying photo, in which they are all clutching Royal Wedding commemoration mugs, except the guy on the left with his Iron Maiden mug! Unfortunately they are the first disappointment of the day. Granted it would be an even bigger disappointment if The Well had ceased to be a music venue, which was very nearly the case. Credit to the new owners for clearly trying to stamp their identity on the place, there are some obvious changes, sadly the sound through the newly installed PA is not great. In the past you were practically guaranteed a great sound at gigs here. That said it helps if the band on stage are at the top of their game and Bears Killing Bears came across as sloppy, whilst the limited vocals and banter, possibly due to a poor onstage sound didn’t help matters. We exit to the bar where a convenient speaker feed meant you could still hear the band’s set, although nothing I heard tempted me back downstairs. In retrospect having decided not to watch Bears Killing Bears in the flesh we should probably have bailed out of The Well there and then as the running order meant there was no space between them and my next pick from the 100+ bands playing today.

Runners – Leeds University Stylus

At one time I considered myself a middle-distance runner; sadly those days are behind me, so it was more of a brisk walk that got me to the Stylus in time to catch the majority of Runners set. I was originally introduced to them by artist Richard Wheater who had them perform at the ‘Switch-Off Party’ for his ‘12 Months of Neon Love’ installation at Wakefield’s Neon Workshop. It was perhaps one of the most intimate venues I have ever witnessed a gig at in Wakefield which created a special one-off vibe. It was unlikely such a vibe would transfer to the comparatively cavernous Stylus.

 Unlike the Refectory upstairs I’ve always enjoyed watching bands in here, although they have tended to be heavy bands playing Damnation Festival, which unlike Live At Leeds only utilises the University. Damnation’s set up means the Stylus is always relatively full, whereas few souls have ventured up here today. It’s something of a surprise, as the combination of synths and live drums they employ seems quite prevalent at the moment (The majority of the bands I catch have at least a token keyboard player). For the majority of their set vocalist Dominic is rather obviously restricted to the stage by his synth, although during their set closer he ventures out into the crowd. Amusingly his banter comes across as robotic, although this is down to the vocal effects he employs, meaning that it is a cyborg-esque voice that emerges from the speakers, informing the audience “This is the last song of the set”. There’s a lot to be said for the bands humour, clearly they have a very human heart, if only there’d been a few more humans here to hear it pounding.

Karin Park – Leeds University Mine

With an hour to kill before Post War Glamour Girls I decide to heed I Like Trains vocalist’s earlier suggestion that everyone should catch an act they’ve never heard of. That the Mine is situated just down the corridor from the Stylus is the deciding factor in watching Karin Park.

Upon entering the Mine I’m met by the sight of a blond haired drummer in a Slayer t-shirt, who wouldn’t look out of place at Damnation festival, going through a sound check. The plot rapidly thickens when a woman over six foot tall wearing what can only be described as a ‘flashers mac’ and Doc Martens boots walks onstage and proceeds to go through a soundcheck of her various synths. It transpires that the duo is siblings Karin and David Park. As with the preceding Runners their sound is a combination of synths and live drums, but whereas Runners front man Dominic made little attempt to engage the crowd, Karin has them in the palm of her hands from pretty much the word go.

I’ve found that the sound in the Mine can be hit and miss, but as with the majority of those in attendance I’m drawn closer and closer to the stage during Park’s set, with a near perfect mix accentuating nearly all the facets of their sound. Karin’s voice brings to mind Bjork, but whilst the Icelandic legend seems to have quite a diminutive stature, Karin towers over the audience like a raven tressed Scandinavian Grace Jones; with David occasionally adding his voice to proceedings in a way that perfectly complements his sisters vocals.

Musically we’re talking extremely danceable, darkened electronica. Much as I enjoyed Runners beforehand, they seem pedestrian in comparison. It helps that Karin immerses herself in her own moves, which probably account for her toned frame

but she looks that focused that she’s not going to have a split second to pick out the worst dancers in the audience (I count myself in that category!) Generally she’s freed up to move around the stage by a laptop and a less than portable Korg synth, however during several songs she straps on one of those ‘keytar’ synths. It’s an instrument I generally regard as the harbinger of doom and general awfulness (I’m thinking of supposed metal ‘pirates’ Alestorm, they didn’t look very Somalian to me!) but in Karin’s hands it took on a new quality as a sonic weapon, set to stun an audience. And that’s really all there is to say about this performance, it was simply stunning. Highlight of the day so far and to think 40 minutes previously I’d never heard of Karin Park.

Post War Glamour Girls – The Well

With Rhubarb Bomb designer Matt down at The Cockpit snapping Fanzine holding copies of this particular fanzine my one and only line-up dilemma thus far had been resolved (It helps that both bands are playing Long Division, I’ll catch Fanzine then). So it was back to The Well (A much shorter walk thankfully!) for Post War Glamour Girls.

The band are still sound checking when we head downstairs, which suggests the Well is running behind schedule, in turn this leads me to believe that the problems with the sound during Bears Killing Bears may still be an issue. As the quartet commence their set my worst fears are initially confirmed, the bass amp’s speaker sounds like it is exhaling its dying breath, rendering said bass an awful flapping noise. Despite the tentative start their front man’s humour helps to keep me interested; I’m quite certain that ‘Trawlerman’s Trade’ wasn’t just about “Fishing laws in Europe” and his remark about The Enemy was cutting. Fortunately, unlike Bears Killing Bears earlier the sound improves and the band seem to grow in confidence as the set progresses, although my girlfriend argued afterwards that the front man’s vocals were occasionally out of tune. Me, I think his Cave-esque croon suits the material and sometimes its more about vibe than being note perfect. I would liked to have heard more vocals from the bassist as I think some of the set’s highlights were when she stepped up to the mic as well, ‘Spitting Pearls’ being the best example of this. It’s slow, shimmering fret work created an atmosphere that put me in mind of Swedes Khoma.

In his preview of Live At Leeds Rhubarb Bomb editor Dean Freeman cited Post War Glamour Girls as a “Band I know of but want to know more about” and I’m glad I took his advice. They’re playing Wakefield Town Hall at 15:00 as part of Long Division, giving you an ample 15 minutes to get there after you’ve finished watch Red Riding Quartet!

Ladyhawke – O2 Academy

With an even more ample hour to kill before Ladyhawke at the Academy we take a steady stroll round the edge of Millennium Square where Example and Wretch 32 are playing their own headline gig. What I hear from behind the fencing is an MC geeing up the crowd by playing Blur’s ‘Park life’ whilst talking over it. I thought that was the trademark of shit, annoying disc jockeys! Things get slightly better at the Academy, where they are still airing Queens Of The Stone Age over the PA, including one of those ‘shit, annoying disc jockey’ skits from their ‘Songs For The Deaf’ album.

Ideally we would have sat upstairs again, but the balcony had already reached capacity and few, if any, people seem to leave downstairs following the end of Spector. As I alluded to earlier I suspect most of the crowd (I use that term as all the discarded FA Cup betting slips in the men’s urinals and questions of “Who won Chelsea or Liverpool?” in the downstairs bar, mark this out as a football crowd checking out a few bands rather than a music loving audience) have probably not set foot in another venue all day. In fact the majority will be here right until the end of The Enemy, their loss!

As it turns out we don’t even stay till the end of Ladyhawke. As soon as the set starts beer is being thrown into the air, having just spent £4 on a can of cider it’s hard to contemplate why anyone would willingly spill even a drop in the Academy. As for Pip Brown and her band, they kick off with ‘Back Of The Van’, a place Ladyhawke probably ceased to call home from home some time ago. It’s all very slick, with a knowing nod to eighties pop and not much else. If I Like Trains never reached top gear earlier, Ladyhawke are (Well technically they ‘are’ a band) on autopilot from the word go, with the four musicians backing Pip displaying hardly an ounce of emotion between them. We leave in search of something more engaging, although not before they play ‘Dusk Till Dawn’, an earworm of a song that I wake up singing the next day. I’ll give Ladyhawke their dues, they know how to write a catchy hook, shame it’s such a sterile one.

Kyla La Grange – Brudenell Social Club

The prospect of heading down to Brudenell had loomed all day, to walk would have been an epic undertaking, and thankfully there was a taxi rank just down from the Academy. Within ten minutes we’re in the altogether more pleasant surroundings of Brudenell Social Club. With plenty of room to sit and hardly any queue at the bar for two pints of reasonably priced Estrella; this is a gig goer’s heaven!

Catching the end of Kyla La Grange’s set I get the impression it’s a musicians heaven as well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad gig here. Both audience and performer are making a genuine gesture by being in this building given that it’s some distance from the Leeds’ music venue heartland. Unlike Ladyhawke previously this comes across as so much more than a talented vocalist and her backing band, despite Kyla’s name being above the door (I’m not sure she’s even old enough to be a publican!) this is very much a fully fledged unit. The programme compares Kyla’s music to Florence & The Machine, which holds some water, but her folk tinged vocals show a level of restraint that mark her out as no mere Florence clone trying to out bellow Miss Welch. That she’s happy to pose with several members of the audience for photos after her set shows she not only won them over but that she’s very approachable too. Well worth keeping an eye and an ear out for.

Jamie N Commons

Prior to Jamie N Common’s set I wasn’t a religious man, but I was praying his performance lived up to the one track of his heard I’d heard on Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show. Said track had prompted one of Lauren’s listeners to text her with the words “Mark Lanegan Junior”. At 25 years Common’s senior Lanegan is certainly old enough to have fathered him and Common’s voice contains echoes of Lanegan’s substance soaked tones, but by the end of his set it’s clear the 22 year old is very much his own man.

I’d staked my reputation on the basis of that one song, ‘The Preacher’, in order to convince my girlfriend that a trip to the Brudenell would be worth it and within seconds of the band commencing their opening number I knew it would be intact. It saw the majority of the band singing in an acappela fashion that moved me to tears. But they were tears of joy; I’ve permanently regretted leaving it too late to get tickets for Mark Lanegan’s acoustic gig here in 2010. Well no more regrets, I simply can’t believe that gig could have been any better than tonight (I’d like to point out I have the CD of Lanegan’s Brudenell set, it does sound great). There’s laughter as well, in that sense Commons is the complete opposite to Lanegan, who is a man of few words. Commons engages with the audience between all the songs (Sample quote “This is the romantic song for the evening, with added harmonica too!”) and despite brandishing a guitar he’s a blur of motion when he’s not at the microphone stand. When he is singing what comes out of his mouth is a thing of beauty, a deep rich voice, that given Commons’ youth leads me to believe he has a God given talent, either that or he sold his soul to the Devil; I’m a convert regardless. When speaking with Commons after his set my girlfriend described the performance as “Life changing!”, okay maybe we were a bit tired and emotional but those two words perfectly sum what we’d just witnessed; hands down the pinnacle of the day.

Los Campesinos

Rather than pay for a taxi all the way to Leeds station we get one to the University in order to meet up with Matt again. We briefly compare notes, but once Los Campesinos get under way it’s clear nothing is going to top Jamie N Commons set, so rather than fork out for another taxi we say our goodbyes and head down to the station for the last train back to Wakefield. As we pass through Westgate you can pretty much see every venue that will be involved in Long Division from the station. Much as I enjoyed the bands at Live At Leeds logistically it’s a slog compared to Long Division. And for my money the line-up at the Academy would have been better run as a separate entity, perhaps on the Sunday. But these are minor quibbles, if you’re willing to put in the legwork you easily got your monies worth.

Andrew Whittaker

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