The 10th anniversary of the Leeds Festival saw organisers Festival Republic ring some changes.
Gone was the sponsorship by brewery giants Carling, and with it thankfully the horrific moniker of ‘the Carling Weekender’.
Now re-rebranded as simply Leeds Festival, there had also been a subtle redesign of the site, spacing the stages further apart, resulting in less crowding and an all-round nicer atmosphere.
On the opening day though, even the rain, wind and mud couldn’t seem to dampen the spirits. Arriving on site shortly after 4pm, we made our way over to the Festival Republic tent (the new name for the ‘third stage’) to watch the impossibly diminutive Emmy The Great ease us beautifully into the weekend. “So who thought it would be a good idea to hold a festival in the middle of winter” she mused at the start of her set, casting an eye on the unseasonal weather.
The young Hong Kong-born singer/songwriter seemed a bit overawed at first, but the addition of a full band beefed up her beautifully fragile songs. MIA and We Almost Had a Baby were gloriously wistful, and there’s every chance that she could follow Laura Marling‘s success next year when her long awaited debut album is eventually released.
Over on the Festival Republic stage, Miles Kane was making his first appearance of the day, this time with his original band The Rascals. A loyal crowd had gathered who knew every word of every song, and there was even a jocular chant of “who the fuck is Alex Turner?”. There was also the intriguing hint that Kane may well be the main driving force behind Last Shadow Puppets, as many of the songs in this set shared the same pounding drums and ’50s style guitar riffs. An enjoyable raucous version of Is It Too Late brought proceedings to a close, and whetted the appetite for those Puppet types.
A scarily large crowd had gathered for Pendulum at the NME/Radio 1 stage – so large in fact, that it drove your more faint-hearted correspondent over to the Main Stage to watch Welsh rockers Feeder. There’s nothing too surprising about Grant Nicholas’ trio these days, and a reliable run-through of hits such as Buck Rogers, Just The Way I’m Feeling and Comfort In Sound made for a somewhat predictable half-hour. So it was back over to the NME stage, where Bright Eyes’ frontman Conor Oberst was playing a solo set.
There was something sadly rather flat about Oberst’s performance. It may have been the half-empty tent, or it may simply have been the fact that almost the entire set was taken up with tracks from a solo album that had only just been released. Admittedly, he wasn’t playing under the Bright Eyes name, but a few recognisable songs would have made all the difference. Sadly, a rendition of the old folk standard Corrina Corrina was about as lively as it became.
Over in the Dance Tent, James Ford and James Anthony Shaw brought us synth drenched house as Simian Mobile Disco to kick off a wild Friday night. Always remembered for the single with Justice, We Are Your Friends, the duo keep it simple and play as the young, for the young. And on this particular Friday night, the young guns were ready for some serious tomfoolery. Playing through It’s The Beat remixes, Tits & Acid and Hustler immaculately, they were synchronised and maintained the bobbing crowd through until friends Digitalism appear.
The German Electro-house partnership delivered a similarly raucous brand of dance – a little bit Soulwax, a little bit Boys Noize, and undeniably brilliant. They take influence from Etienne De Crecy, Bob Sinclair and the colossal Daft Punk, huge names that prove France does have a great musical history, contrary to popular belief. Although the act fall under the MacBook or iPod dance troupe category, they proved a force to be reckoned with, and looked like they were doing a little more than getting their index fingers out. Everyone went a little wild in that particular tent, spreading on the glow face paint thick as they hit Zdarlight and Idealistic, and the green strobes settled.
Every year at both Leeds and Reading, there’s a performance that makes a career, and this year was Glasvegas‘ year. Their set was nothing short of stunning – clad all in black, and with dry ice billowing across the stage, the most remarkable thing was how uplifting James Allan’s songs of inner-city violence, parental abandonment and drug abuse can be. Huge chants of the chorus for Daddy’s Home rang out long after the band had left the stage. Expect them to go stratospheric in the next few weeks.
Those chants even spilled into the NME/Radio 1 stage, just before The Last Shadow Puppets made their much anticipated appearance. Suited and booted, and with a 16 piece audience behind them (and Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford on drums), Alex Turner and Miles Kane looked every inch the classy lounge rock stars. Highlights from their debut The Age Of The Understatement were greeted deliriously, with Separate And Ever Deadly provoking such an ovation in the middle of the song that Kane stopped the song to ask “do you think we’re Kaiser Chiefs or something?”. While the adrenaline rush of Turner’s main band is missed slightly, the Last Shadow Puppets make for a fine stop-gap.
Headlining the NME/Radio 1 Tent, The Cribs are probably the best-suited act for the Leeds Festival – dirty, sweaty, scabby and full of overly confident pretty young things. Joined by new member Johnny Marr, the Jarman brothers entranced the crowd with a rough and arrogant set. Deeply immersed in their own self-belief, (because, for Christ’s sake, they have a founder of The Smiths in tow), they returned to the lo-fi philosophy of their first album.
Live, they are all over the place (in a good way), shaking through Another Number, Men’s Needs and Moving Pictures. The final song, Be Safe, saw Sonic Youth‘s Lee Ranaldo flash on screen to narrate, proving that The Cribs, with this support, will be around for a long time. Or at least we hope so. The foursome go for it, no bullshit, just vicious, sharp Northern pop-punk which narrates, in detail, super-ordinary life in a small town. It’s real, harsh, young life. And you can’t get better than that, cocker.
It was down to those titans of rock, Metallica, to bring the first day to a close. “Are you ready for this, Leeds?” bellowed James Hetfield before kicking into a crowd-pleasing set of old favourites. Master Of Puppets, Enter Sandman, Sad But True, …And Justice For All – each song was perfectly recreated down to the last grinding guitar solo. There was even a preview of some new material with Cyanide and The Day That Never Came sounding like a return to old-school Metallica, to satisfy those fans disappointed by previous album St Anger.
And even if the music wasn’t to your taste, you could always just stop, stare and wonder at the pyrotechnics. Fireworks, explosions, even jets of flame leaping up into the night air all rounded off a spectacular set. “Metallica cares about you, Leeds” said Hetfield towards the end of the set. A perfectly heart-warming moment to bring a soggy but enjoyable day to a close.
Leeds Festival 2008: Day 1 @ Branham Park, Leeds