The final day of the Leeds Festival, and the sun was still out.
People were checking their bruises after last night’s Rage mayhem, and a surreal touch was added to the journey to the main stage by walking past Aussie comic Adam Hills‘ prosthetic leg being crowd-surfed across the audience in the Alternative Tent. Only in Leeds, as they say.
John Cooper Clarke, the brilliant bard of Salford was one of the first acts on the said Alternative Stage with his trademark beat Northern drones and abrasive wit. He stands like a heron – a drugged up, dressed up heron ? his skeletal frame draped in a sharp suit.
With this youthful costume he delivered his best punk poetry from the ’70s, including Beasley Street, Evidently Chickentown and the simply titled Twat: “You put the cunt in Scunthorpe” he spews with self-mocking and disgust, never faltering from his bitter stream of consciousness.
The material remains as relevant as ever: depressive, gritty, but real, and his timing and monotony carries the weight of years living on piss stained mattresses. And for all these years of resentment, he maintains the inescapably Cooper Clarke wit. With his history of suburban cult enlightenment in a witty and profoundly original style, you could listen to him mumble and forget forever.
Colin Murray introduced The Subways as “the nicest people you’ll ever meet who put 110% into every performance” and it’s true that Billy, Charlotte and Josh certainly gave their all for their main stage performance. Stripped to the waist, Billy Lunn ran around the stage like a thing possessed, marshalling the crowd to clap along and “go fuckin’ crazy” while Charlotte Cooper was a blur of blonde hair.
Yet however much energy they put into their act, and no matter how good their songs are, the fact remains that The Subways at 2pm on a sunny Sunday afternoon just doesn’t work. They should be watched in a sweaty club with the perspiration dripping off the walls – maybe for their sixth consecutive appearance next year, they can be booked in the NME/Radio 1 tent, where they’re bound to come across a lot better.
Over in the that particular tent, Mystery Jets were about to plug one of the best albums of this year in Twenty One. However, after excellent run-throughs of Hideaway and Young Love, they announced, with no attempt to hide their anger, that they’d been told their time was almost up. A rocking Two Doors Down followed, with bassist Kai Fisher scuffling with stagehands while the angry crowd booed and threw bottles at roadies. It was disappointing, as this had the potential to be one of the best acts of the weekend.
Let’s not beat around the bush. The last time we heard from Editors it was back in 2007, and we?re still scratching our heads wondering what was ever so appealing about them in the first place. The interestingly named Tom Smith ripped off an Interpol Paul Banks style vocal with such insightful lyrics as “you burn like a bouncing cigarette”, and slapped it on top of epic generic guitar. They then accepted comparisons to Joy Division. The horror! Do we want them to still exist as a band? Do they ruin British new music? Can they just call it a day?
“I’m not going to see the fuckin’ Ting Tings” was an expression that seemed to be overheard an awful lot during Sunday, so it came as a bit of a surprise to see the NME/Radio 1 Tent absolutely packed to bursting for their performance. And, as unhip as it may be to admit it, they were really damned entertaining.
They’ve perfected the knack of writing hook-laden pop songs that you can’t help but sing along to, and lead singer Katie White knows how to work an audience. Yes, there’s a sneaking suspicion that they’re somewhat of a one-trick pony, but Shut Up And Let Me Go managed to get an entire tent of thousands dancing in unison.
A less likely festival star than Seasick Steve you’re unlikely to meet – and yet, the 50something gnarled old bluesman from Mississippi was, for many, the highlight of the day. Riotously entertaining, whether it be telling stories of his upbringing, showing off customised instruments like the “three string trance wonder” or even getting up a girl young enough to be his granddaughter up on stage to serenade, he charmed all and sundry. He even received a respectable amount of screams when taking off his jacket (“you didn’t know old could be sexy, did you?” he snickered). And did we mention he can play a bit? Superbly so.
‘Indie intellectuals’ Foals hit the NME/Radio 1 Tent early Sunday evening to tell us all about Cassius and Balloons. With epic pop synth, trumpet, and stick hitting angular riffs, Jimmy, Yannis, Ed, Walt and Jack can’t help but be amazingly catchy, and you can’t resist bopping along with all the indie kids. Get your red Ray Bans on and party Antidotes style.
In what seemed to be a day of emo/pop-punk bands in the Festival Republic tent, Florida’s Black Kids stuck out like a very welcome sore thumb. With the tent attracting its largest audience since Glasvegas on Friday, the band bounded on stage and didn’t stop dancing. The highlights from recent album Partie Traumatic were dusted down, with Hurricane Jane and inevitably I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You going down particularly well. The hype may have put some people off, but Black Kids have enough talent to stay the course.
The billing of Jack White at a festival is always likely to raise the interest even if, as in this case, he’s here without his sister/ex-wife and not dressed head to toe in red and black. Yet The Raconteurs are just as serious a proposition as The White Stripes are, with White and Brendan Benson producing a superb second album in Consolers Of The Lonely.
Although the crowd seemed a bit subdued, it was impossible not to admire the duelling guitars of Broken Boy Soliders, the irresistible bounce of Steady As She Goes or the fearsome crunch of Salute Your Solution. It was just a shame that the crowd didn’t seem to be particularly up for it.
The penultimate act on the Main Stage this year was Bloc Party – and the crowd still seemed a bit subdued, much to Kele Okereke’s chagrin. “You must have it in you to go crazy?” he said, while furiously piling into recent single Mercury. Although new album Intimacy had been rush-released a couple of days beforehand, the set-list concentrated on crowd favourites, with Banquet, Two More Years and The Prayer all rousing the crowd from its torpor.
Yet there was an odd edge to proceedings, a sense that maybe all was not quite right in the Bloc Party camp. “Maybe next time you see us here, we’ll be headlining”. Possibly Kele, but you’ll have to cheer up a bit first…
Over in the NME/Radio 1 Tent, the Manic Street Preachers were paying tribute to Leeds United icon John Charles and running through a set-list heavy on crowd favourites from the Generation Terrorist era, while the Main Stage saw The Killers take on headlining duties.
Unfortunately, The Killers are just not headlining material just yet. It’s telling that the most favourable reaction from the crowd came when material from Hot Fuss was played and the fact that most people stood around looking slightly bemused when Tranquilize, Under The Gun and a cover of Joy Division’s Shadowplay were played.
It was also impossible to take the eyes of the sartorial inelegance, with Brandon Flowers wearing a particularly garish green jacket and guitarist Dave Keuning showing off a snakeskin jacket which could have been stolen from Nicolas Cage’s character in Wild At Heart.
The encore did rescue the atmosphere somewhat, with Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine and a superb All These Things That I’ve Done unifying the crowd, but the fact that the stage lights were back up at 10.45pm just added to the slight air of anti-climax.
Still, it was the Leeds Festival, and for all its faults (as we left the site, there were fights breaking out and the sound of gas canisters exploding) it still remains one of the premier festivals of the year. Roll on next year…
Leeds Festival 2008: Day 3 @ Branham Park, Leeds