Day 2 at the Leeds Festival (as we still can’t stop calling it) got off to a somewhat disorientating start. Making our way over to the Carling Tent, we could hear a very authentic Kaiser Chiefs tribute band.
They really were very good – note perfect renditions of Everyday I Love You Less And Less and I Predict A Riot, an uncannily familiar figure performing the trademark jumps and climbs and even a packed tent singing “Yooorkkshiiree”… Hang on a cotton-pickin’ minute, it only was the flipping Kaiser Chiefs! On the third stage. At 1.30 in the afternoon.
Word of mouth soon spread round the site that Hooks For Hands were actually Ricky Wilson and company playing an unannounced set, and fences were soon erected around the tent to stop anyone getting in. All in vain as it turned out, as the slavering hordes desperate for a glimpse of their local heroes ended up battering down the fences and storming the tent. Your trusty reviewer wasn’t brave enough to experience the predicted riot, so off we went to the main stage where another Yorkshire band, The Long Blondes, were playing.
The contrast between the two bands couldn’t be greater – there were no cries celebrating a large county of Northern England at the main stage, and no terrace anthems masquerading as songs. Instead we had five immaculate looking band members, with Kate Jackson in particular looking like some kind of fashion icon as she wiggled and gyrated with scarf and shades intact.
The highlights of the band’s excellent debut album were duly run through (although sadly there was no Separated By Motorways), and although the band seemed to be having a cracking time, that energy wasn’t translating to the audience. Whether it was hangovers, or a mass exodus to the Kaisers, a rather apathetic audience reaction meant that the Blondes’ set ended up sadly a bit flat.
‘A bit flat’ was certainly not something you could describe Gogol Bordello‘s set on the main stage as. They’re impossible to take their eyes off, be it frontman Eugene Hutz’s charismatic stage presence, the fantastic voice of violinist Sergey Ryabtsev or the sight of a fire bucket being bashed out of recognition.
The songs aren’t too bad either, despite two festival-goers near me arguing about whether it was just “novelty shit”. Regardless, the likes of Not A Crime, Stop Wearing Purple and the brilliant American Wedding had the entire Main Stage audience jumping and crowd-surfing in unison – which is no mean feat on a hot Saturday afternoon. One of the most effortlessly entertaining bands of the weekend.
Another entertaining figure is that of Beth Ditto, although her almost omnipresent presence in the nation’s tabloids has meant that a lot of people aren’t too aware of her band Gossip. Their loss, for as soon as Ditto lets rip with one of the most incredible voices you’ll hear all weekend, you’re convinced that she’s one very special talent.
Ignore all the jibes about her weight, sexuality and whether she can keep her clothes on, Ditto is one of the best singers around at the moment. Although best known for the dancefloor stomp of Standing In The Way Of Control or Jealous Girls, she’s actually more affecting on slower numbers such as Coal To Diamonds. The afternoon’s show-stopper had to be the band’s incredible version of Aaliyah‘s Are U That Somebody though.
Ditto also was winner of the ‘best stage pronouncements’ award for the weekend, whether it be insulting a crowd member for waving a Confederate flag (“where I’m from, that’s some serious bullshit”), announcing completely randomly that she “has a very big vagina”, or perhaps most perplexingly “Has Fred Durst died at last? RIP Fred”. She’s completely bonkers of course, but you’ve got to love her.
Two other bands were victims of the ‘Kate Nash effect’ in that their popularity has rocketed since their original booking. So it was that huge crowds were gathered outside the Carling Tent to see Reverend And The Makers while the NME/Radio 1 Tent was packed to bursting to witness young Coventry trio The Enemy.
The latter have always rather left this writer cold – if you were 14 years old and had never heard of The Jam, you’d probably think The Enemy were the greatest band in the world, but to these ears it sounds like dreary, empty posturing. Admittedly, Away From Here did provide one of the biggest festival singalongs of the weekend, but the rest of their material seems rather anonymous. The kids seemed to love them though.
Reverend And The Makers have previously been more famous as being friends with the Arctic Monkeys, but it eventually looks like they’ll make their long-awaited breakthrough. It was impossible to see too much of their act from our vantage point some way outside the tent, but 18-30 appeared to have the whole tent rocking, while Heavyweight Champion Of The World sounded just like the anthem it was always meant to be.
Even from a fair distance away, lead singer Jon McClure just oozes charisma – you can see why he’s been compared to some kind of cult leader. Pronouncements like “you can quit your job you know – go and do it on Monday” did however leave him looking a bit silly. You going to pay their rent for them then, Jon?
As the claustrophobia was setting in by this time, we retreated back to the main stage to watch Maxïmo Park cement their position as one of the country’s finest bands. Paul Smith has graduated to being a superb frontman, running from corner to corner of the stage, commanding the crowd to clap and sing along and generally looking like he’s pouring his heart and soul into every single song.
And what songs they are – from the early hits such as Apply Some Pressure and Going Missing to more recent offerings such as the excellent Our Velocity, each song was sung along to word perfect by the Leeds crowd. Even Smith’s natty bowler hat and white jacket combination (blamed on a hangover) couldn’t distract from the sheer excellence of their set. The Geordie boys provided one of the highlights of the weekend.
Ever since appearing on the Unsigned stage about three years ago, The Subways have become a regular staple of the Festival. Back on the NME/Radio 1 Stage after looking a bit lost on the Main Stage last year, an enormous crowd was packed in to welcome them back. They’re still as full of energy as ever, with Billy Lunn scaling the drum kit, Charlotte Cooper bouncing across the stage like her life depended on it, and Josh Morgan battering the hell out of his drumkit.
Thankfully, they’ve showcased some new material – which is about time, as there’s only so many times you can Oh Yeah and Mary, excellent as they are. The new stuff sounds a lot heavier and a lot less catchier, but has that unmistakable Subways stamp of quality. Keep an ear out for I Won’t Let You Down, which went down particularly well today. It’s good to have them back.
Back over to the main stage for one of the most eagerly awaited bands of the weekend, Interpol. As good as they are, there’s something not quite right about seeing them in a big field, in bright sunshine. Interpol are a band who belong inside, on a sparsely lit stage, surrounded by dry ice. So it takes some getting used to, hearing the dark majesty of Pioneer To The Falls throb out from the stage while shielding your eyes from the sun.
Paul Banks may have looked like a bit of a scruffbag, but the rest of the band were the very definition of dapper, even if Carlos D does rather look like a porn star these days with that moustache. They may not do that much on stage, but when you have songs like Mammoth, Slow Hands and especially Rest My Chemistry, you don’t need to do much. And there may even have been a hint of a smile on Banks’ face as the entire crowd joined in with the “how are things on the West Coast” refrain of The Heinrich Maneuver.
As the sun started to set, it was time for Kings Of Leon to take to the stage. Caleb Followill may look completely different these days (one girl behind me cried in a rather anguished fashion: “what has he done to his hair?”), but that unmistakable yelp of a voice is still in force, and the cue for one of the most joyfully received sets of the weekend. Molly’s Chambers provoked much frenzied dancing, as did old favourites such as Four Kicks and The Bucket.
Even the slower numbers produced that old ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ sensation – On Call and Knocked Up were both incredibly powerful, and it was all shot through with that ‘thank you kindly’ Southern politeness that you just don’t find in a field in Leeds filled by teenagers who’ve just had their first taste of beer.
And so we come to Razorlight. A few years ago, when they produced their debut album Up All Night, they were a genuinely exciting prospect. Which makes it all the sadder to see them now, pedalling bland soft-rock to the easily pleased. And although he is an easy target, there’s something about Johnny Borrell’s humourless, pompous stage presence which makes him rather insufferable. There may still be the inevitable squeals when he takes his shirt off, but it’s impossible to watch without cringing.
On the plus side, the light show was pretty spectacular, and it’s always nice to hear songs like Don’t Go Back To Dalston and Rip It Up. But when they’re placed next to bloated fare such as Who Needs Love and Before I Fall To Pieces, it just makes you weep for what they could have been.
The crowd was noticeably thinning by now, and it was time for us to replenish our energy and prepare for the third and final day.