It may still be considered a rock festival, but Reading and Leeds is anything but in its 2017 incarnation. The event’s gradual transition to an event which caters for a broad range of music tastes has accelerated in recent years, as it has become an annual pilgrimage for teenagers celebrating their GCSE and A-Level results. Yet this evolution has rarely been more obvious than on the line-up for this year’s festival.
From top to bottom, the famous bright yellow poster featured a hotch-potch of artists, some of whom would have been treated to Reading Festival’s traditional bottle treatment had they performed before it gravitated towards a more mainstream audience. Not so in 2017, though, where acts such as Migos and Giggs can sit happily alongside the likes of Korn, Jimmy Eat World and Liam Gallagher on the Main Stage.
But for all the talk about the changing face of the festival, it’s actually an old favourite who kicks things off on the Friday bill at Bramham Park. Queens Of The Stone Age have been regulars at the twin festivals during their 20-year career, so it comes as no surprise when they take to the NME/Radio 1 Stage for the first of two secret sets on the same day to help promote the release of new album, Villains.
In a short but sweet set, Josh Homme and co. tear through four new songs from their seventh LP, including a live debut for Feet Don’t Fail Me. There is also room for stalwarts such as My God Is The Sun, Little Sister and closer No One Knows, and while Homme acknowledges that it’s probably a bit early in the day for everyone in attendance, the packed-out tent shows plenty of love for the LA five-piece.
Elsewhere, the promotion of South London rapper Giggs to the Main Stage reaffirms the shifting dynamics at Leeds Festival – and its sister site in Reading. The grime star appeared to be both grateful and bemused to be playing in front of such a huge crowd, but embraced his chance with both hands to deliver a storming set, complete with an outing for fans’ favourite, Look What The Cat Dragged In.
Blossoms are another act taking stock of their rapid rise, with frontman Tom Ogden telling the crowd: “We played the Festival Republic Stage two years ago. To play here on the Main Stage is quite made for us.” The Stockport band have quickly developed into assured live performers, although their set has become increasingly familiar with only the one album under their belt.
Covers of John Lennon and The Smiths go down well, as does their addictive breakout single Charlemagne, but it is popular acoustic number My Favourite Room which stands out as a particular highlight. The set provides the perfect warm-up for further sing-alongs when Liam Gallagher swaggers on stage in a black parka for the former Oasis frontman’s highly anticipated solo performance.
While many still long for a full Oasis reunion, Noel Gallagher’s refusal to get the band back together means it is left to the younger brother to remind everyone why he is a rock icon in his own right. Opener Rock and Roll Star does just that, before What’s The Story Morning Glory and Slide Away allow his signature vocal to shine. New releases Wall Of Glass and For What It’s Worth – from upcoming solo album As You Were – are also a hit with those in attendance as Gallagher shows there is still plenty of life in the old dog yet.
It could have been a difficult act to follow, but Muse like a challenge. Headlining for a third time, the trio thrill from start to finish with a career-spanning set that includes a rare outing for Showbiz. Plug In Baby, Stockholm Syndrome and Supermassive Black Hole also sound as good as ever, before they sign off in style with Knights Of Cydonia.
Saturday brings another fascinating mix of artists, although few manage to pull a crowd as big as Two Door Cinema Club, whose alternative pop is an ideal fit for the setting sun. Undercover Martyn soon has everyone singing along and dancing merrily to its infectious riff, while Something Good Can Work and I Can Talk do the business at the back end of the set following a smattering of tracks from Gameshow.
Over on the NME/Radio 1 Stage, Tory Lanez provides even more variety with his chaotic set – especially in comparison to the anthemic pop of Bastille (who draw an unsurprisingly large crowd over on the Main Stage). If the Canadian rapper feels like unfamiliar territory, Saturday’s headliners Kasabian are more like the status quo, after the Leicester band’s performance at the top of the bill in 2012.
Their second stab at headlining the festival comes alive when established bangers such as Underdog, Shoot The Runner and Club Foot kick in, but You’re In Love With A Psycho sounds as flat as it does on new record For Crying Out Loud. Any momentum lost is soon regained by Empire, though, before a surprise cover of Nirvana’s All Apologies delivers an intimate moment that segues into LSF (Lost Souls Forever).
An encore that includes Vlad The Impaler and Fire ensures Kasabian finish on a high, with the latter prompting one of the biggest receptions of the weekend as thousands join in for its infectious chorus. However, while the quartet draw an impressive crowd, it is nothing compared to the one that greets Eminem. Even before Slim Shady takes to the stage, the festival feels busier and there is a noticeable excitement and buzz throughout the day as the climax draws near.
But ahead of the main event, there are still plenty of acts to enjoy – not least on the Festival Republic Stage where Wolf Alice make a surprise guest appearance. With their new album just around the corner, the London four-piece kick off with recent single Don’t Delete The Kisses, before sending the tent into a frenzy with My Love Is Cool tracks You’re A Germ and Bros. It’s a stirring half-hour set that finishes with aplomb when they launch into Giant Peach. Expect to see them back next year much higher up the bill.
Another highlight from the final day is Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, whose hostile punk rock is much more aligned with the festival’s past. The former Gallows and Pure Love singer is in fine form and it’s not long before he is walking on the crowd while delivering full-throttle versions of Vampires and Wild Flowers from latest album Modern Ruin. His command of the NME/Radio 1 tent is masterful, although madness ensues when he attempts to start a gigantic mosh pit. Meanwhile, things are much more laid back for Loyle Carner as the Mercury Prize nominated rapper’s old school hip-hop offers evocative vignettes of his life.
Everything Everything follow on the NME/Radio 1 Stage and use their slot to showcase new album A Fever Dream, with Night Of The Long Knives, Desire, Ivory Tower and Can’t Do demonstrating the experimental nature of their oddball pop. Yet it is third album tracks Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread, Distant Past and No Reptiles that really make a mark, causing fans to attempt to match frontman Jonathan Higgs’ unique falsetto. It’s further proof that Everything Everything are one of the most exciting British bands around.
As if to hammer home just how diverse Leeds Festival is in 2017, it’s then time for Eminem to bring the curtain down on another year. The anticipation is high for Marshall Mathers’ return – after the hip-hop legend topped the bill in 2001 and 2013 – and he doesn’t disappoint. Square Dance leads the way, but the transition between songs is rapid as he races through Won’t Back Down, Business and Kill You.
Having already courted controversy at Reading with his verdict on the US President, Eminem holds nothing back again as he performs White America and Mosh in his ‘FACK Trump’ t-shirt. The relentless energy is maintained throughout with assistance from hype-man Denaun Porter as classics such as Just Don’t Give A Fuck, The Way I Am and Stan are all given an airing. His later transition into anthemic territory is also accommodated, with singles Love The Way You Lie and The Monster going down particularly well.
It is the medley of My Name Is, The Real Slim Shady and Without Me that really sends Bramham Park into fervour, however, with all three songs ingrained in rap history. Few rap artists have transcended the genre like Eminem and it is only fitting that his set concludes with a triumphant performance of Lose Yourself. “This is a gig we’ll remember for the rest of our lives,” he admits, which seems like more than the usual platitude. This year’s line-up may not go down as a vintage one, but its climax will certainly live long in the memory.