Monday, 12 May 2014

Live At Leeds 2014 Review

"...Leeds' streets, pavements and venues are buzzing with passionate music seekers on this first Saturday of May. Live At Leeds has returned in a blaze of glory for its 8th year..."

Photos: Andy Benge, Tracey Welch, Benjamin Paul Smith

Leeds' streets, pavements and venues are buzzing with passionate music seekers on this first Saturday of May, all eager to celebrate their first festival of the year.  Live At Leeds has returned in a blaze of glory for its 8th year, with a stellar line-up (including a few last-minute 'big' names), that has an army of wristband-wearers hopping from one venue to another in the sunshine. 

Live at Leeds caught the imagination of the nation's press when the initial line-up was revealed some months back... Albert Hammond Jr from The Strokes, Pulled Apart By Horses, The Hold Steady, Yuck and ¡Forward Russia! whetted appetites from the off, but then a couple of hugely appealing names were added at the last minute (Frank Turner, Palma Violets) to complement an amazing array of up and coming artists that gave punters the choice of over 200 bands in one day - voila, Live At Leeds 2014 was up and running. In fact, there wasn't even the need to wait until Saturday if extra music kicks were required to start your weekend with a bang. Friday night saw venues such as The Brudenell, The Cockpit, The Wardrobe all kick off the Live At Leeds weekend with their own thrills and spills. The Cockpit, in fact, is where we began our path of great live music across the city of Leeds...
BLOOD RED SHOES. Photo - Andy Benge

We see Blood Red Shoesno strangers to touring and certainly no strangers to Leeds, back in front of a packed out Cockpit room once again. Laura Mary Carter sporting a Zeppelin T-shirt and Steve Ansell at his trademark side-facing drum kit delight the Friday night rock crowd with an assortment of tracks from their ever-growing back catalogue, as well as a number from their recent self-titled album. 
Tonight is the final date of their tour after 7 weeks across Europe and finally into the UK, which I'm sure they are going to raise several glasses to later on. In fact, from the roar of the crowd as they take to the stage, I wonder - who's more pleased to see who?  From Box Of Secrets' 'I Wish I Was Someone Better' through to the likes of 'Speech Coma', the quality of the pairs song-writing and musicianship shines through. Simple backdrop lighting from upright light bulbs on poles allows the music to be the of the focus of attention and Blood Red Shoes have conquered Leeds once again. PJ

SLAVES. Photo - Andy Benge
Slaves are incredibly good fun, and a wonderful surprise nestled in the middle of this triple bill of duos. These Kent boys are racking up the gigs as they travel the length and breadth of the country supporting bands like Blood Red Shoes, Pup and Vuvuvultures. Laurie and Isaac (guitar and drums respectively) have carved quite a niche for themselves in this popular guitar/drum duo thang. Isaac doesn't so much play the drums as ferociously attack them from a standing position while Laurie injects us repeatedly with some garage/punk rock riffery, and they know a tale or two, and how to tell it. 'Where's Your Car Debbie?' typical of these snarling, fiery, abrupt songs. Not quite so abrupt as 'Girl Fight' however and its whole 20 second or so experience. I'd thoroughly suggest you see Slaves soon and get in on this now. PJ

DZ DEATHRAYS. Photo - Andy Benge
Propping up their tour/drinking buddies are Australian party animals DZ Deathrays. We championed our last meeting with them here upstairs in the tiny 'room 3', and have been eager to see what they've been up to since. The answer to that is making a new record (Black Rat) which sadly isn't out in the UK for a good while yet. If 'Reflective Skull' is anything to go by though we'll be caught in a dance/mosh crossfire of groove-heavy drumming and fuzzed-out guitars. Not that the likes of 'Cops Capacity' and 'The Mess Up' aren't fine examples of their work to date. A pleasure once again boys, an absolute pleasure. 
Wristband exchange at The Arena. Photo - Bart Pettman
One (very reasonably priced) wristband, over 20 official venues in Leeds city centre, and 200+ bands and artists to choose from. Live At Leeds offers the most hardened gig-goer with eclectic of musical tastes, quite the choice when it comes to making a decision on who to see and where to go. Whether you go with a fool-proof plan, having made that most difficult of decisions - agonising over the inevitable stage clashes, or you see where the day takes you, this festival caters for one and all. We made our musical bed in our preparation of today and we're bloody well going to lie in it my friends. With that, let us take you hand in hand on our course through the days delights. Bearing in mind we like it loud, noisy and up close and personal a lot of the time, but happy to chill out a bit in-between. Here's our run down of the bands, in the venues, at the times that allowed us to wallow like happy pigs in the proverbial...PJ

Wristband firmly in place, it's Leeds University's tiny room (The Mine) we make a b-line for at the start of our afternoon gig frenzy. Parents-worst-nightmare-named-band All Us On Drugs have just thrown everything into their early slot, judging by seeing the band members both upright and thrashing around on the floor, as I peep into this nicely-busy venue. The pre-gig hush that fills the Mine prior to Birmingham's Youth Man is in stark contrast to the wonderful racket the trio explode with at 1:30pm. I could well have found the noisiest, filthiest din of the day! It's like a repeated punch to the face yet still we get up for more. Kaila's vocals vary from a delicate whisper to a roaring shriek as she grapples with her battered guitar. The bass chugs away a la Mclusky and the drums are heavy, dictating the pace of the head-nods all around. Noise-rock hasn't sounded so good as it does coming courtesy of Youth Man at this unearthly early hour of the day for them.

A quick staircase manoeuvre or two and we're in the Uni's adjacent venue (Stylus) with Leeds' very own boy/girl duo done good, The Witch Hunt. In startling contrast to what our eyes and ears were mulling over a few short moments ago, this is engaging in a totally different manner altogether. There's a dark, anthemic sound at the core here, dominated by the power of singer/guitarist Louisa's hugely audible voice. I swear this could crack any unsuspecting thick rimmed glasses at the bar in an instant. The sound fills the voluminous Stylus with ease as Chris' guitar jabs through the air and the soaring, haunting howls of the vocals. Drums loop in and out at will with some added percussion riding over the top and it's altogether a well-oiled, highly polished performance by this home-town band. PJ

FICKLE FRIENDS. Photo - Andy Benge
Hailing from Brighton, Fickle Friends were like a cold blast of coastal spray to the face in this early slot at 2pm over at The Wardrobe. A shaky start sound wise; Natassja’s syrupy vocals too far down in the mix to get the attention they rightly deserve; but rectified by the time we reached the deceptively dark disco-stomp of recent single 'Swim'. There were whispers of 'VHS or Beta' in their cascading synth-pop, but much less abrasive and more fun. It takes a lot to make me want to dance, sober, at 2 o’clock of an afternoon, and they did it easy. AS

Over at the bustling Met Uni we catch Hero Fisher on the smaller of the two stages battling it out in this fine long-running venue. Strong, brooding singer-songwriters are at the heart of this lady's passions and she effortlessly provides some warm and soothing vocals of her own. Yet, despite the obvious well-structured songs and Hero's striking appearance, there's something just not providing the right hook in this performance. Perhaps it's the noise from the bar area that isn't helping matters during the outfits quieter moments, or the daylight peeking through and around the curtains of the windows in this mid afternoon slot. PJ

Menace Beach have begun to establish themselves as much more than just another band coming out of Leeds, and much more than a 'supergroup' made up of various members of alternative Leeds based groups, and rightly so. They've acquired a bit of a mish-mash of a sound that altogether provides the Met's assembled with something to jiggle to thanks to the trippy keyboard sound; get lost into - thanks to the screaming feedback and reminisce to,  such is the heavy 90's feel to their songs. 'Drop Outs' is still reeling around my head much later in this busy day. PJ

GOD DAMN's pedal board!
A late addition to the bill were Birmingham's God Damn, who found themselves given a 4pm slot at Nation Of Shopkeepers. Any unsuspecting drinkers or chance takers found themselves at the mercy of these two boys from the Black Country. Playing at unbelievable volumes, brutally blazing a trail for Birmingham's underground noise-makers, God Damn provide the necessary bite we've been looking for since Youth Man back at the Uni. Ash – huge monster hair and hitting hard on the drums, sits across from his band mate Thom who releases soaring riffs from his guitar and bellows from his gravely voice. If anyone's ever wondered how these two-piece bands find the sound they create then look no further than Thom's pedal board. You've never seen such an assortment of switches being firmly tapped and untapped with a rubber-soled trainer. Veering through the likes of 'Heavy Money' and 'Shoe Prints In The Dust', it's uncompromising in sound. Heavy as Sabbath in a heartbeat, moments of early Seattle bands in another. This ticks all the Plus One boxes - and then some. PJ

COURTNEY BARNETT. Photo - Chris Charlesworth
Courtney Barnett at the Met: I was Initially ambivalent about this show after finding the antipodean inflection to her voice mildly irritating on record, by the second song I’d performed a volte-face. Live, the songs were fleshed out, Courtney’s honeyed drawl was perfection, infused with depth and a cracked edge, particularly on obvious crowd-pleaser Avant Gardener. There was something of The Blake Babies about the set, in the driving guitar and the contrasting sweetness and subtlety of Courtney’s delivery. She’s not a front woman as such, just a musician who also happens to sing and has something to say that’s worth listening to. AS

ROYAL BLOOD. Photo - Andy Benge
Possibly due to momentous radio air play, the space inside the Met had suddenly filled up rather quickly for the aforementioned Ms Barnett and her fellow band members. This made for a fairly lengthy queue ahead of Brighton boys Royal Blood's appearance. There's more than a whiff in the air of a desperate need to see these two guys. Their ridiculously early Beacons Festival slot last year didn't go unnoticed at Plus One Magazine and it seems hundreds don't want to miss out today. Rightly so as they tear through their bluesy-tinged, massive rock songs and look right at home in here in front of an ever-swelling crowd. There's elements of White Stripes for sure and their easily accessible but fantastically structured songs are so appealing to music lovers of all tastes. There's monster choruses and huge looping hooks accompanying the yelps of vocalist Mike Kerr in the likes of 'Hole' and new song 'Come On Over'. For a band who are yet to release their debut album, the signs are very very good indeed for a healthy career in this biz. PJ

It’s nothing personal, but Chloe Howl (02 Academy) is everything that is wrong with pop music right now; market research led, gap filling teenagers given no time to learn their craft. Bounding on stage like a vodka-soaked A&R man’s idea of the British Miley Cyrus, she gyrated through set of mainly bland, forgettable electropop grinning inanely like a stage school pro. Which is a shame, because Paper Heart is still a gorgeous, soaring pop masterpiece, just give it to Margaret Bergman or someone else who knows what to do with it, and come back when and if you actually have something to say. AS

The decision to end my own day at the delightful Brudenell Social Club was one that was made quite readily for me upon the line up announcement many months back. There's a happy gathering of music seekers slowly trickling down from the city and inside Solids are trying to cut through the billowing smoke machine with yet another frantic guitar/drum onslaught. Like their recent album (Blame Confusion), live, the pair career through a blistering set that hammers into your skull relentlessly. They are as equally reminiscent of Japandroids as they are in debt to any number of garage bands of the 90's. With that it might be said that monotony is one thing Solids do that might rub up the wrong way, if you're tired legs are aching for a sit.  Though their style is part and parcel of who they are and a listen to Blame Confusion or witnessing a live set will let you understand in a jiffy. PJ

THE AMAZING SNAKEHEADS. Photos - Benjamin Paul Smith
Glasgow's The Amazing Snakeheads fit nicely into this wonderfully compact and likeable venue. The mirrors and lights dotted about the place somehow suit this band and their intense display of darkened rock and roll. If you weren't familiar with their work and just walked in on the off chance of watching a band, you might be forgiven in thinking front-man Dale Barclay and crew were offering out the whole venue for a fight. Not true of course but have you ever, ever heard any musician sound so angry and, er, Scottish? It's eerie, often brutal, always intense, and there's a sax! The bass weaves a magical backbone to the stretched out songs like 'Here It Comes Again' from their debut 'Amphetamine Ballads'. Barclay spits and howls into the mic and drags the rest of the band kicking and screaming behind him. For lovers of Birthday Party era Nick Cave particularly, The Amazing Snakeheads have crafted something fearsome and formidable and totally different from anything else out there at the moment. PJ

DRENGE. Photo - Will Vallely
Over at The Cockpit, Plus One Magazine favourites Drenge are kicking up a bit of a storm as usual. This angst-led duo perfectly master small town claustrophobia; the Anti-Artic Monkeys, turning a cracked magnifying glass on that which the ‘Monkey’s romanticised with rose tinted specs. Their frantic noise and brutal lyrics are underpinned by a snaking melodic thread not always obvious but always there. Necromance Is Dead is a pounding, pulsing mess of bluesy post grunge and a high point in a set that lacked any lows. Live, they are life affirming, their crowd of peers forgetting who they are in a sea of elbows and knees. This generation has a lot to be angry about, so thank god for bands like Drenge. AS

PULLED APART BY HORSES. Photos - Benjamin Paul Smith
Wrapping up the day back at The Brudenell we once again find ourselves giving Live At Leeds a proper send off in the company of Leeds based lovelies Pulled Apart By Horses. Three years ago this very weekend at the same festival we watched a captivating performance by the band at the Met as frontman Tom was carried trophy-like from the pit by the hoards, out into the darkness. Now they're not only two albums to the good, but sitting pretty with an imminent third release. A few of which get an airing tonight. Vast in sound, one particular with a nod towards Pixies in style. A tremendous cover of The Stooges 'I Wanna be Your Dog' along with the tried and tested amped up favourites of 'E=MC Hammer' and 'I Punched A Lion In The Throat' keep the floor alive with tumbling bodies and flailing limbs. It's a whirlwind of a gig causing the singer to grin and tell us '..this is a fucking blast'. He's not wrong and for a band so close to the heart of the city and indeed the festival, they've come up trumps by playing an absolute blinder of a set and bringing our day to the perfect end. PJ

Words -  Main - Pete Jackson
            Fickle Friends, Courtney Barnett, Chloe Howl & Drenge by Angi Strafford