Having decided that watching Young Knives isn’t really worth spending an extra night in a tent, I head over to the Leeds Festival site on Friday morning. I luck out and manage to get set up shortly before it starts to rain, before making my way through the mud-strewn campsite to the arena – along the way, I witness the first and last person I’ll see all weekend who managed to remain attractive while wearing a hooded, animal print playsuit. Hats off to you, girl with long, flowing hair.
In the NME/Radio 1 tent, Dananananaykroyd start the weekend off in typically ebullient fashion, with vocalists Calum Gunn and John Bailey Jnr hugging members of the front row before launching into ‘Reboot’. Later on, they realise they have time for an extra song, and so offer us the choice between a song about “burying shit in the ground and finding it later” or one about “having sex on the back of a bus” – no prizes for guessing which one the Leeds crowd went for. Although I didn’t know what ‘Black Wax’ was actually about up until now, so I guess I learned something today.
“Thank God for the rain!” exclaims Fucked Up vocalist Damian ‘Pink Eyes’ Abraham, apparently worried that only about 20 people would have turned up otherwise. I think he’s underestimating both his current competition and just how much fun his band are. Much of the entertainment is provided by Pink Eyes himself – his shirt comes off about halfway through the band’s first song, and before long he’s down in the pit, high-fiving people, posing for photos with security, catching crowd-surfers and generally being a sweaty, bearded bundle of energy. He even runs all the way through the crowd to the secondary barrier and spends the last couple of songs there – and it takes him a good three minutes or so to get back to the stage after the band finish their set, such is the level of love for him. Not being the greatest hardcore punk fan in the world, I honestly wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy Fucked Up, but the upbeat, infectious nature of their sound left me pleasantly surprised, and to be honest it was worth being there just to watch Pink Eyes’ antics.
In contrast to the first two acts, Best Coast struggle to engage the crowd. “Are you guys ok?” asks singer Beth Consentino, before playing ‘Boyfriend’ mid-set “You look kinda bored.” Maybe they are, I dunno – the problem with Best Coast is that, essentially, they only have one song. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice song, with Consentino delivering her vocals with 60s girl-group longing as a wash of guitars conjures up hazy, summer afternoons. But the similarity of the band’s sonic palette and lyrical themes from song to song means it’s difficult to pick out highlights, aside from ‘When I’m With You’ and the aforementioned ‘Boyfriend’. However, I still enjoy their set regardless of that, even if it doesn’t make too much of a lasting impression on me.
It’s still pissing it down at this point, but luckily the Festival Republic Stage is only a quick dash away, so I head over there to catch Dutch Uncles. I’m not completely convinced that they’re as brilliant as some reviews have made them out to be – but as they soldier on despite blowing an amp (that’s not even theirs), I do find myself being slowly won over by their intelligent, slightly mathy pop sound.
The DJ in the tent clearly has a sense of humour, playing a North-East band marathon of The Futureheads, Maxïmo Park and Field Music before Tyneside up-and-comers Little Comets come on stage – it’s almost as if to say “THIS is the standard of oddball indie-pop brilliance you must live up to.” And to be fair, Little Comets aquit themselves pretty well in that regard – their set is packed with chirpy hits like ‘Joanna’ and ‘One Night In October’, and when set-closer ‘Dancing Song’ offers up the refrain “this one’s for dancing!” the crowd don’t need to be told twice.
I’ve seen Benjamin Francis Leftwich reduce an entire room to stunned silence before today, but sadly that was never going to happen with a festival crowd. But regardless of the nattering masses at the rear of the tent, there’s still a dedicated group of fans at the front hanging on to his every word, with ‘Pictures’, ‘1904’ and ‘Atlas Hands’ proving particular highlights.
After that, it’s back over to the NME/Radio 1 Stage for one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend, Warpaint. Thankfully, they don’t disappoint – eponymous opening track ‘Warpaint’ sets the scene with its beguiling harmonies, atmospheric guitars and expansive drums, and the band play a uniformly gorgeous set. ‘Undertow’ and set-closer ‘Elephants’ are obvious highlights, and the four-part harmonies on ‘Billie Holiday’ are spine-tingling. Also, Theresa Wayman is my new boyish crush – not only is she as pretty as anything, but she delivers a pair of stunning lead vocals on ‘Bees’ and ‘Majesty’. I leave the tent convinced that Warpaint have set the bar very, very high for the rest of the weekend.
Unfortunately, such brilliance has come at a price – I’ve had to miss most of Friendly Fires’ set, but I do manage to get over to the Main Stage for their last three songs. Ed Macfarlane is definitely a frontrunner for ‘most inappropriately dressed’ – it’s really not the right weather for a Hawaiian shirt – but that isn’t going to stop him from shaking his hips like his life depends on it during set-closer ‘Kiss Of Life’. If you close your eyes and think about it really hard, you might just be able to transport yourself away from this wet, muddy field and onto a sun-drenched beach somewhere…
Interpol frontman Paul Banks is probably one of the few people in rock ‘n roll who can get away with wearing sunglasses on a day like today, and his band have the tunes to back up their effortlessly cool image. Mixing up tunes from all four of their studio albums, they run through ‘Success’, ‘Say Hello To The Angels’, and ‘Narc’ (a personal favourite of mine) – I’d love to stick around for more, but I have to leave while they’re playing ‘The Heinrich Maneuver’, as there’s a band playing in the NME/Radio 1 tent that I’d very much like to see…
The band in question are Death From Above 1979 – I’m ashamed to admit that I totally missed the Toronto two-piece the first time round, so I was eager to make up for that tonight. Opener ‘Turn It Out’ sets off a frenzy at the front of the crowd, and aside from some slightly awkward banter about the Queen, the set pretty much continues in the same vein throughout. ‘Blood On Our Hands’ and ‘Romantic Rights’ get the biggest reactions, but the duo exhibit a furious, battering-ram intensity throughout their performance. The band’s backdrop features a gravestone with ‘DFA1979, 2001-2006’ carved into it, which may suggest that this reunion isn’t going to be permanent – and if that’s the case, it’s been well worth witnessing.
I return to the Main Stage to find Elbow in full swing, and Guy Garvey in a strangely political mood. The recent riots are clearly still fresh in his mind as he introduces ‘Lippy Kids’, stating that it’s a reminder that not all kids are “fuckwits and hooligans” – but at least he has the good grace to see that he might come across as a little over-earnest (“I hate this Bono thing that I’m doing…”). The band are as impeccable as you’d expect them to be, of course, even if the crowd aren’t exactly at their most responsive – though Garvey does his best to engage them with some call-and-response action before ‘Grounds For Divorce’. As I leave, they’re performing a suitably stirring rendition of ‘Open Arms’ – but I know Elbow will endure, and there will be other opportunities to see them, unlike the next band on my list…
While Mike Skinner may be calling time on this particular aspect of his career, it would be unfair to call The Streets a band in their death throes – the atmosphere is more like that of a massive retirement party for a lovably crazed uncle. Skinner is on top form, marshalling the crowd (“WATCH THE MOTHERFUCKING HAND”) and even directing the cameramen (“You’re missing it mate, it’s all over there”) – and all the while, he’s delivering his trademark wit and lyricism. It’s enough to make even the more middling numbers from his recent albums sound good, to say nothing of the out-and-out classics like ‘Weak Become Heroes’ and ‘Blinded By The Lights’. Even stood on the periphery of the tent, it’s hard not to smile at the feel-good vibes coming from the crowd – I leave them bouncing along to ‘Fit But You Know It’, happy to have taken part in the celebratory conclusion of The Streets’ career.
Arguably one of the weekend’s biggest draws, Muse take to the stage just after 9pm for a two-hour set – and I’m glad I brought my umbrella, as it rains for the entirety of it. The big deal for long-time Muse fans is that they’re playing their second album, Origin Of Symmetry, in full – something that has never been done before (and after Sunday’s performance at Reading, most likely will never be done again). The stage is suitably decked out with several imposing models of the pylons/pitchforks/American football goalposts that adorn the record’s cover, and a giant screen displays images that are presumably linked to each of the songs – although if anyone can tell me what ‘Hyper Music’ has got to do with the Roxy Disco then I’d love to know.
As expected, the more obvious hits – ‘New Born’, ‘Bliss’, Plug In Baby’, ‘Feeling Good’ – go down a storm, and it’s never a bad thing when they’re played. But the most interesting thing about this part of the set is that it demonstrates how, even at this relatively early stage, Muse had pretty much nailed the bombastic, show-stopping dramatics that would later go on to define them – as evidenced by the likes of ‘Space Dementia’ and ‘Citizen Erased’. Sure, there’s a bit of a lull as the band play the slightly forgettable duo of ‘Micro Cuts’ and ‘Screenager’, but as ‘Megalomania’ brings the set to a fiery conclusion via some on-stage pyrotechnics, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well Origin Of Symmetry has stood the test of time.
After the main event, the band offer up a post-Origin selection of hits that contains three too many tracks from The Resistance for my liking, as well as a fairly pointless bass ‘n drums section that essentially amounts to Chris and Dom doing an impression of a comatose DFA1979. But ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ perfectly walks the line between silly and slinky, ‘Hysteria’ still buzzes with as much menace as ever, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ is equal parts vicious, histrionic and sublime, and ‘Knights Of Cydonia’ is, frankly, just ridiculous in the most brilliant way possible. An increasingly obnoxious fanbase may mean that it’s not particularly cool to like Muse any more, and I’ll happily admit that their most recent album is a complete dud – but for me to deny that I enjoyed their set would be an obvious lie. Let’s just hope it doesn’t rain as much tomorrow, eh?
BONUS!: During Muse’s set, someone asks me if I’m the drummer from 30 Seconds To Mars. What the fuck? Never mind the fact that said band are probably still on site at Reading, I don’t look anything like the guy…
Find a Spotify playlist with some of the day’s highlights here.