Let’s Get Cynical About Leeds Festival 2011, pt II: Saturday

Leeds Festival

On Saturday, I awake to find someone in a nearby tent is playing Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’. Why would you do such a thing? Anyway, it’s onwards to the arena again for day two of Leeds Festival.

Out of morbid curiosity, I stick my head in the Festival Republic tent while Cherri Bomb are playing. Turns out they’re basically a cock-rock band – except without the actual cocks, being as they’re one of only two all-female bands on the entire festival bill (to my knowledge, anyway). Moving on, Pulled Apart By Horses proceed to tear up the NME/Radio 1 Stage despite it being only midday. They play three vicious-sounding new songs among the more familiar material from their debut record, and all four members dive into the crowd after set-closer ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’. Leeds, that was your wake-up call.

I’m a little disappointed to have to miss Islet, but one my cousins is playing at the same time, and I’d feel like a bit of a dick if I didn’t go support him . Thankfully, he’s actually in a decent band; upcoming Leeds four-piece Circles. Playing on the BBC Introducing Stage, they carry themselves well for a band who’ve not even been together a whole year yet, delivering bursts of wirey, energetic post-punk to a receptive crowd.

I decide I can’t really be bothered to trudge back through the mud for Miles Kane, so I stick around to catch The Bronze Medal. I figure any band that shares its name with an Idlewild song can’t be all bad, and my suspicions turn out to be correct – although they don’t sound anything like that band, the Bath-based group craft a fine line in mellow, spacious post-rock, with floaty guitars and luscious harmonies.

Over on the Dance Stage, Mount Kimbie are crafting intriguing slices of ambient dubstep, but despite the name of the stage it seems it’s a little early in the day for them to really get the crowd going. Crystal Fighters, on the other hand, have no such trouble – despite starting late due to copious dicking around during their soundcheck, they quickly have the crowd moving with their quirky electro-rock. They eventually get chucked off the stage for overrunning – I guess everyone involved was just having too much of a good time.

Back on the NME/Radio 1 stage, Patrick Wolf is as fantastic as ever, even if his set does lean very heavily on his newest record, Lupercalia. There are excursions for ‘Damaris’, ‘The Libertine’, and a pretty much obligatory run-through of ‘The Magic Position’, but other than that it’s all his most recent stuff. Not that that’s really a bad thing – ‘Armistice’ provides a suitably stirring opener, while ‘Bermondsey Street’ and ‘The City’ are both moments of pure joy – but the selfish part of me always wants to hear more of his older material. He also invites Katie Harkin (of Sky Larkin) on stage to perform backing vocals on ‘Together’ – and to be honest it’s a shame they don’t take the opportunity to perform ‘The Future’ as well, because she’s got a gorgeous voice. (As an aside, you should definitely check out Sky Larkin if you haven’t already.) Regardless of my gripes, it’s always enjoyable to spend time in the company of Patrick Wolf and his music.

Next up on the same stage are Metronomy, who also play a set that favours tracks from their most recent album – but by contrast, I think it’s pretty much perfect. They cherry-pick the best tracks from The English Riviera – ‘Love Underlined’, ‘She Wants’, ‘The Look’, ‘The Bay’ – as well as playing rejuvenated versions of older songs such as ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Radio Ladio’. It’s amazing what a few years can do to your opinion of a band – I recall being bored to death when I saw Metronomy back in 2007, and yet today they don’t put a foot wrong.

Rather than hang around as the inevitable swarm of festival knobheads descends on the tent to see The Vaccines, I head over to the Festival Republic Stage to gain first-hand experience of Mercury-nominated bellower Anna Calvi. Much to my surprise, I don’t find her powerful voice to be as excruciating as it easily could be – by the end of the set I seem to have developed enough of a resistance that even the dramatics of ‘Jezebel’ and ‘Love Won’t Be Leaving’ don’t hurt my ears. And fair play to the girl, she can definitely play the guitar as well – her set won’t go down as an essential part of my weekend, but I enjoy it far more than I thought I would.

White Denim are introduced by the DJ/Compere as “one of the best live bands in the world” – and then proceed to spend the next 40 minutes putting a hell of a lot of weight behind that claim. Their experimental rock feels like it sits in the place where garage rock and math-rock collide, its breezy, upbeat feel combining with some utterly exceptional musicianship to create something that’s instantly spectacular. Colour me impressed.

Like DFA1979 the day before, Tom Vek is another artist who passed me by when he was first around in the mid-2000s. Back with his first album in 6 years, he’s not showing any signs of rustiness during a slick set of his infectious electro-indie. When he drops ‘A Chore’ and ‘I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes’ back to back, the crowd respond in a big way – cementing the fact that Tom Vek’s performance is a highly enjoyable experience rather than just a hipster box-ticking exercise. “That was a lot of fun, Leeds!” he says at the end of the set – and the feeling’s mutual.

On the other hand, Digitalism seem like they might better off on the Dance Stage, with the likes of ‘2 Hearts’ and ‘Circles’ passing by without things really kicking off. It’s clear that they’re not used to having to work this hard to get a rise out of the crowd, as evidenced by the fact that an imposing, bearded German man has to tell us to “MAKE SOME FUCKING NOISE!” three times before getting a reaction he deems satisfactory. “ARE YOU READY FOR JUMP?” he shouts, to a fairly tepid response – and so his wirey, blonde-haired counterpart takes matters into his own hands and leads by example, finally getting the whole tent jumping along with him.

Unfortunately, the result of that particular piece of audience interaction is that the crowd at the front of the tent (myself included) are now packed together like sardines – a situation not helped by the fact that The Horrors seem to have attracted enough people to fill the tent to bursting. I try not to let the cramped conditions affect my enjoyment of the band’s set – and to be fair to them, they absolutely nail it. ‘Changing The Rain’ opens the set with a widescreen, woozy swagger, ‘Who Can Say’ and ‘Endless Blue’ both get the crowd moving in full force, and ‘Sea Within A Sea’ is just as glorious live as it is on record.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly – until an abrupt power outage cuts ‘Still Life’ short. But then, after a brief chorus of boos, something a little bit magical happens – as the band defiantly light cigarettes on stage, the crowd spontaneously break into the song’s chorus of “When you wake up/when you wake up/you will find me.” Power is eventually restored, and the band roar back into action – ‘Mirror’s Image’ cements this moment as a triumph in the face of adversity, with the band’s pent-up frustration being unleashed in a snarled, furious storm of noise. Proceedings are ended in spectacular style with the expansive, pulsating ‘Moving Further Away’, and Faris Badwan’s reaction seems genuinely humble – “thank you Leeds, you’ve been the best crowd we’ve had for a long time.” The chants for an encore are thoroughly deserved – but at 10 minutes past the 11pm curfew, they will remain sadly unfulfilled. Sunday, you’ve got some work to do if you’re going to top that.

Find a Spotify playlist with some of the day’s hightlights here.

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