Let’s Get Cynical About Leeds Festival 2011, pt III: Sunday

Leeds Festival

This may be indicative of my mildly anti-social nature, but going to Leeds Festival on my own this year has actually been just fine. Sure, there have been moments when I’d have liked a little company (mainly when freezing my ass off while watching bands on the Main Stage), but not having to worry about anyone else has had its advantages. I don’t have to wait around for people and miss bands in the process, and I can also have everything packed up and in the car by about 10 o’clock on Sunday morning – leaving me free to saunter over to the arena for the final day of music, knowing that I can make a quick getaway afterwards.

As the eventual winners of the Futuresound competition, The Coopers bagged today’s opening slot on the Festival Republic Stage. This is, perhaps, both a blessing and a curse – a blessing because they don’t really clash with anyone, but a curse because they’re on at 11.30 in the morning. But as I’m up early enough, I may as well check them out. Turns out they’re purveyors of fairly harmless, twee indie pop – there’s a section where they all crowd round the vocalist’s mic and play handbells, and they end the set with a kazoo ensemble. Hmm.

The day’s action proper starts with The Joy Formidable on the Main Stage. Though they have to fight to overcome both the blustery conditions and the half-asleep crowd, they’re feisty enough to get the audience on their side – and their sound is big enough that it manages to avoid being blown away by the wind. They may only get through about five songs thanks to copious extended instrumental sections, but what they do play sounds tight, hard-hitting and ambitious – if it weren’t already evident before today, this band are going places. Hopefully places that aren’t quite as windy.

After that, I wander across the site to the NME/Radio 1 Stage, where Funeral Party are currently opening proceedings. After failing to be moved by them in any way whatsoever, I decamp to the Festival Republic tent, where She Keeps Bees prove to be a far more attractive proposition. They ply their trade in simple but effective bluesy stompers, helped along nicely by vocalist Jessica Larrabee’s arresting tones – a fine way to spend half an hour on a Sunday afternoon.

After another quick transfer between stages, it’s time for Yuck. I’m not sure if Daniel Blumberg is stoned or just a little bit awkward on stage – but despite his dazed demeanour, his band deliver a perfect set of their fuzzy, shoegaze-influenced indie-rock. Critics of the band may argue that they haven’t got an original bone in their collective bodies, but that seems overly harsh to me. Besides, you could say the same about, I dunno, Oasis – and Yuck ape their heroes (Pavement, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine) in a far more refined way than any number of clumsier bands before them. Songs like ‘Holing Out’ and ‘Georgia’ are, simply put, gorgeous.

I return to the main stage just in time to see Seasick Steve play his last song, join in with trashing his drummer’s kit, then bow down to the crowd and thank them “for giving me this great job.” You’re welcome, I guess. Two Door Cinema Club are up next, and while they might not seem like the kind of band likely to inspire ‘ker-azy’ festival behaviour, it only takes a casual suggestion from lead singer Alex Trimble for the crowd to start playing along. After mentioning that he’d like to see lots of people sat on each other’s shoulders, the crowd throws up a veritable sea of them, before subsequently attempting to out-do itself at every turn. People start standing rather than sitting on the shoulders of their unfortunate friends, almost every girl who appears on the big screen takes the opportunity to flash her bra for the camera, and I swear I see a three-person shoulder-ride stack at one point. Oh, you want me to talk about the music? Well, it’s infectious, guitar-and-synth-pop with a knack for a catchy hook… that’ll do, this paragraph’s too long as it is.

Back on the NME/Radio 1 Stage, The Kills are providing their usual lesson in effortless, enviable cool – although I have the same minor gripe with their set as I did with Patrick Wolf’s performance yesterday, in that it leans too heavily on their most recent record. That said, there are some pretty great tracks on Blood Pressures, so it’s not a major tragedy – ‘Future Starts Slow’ and ‘Heart Is A Beating Drum’ are The Kills at their slinky, minimal best, while ‘Baby Says’ shows off an unexpectedly tender side to the band. In the end, they only play one track from each of their first three albums – ‘No Wow’, ‘Kissy Kissy’ and ‘Tape Song’, if you’re interested. As they close their set with keyboard-led ballad ‘The Last Goodbye’, a guy behind me asks if they’ve played ‘Sour Cherry’ yet. I tell him they haven’t, and then we collectively realise that they’re not actually going to – to be fair though, perhaps singing “G-g-g-go home, go home, it’s over” at quarter past four in the afternoon would’ve seemed a little disingenuous.

I briefly head over to the merch stand to see if they’ve got a Warpaint t-shirt in my size (they haven’t), and spy that, in a truly cynical move, OFWGKTA (Odd Future) have still got t-shirts for sale despite pulling out of Leeds. Good effort guys. Still, Tyler did win a VMA, so I guess that makes it all ok, right?

I did rather enjoy the debut album from NY duo Cults, but I can’t quite say that their set on the Festival Republic Stage wins me over in the same way. The band may be expanded to a five-piece in their live incarnation, but that can’t disguise the fact that lead singer Madeline Follin only seems to have two settings when performing live – ‘shout’ or ‘barely audible’. I don’t know if she’s just having an off day though – I’d be willing to give the band another chance, but I still walk away a little disappointed even after sticking it out to the end of their set.

I figure I may as well switch tents again in the interim in order to catch a bit of Everything Everything, whose quirky, intelligent music has never failed to impress me before today. Turns out I’ve missed ‘Suffragette Suffragette’, but I do get to see ‘MY KZ, YR BF’, ‘Schoolin” and ‘Photoshop Handsome’ – three out of four ain’t bad. I think I also have this set to blame for getting a little bit obsessed with the minimal, atmospheric ‘Leave The Engine Room’ some time after the event…

Aussie four-piece Cloud Control make yet another dash between tents worthwhile with their spellbinding harmonies and blissed-out, psychadelic-tinged indie rock. Then, in the happiest of accidents, I make it back to the Main Stage just in time to catch Jimmy Eat World playing ‘the hits’ circa 2001. They roll through ‘Salt Sweat Sugar’, ‘The Middle’ and ‘Sweetness’ in quick succession, and all of a sudden it’s like I’m 16 again.

I’m really here for The National though, who should be a highlight of the weekend for anyone with a brain –  but it turns out mental capacity is in short supply among the main stage crowd. And so, while I’m having my own private, teary-eyed epiphany as they play ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, I reckon there can’t be more than 100 other people who appear to give a shit – at least, not where I am, right in front of the stage. I can vaguely hear the strains of the chorus echoing from the rear of the crowd, but the audience’s future attempts at participation seem half-hearted. It’s hugely frustrating, particularly as their performance is nothing short of brilliant – ‘Mr. November’ and ‘Terrible Love’ in particular should be utterly triumphant, but are let down by a lethargic response. By the end of the set, I’m so disheartened by the crowd’s apathy that I decide I want nothing more to do with them at this precise moment in time. Yes, that means I’ll miss The Strokes. No, I don’t really care – I’ve got my mind set on some catharsis in the form of Crystal Castles.

For some unknown reason, I decide it would be a good idea to check out Little Roy on my way across the site. In case you’re not aware, his schtick is that he does reggae covers of Nirvana songs – as I reach the tent, he’s halfway through his version of ‘Come As You Are’. I’ve heard that one already though, so I stick around to see what’s next – only to be ‘rewarded’ with a flaccid, lifeless take on ‘Heart-Shaped Box’. DO NOT WANT. I quickly depart, and arrive at the NME/Radio 1 Stage just in time to see Glassjaw play their last song – unfortunately, it fails to make any sort of lasting impression on me. Oh well.

An announcement comes over the PA that Jane’s Addiction have been forced to pull out due to illness, which leaves Crystal Castles as the stage’s de-facto headliners. They certainly take advantage of the fact that they can take their sweet time, and I start to wonder whether I should be kicking myself for not at least watching the beginning of The Strokes. After some pointless dicking around with the strobe lights, and with the crowd getting increasingly fractious, they finally make it on stage a full 15 minutes after their scheduled stage time. Very shortly afterwards, they launch into ‘Intimate’, and all is immediately forgotten.

What follows is absolutely the most fun I have all weekend, and an opportunity to just totally lose myself in the music – I think I might have had some sort of transcendental experience during ‘Suffocation’, and that’s only three songs in. There’s something about these 8-bit sounds that strikes a chord with me in a big way – ‘Baptism’ sounds as colossal as it ever has, ‘Celestica’ is jaw-dropping, and ‘Alice Practice’ inspires utter chaos among the crowd. By the time the sublime ‘Not In Love’ rolls around, my arms are so tired I can barely hold them above my head at all – and yet, as the band leave the stage, we howl for more, knowing full well that they may as well grant our wish. And so they do, with Alice Glass on truly riotous form during ‘Yes/No’ – JD bottle in hand, spraying the front rows with whiskey, shouting like a lunatic and finally launching herself into the arms of the crowd for one last time. I stagger away euphoric, sweaty, and utterly satisfied. So what if I missed The Strokes? I regret nothing.

I have just enough time to catch a few minutes of Three Trapped Tigers, whose scintillating math-rock is as ace as ever, before heading over to the Main Stage for the last time to watch Pulp close out the festival. I must admit to only having a passing familiarity with their back catalogue, so for me tonight’s set is educational as much as it is entertaining – and much of the entertainment comes from Jarvis Cocker’s hilarious banter and stage presence throughout. After opening the set with ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’, be begins by quipping about the cold, pointing to a small electric fire on stage and telling us “we’ve got the fire on.” He also makes deadpan remarks to all of the following: the person holding a sign saying ‘I need a shit’ (“I think the toilets are over there, please don’t do it anywhere else”); the people on the fairground rides (“You’ll remember this, the time you threw up at a Pulp concert”); and the audience in general (“anybody want a half-eaten pear?”). Later, he’ll run around the front row waving some sort of camera on a stick in their faces (in order to get footage for the big screens), and during ‘This Is Hardcore’ he lies down across two of the monitors and begins lewdly thrusting. To be honest, it’s worth showing up just to watch Jarvis alone.

Oh and the tunes? Yeah, they’re pretty damn good too. There’s the more obvious hits like ‘Disco 2000’, ‘Sorted For E’s And Wizz’ and ‘Babies’, but tonight gives me a welcome introduction to a broad cross-section of Pulp’s back catalogue. Particular highlights are the heartfelt ‘Something Changed’, and the way that ‘Sunrise’s trippy intro eventually gives way to a wall of guitars. I’m getting pretty cold at this point, but I promise myself I’ll stick around until the send of the set – predictably, they save ‘Common People’ until last, but even at this late stage it still gets everyone singing along in unison. I decide that this is as good a way as any to round of the weekend – other people may be raving late into the night, but I’ll be home by just after half past midnight. I’m so rock ‘n’ roll. But I’ve enjoyed myself – and you never know, I might be back next year if the lineup is any good.

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

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