Live At Leeds - Leeds
Now in its sixth year, Live at Leeds has expanded to over a hundred bands playing across ten venues, so trying to pack in as many different bands over the course of the day is a task that would challenge even the most herculean of scribes. So with a slightly less than rigid plan in place we set off for the first port of call, The Wardrobe, to catch local singer-songwriter Rupert Stroud. His upcoming debut album is an enjoyable listen so all seemed set for a good start to the day but it was not to be. Stroud’s songwriting skills and sparkling voice were in evidence but the tiny audience, his obvious nervousness and the soundman’s insistence on blasting the music out at ear-splitting volumes - yet failing to make the electric guitar audible - all made for an underwhelming experience.
A quick hop over to the Cockpit for some Joseph & David was thwarted by the tiny top room being absolutely rammed but there wasn’t long to wait before Black Moth hit the stage in the main room. Quite why I’d never heard of this mob before is beyond me as their deep, driving guitars and bass took me right back to the days of my youth with their heavy sound reminiscent of the mighty Diamond Head in their prime. They seemed somewhat surprised by the large turnout but with pitch perfect vocals and a ferocious assault, they have a huge future ahead of them that should see them thrilling crowds up and down the country. Kudos must also go to the guitarist stage left who easily won the haircut-of-the-day award.
After that sonic assault what better than the simmering, lovely gloominess of I Like Trains at the biggest venue currently in the city. Once the muddy sound of the first couple of songs were sorted and the annoying idiots who were wittering away at the top of their voices were quickly dispatched, it was bliss to sit back and let the epic nature of the songs mesmerise you with their post-rock finery. Why, three albums in , I Like Trains aren’t filling venues like the O2 Academy already is a mystery but, on the basis of this performance and the happy faces from the crowd around me, surely that can’t be a permanent state, can it?
Then came the only real misstep of the day. After pondering checking out Pixie Geldof’s Violet, the lure of the newly re-opened Well proved too much. The riffless guitar work and pointless screaming of Bears Killing Bears in a hot, cramped room became too much to bare after less than two songs and a swift exit was attempted - but the notorious stairs to the gig room proved a difficult obstacle due to people standing all over them and failing to make any concession to people trying to get out. Fresh air was finally reached and a more leisurely-than-expected wander to the Met was undertaken to see a completely unknown quantity Gabriel Bruce.
Bounding on stage with a synth player and two Human League-esque backing singers in tow, Bruce - a spitting image of Nick Cave & Nicolas Cage on acid - proceeded to confound expectations with a rather bizarre mix of deeply baritone delivered electro pop. As bad as that may sound the addition of up to thirty (probably slightly inebriated) audience members mimicking the 80s dance moves elevated proceedings to a joyous dance party. The runaway winner of the audience-participation-of-the day award.
After a brief respite we reconvened at the rather lovely Holy Trinity Church for Canadian songsmith Dan Mangan who started things off with a choral explosion utterly fitting to its surroundings and followed this with a superb set of uplifting music. It was so powerful and emotive you sometimes forgot that the thundering results were emanating from a mostly acoustic set-up who made it seem that the church pillars were almost screaming in unison. Simply wonderful.
A wasted trip to the Cockpit followed as the queue was far too big to bother with so Howler were jettisoned from the plans with a swiftly agreed trip to Nation of Shopkeepers, for a supposedly red hot newcomer from New York, Devin, taking its place. Unfortunately, his derivative indie pop soon started to grate - as did his weirdly affected voice. As my companion put it, "Devin? - Devinitely not!" Luckily, we managed to make it to the Met for the tail end of Dead Sons. Despite there ostensibly similar shtick to the previous, their more raucous take on retro garage rock offered far more enjoyment, with their twin percussion being particular effective.
A quick hop across to the main room led us to one of the surprises of the day, Charli XCX. Her brief bio did not give a true reflection of stripped back, shoegazey/synth pop rhythms. Add in her charming vocals and a winning stage presence and a chart appearance would should be shoe-in. Extra points for the ridiculously big platform shoes that gained the coveted Footwear-of-the-Day award.
And so back to the back room for We Are Augustines, whose powerful debut album Rise Ye Sunken Ships is one of the highlights of the year so far and they put in a rollicking, sweat-stained garage rock set loaded with amped up versions of the likes of ‘Chapel Song’, ‘Book of James’ and the epic and apt ‘Headlong Into The Abyss’ setting the pulses racing. Amps were kicked over; the front man climbed on, then crashed down on the drum kit yet continued to play on whilst lying across them at an excruciating angle. High-energy entertainment at its very, very best. It was a close call but We Are Augustines pipped Black Moth to my Band-of-The day award and if these guys aren’t huge in a couple of years then I’ll remove a leg.
After such an exilhirating high, the dulcet tones of Lianne La Havas were not really what was needed, so a taxi to the best small venue in Leeds (the Brudenell Social Club) was taken for the mellifluous tones of Ghostpoet. His tuneful rap over a weirdly space rock backing proved so entrancing that my tired and aching mind was soon tripping back to a particularly strange Hawkwind gig from the early 80s. With discretion the better part of valour we headed home, and I couldn’t help but ruminate on a fantastically organised day with a range of musical styles to suit every taste. Bring on Live at Leeds 2013!