There are many ways one could choose to spend a sunny Saturday morning of a bank holiday weekend. A trip to the seaside; a scenic walk; a shopping spree; some gardening; a lye-in; or a punk gig down a basement. In Leeds in May, many prefer the latter.
Yep, it’s the start of the annual bonanza that is Live at Leeds. A day where thousands of gig-goers descend upon and trawl across the city to dance, sing and mosh, drink, eat and chat, stand, sit and queue, and look, listen and learn about cool underground artists, old cult favourites and next big things, all in the name of a ruddy good time.
This year, there’s no gentle welcome, no easing into the afternoon. There’s no turning up late to watch the headliners. Because the hype is about the makers of last year’s most vital record and energetic live shows, and they’re blasting off proceedings first thing: Idles.
So, with bands on wrists, we stroll on down to The Wardrobe and are met with a lengthy line of folk going nowhere fast. Rather unsurprisingly, plenty more than the 400 or so people that the venue can accommodate had the same idea, and those that set their alarms the earliest were already, I imagine, sweating smugly inside. Prior preparation prevents poor performance. You snooze you lose.
Later, I’m told Idles were awesome, singing manically about supermarkets, motherfuckers and Mary Berry. I wouldn’t know. Instead, I’d like to tell you about Halifax’s finest new indie kids, The Orielles, also on at midday. Except, in the short time it takes us to get to Holy Trinity, that’s filled up too. An unfortunate start for a reviewer, unless you want a review of a queue, which you don’t.
It would be easy to criticise the organisers for such things, but this is the nature of the day, and somehow adds to the excitement of making it in to the must-see shows. Plus, for every act you’re not getting into, there are twentyish more to choose from at any one time. You can’t say fairer than that.
We opt for a more laid back approach by wandering into Northern Guitars. Here, the atmosphere is chilled and welcoming. There are families and friends enjoying an early pint, there are young children in the beer garden, who I then realise are here to perform; teenage YouTube sensation Tom Mouse Smith will be playing in an hour. But first, it’s Cat Una, happily surprised by the sizeable and supportive turn out, to whom she and her band soothingly serenade, with lilting rhythms and swooning vocals. A more gentle beginning than planned, but pleasingly so.
Undeterred by our earlier failure, we are back at The Wardrobe, and this time we make it in! The Blinders are tipped as the most exciting new live band right now, and are undoubtedly the hottest act to come out of Doncaster since, erm, Tony Christie? Theirs is a primal, dramatic raw of Donny angst, interspersed with hallucinogenic poetry from the depths of the soul. The still huge crowd leave impressed at this thrilling din and charismatic frontman, except for the one chap, who perhaps correctly opines; “He thought he was fucking Jim Morrison”
With venues spread throughout the city, we decide to walk from one end to the other, with a couple of stops along the way. At Leeds Beckett, Phoebe Green and her band demonstrate both a youthful vitality and a musical maturity, blending familiar sounds and structures with an intriguing oddness all of her own.
At Stylus, Superorganism put on a party for yet another large afternoon audience. Costumed backing vocalists dance infectiously to the bleeps, beats and hooks of a sound that is as mish-mash as their diverse 8-piece collective of people would suggest. By the time lead singer Orono Noguchi announces hit songs Everybody Wants To Be Famous and Something For Your M.I.N.D., Superorganism’s collective has grown to include the crowd of hundreds.
With the sun shining ever brighter, it would be a shame to spend the whole day in darkened rooms. So we commit to continuing out of town to sit outside the Brudenell and soak it up, whilst not neglecting music duties by nipping inside to see an array of acts across their 2 stages. These include Dutch lo-fi hi-quality popster Pip Blom, fine fringe-flicking York exports The Howl And The Hum, rightly-hotly-tipped Australian artist Stella Donnelly, eclectic Welsh indie aces Boy Azooga, and unique electro London wonkiness from Suzi Wu.
Herein lies the beauty of Live at Leeds. There’s something to be said for planning your day precisely and rushing between venues to see who you know, but there’s an equal argument for settling into one place and letting them entertain you. It helps when one can trust said place to have a roster of winning acts as much as the Brudenell. Of the aforementioned list, many were a new discovery, and between them they dazzled and intrigued consistently and in equal measure.The bargainous pies and pints helped matters too.
But we don’t stay here forever because there’s a multiple clash of headliners to watch one of. The Vaccines and Nadine Shah, amongst others, offer popular and stiff competition, but instead we go to Church. This evening’s sermon is delivered by a group of skinny gothic gentlemen who go by the name of The Horrors. Having grown in competence and fan base over the past decade, the band always offer a darkly euphoric live experience, and this seems a perfectly matched setting for it. Indeed, the mix of crunching guitars, throbbing keys, and swooning choruses aptly soundtrack the space, and whilst never fully lifting off, this is still a heavenly ending for many.
Gigs continue elsewhere for another hour until midnight and then there is an afterparty back where it all began, at The Wardrobe. But I mustn’t stay out because I’ve got a review to write tomorrow about queues, sunshine and pies. Oh, and a load of bands, venues and people that once again made Live at Leeds the best way to spend a bank holiday Saturday.