Leeds Fest 2014 began with an extra-early bang, with the introduction of bands and comedians on the Thursday night.
I myself plumped for the madcap comedic stylings of Adam Buxton, the bearded half of 90's comedy duo Adam & Joe, as a result of the tirade of rain which unleashed itself on the site on Thursday evening. Whilst the comedy tent itself offered shelter from the elements, Buxton's wacky style of humour failed to warm many of the on-lookers, although his unique blend of using his laptop to show us all strange goings-on from the internet, to his own home videos was a great idea for a comedy show- I can imagine if it wasn't the precursor to a weekend of music and camping, it would be pretty enjoyable.
As it was, once the rain had cleared, it was over to the Relentless Stage, situated in a tree-lined strip inbetween the thriving campsites of Red and Orange, following the closure of the stage during 2013's torrential weather. DJ's like Zane Lowe, DJ Fresh and Klaxons were due for the three days, but we had fun nonetheless as the riotous atmosphere was a great set-up for the upcoming weekend.
With a few bleary eyes and banging heads (althoughI like to blame that on camping just a tad too close to the campsite DJ!), Friday was kicked off for me with a slice of the ultra-cool Jungle. A mysterious act made up of an array of vocalists, guitarists, keyboardists and drummers, many of whom do some serious multi-tasking, the West London band were pretty excellent. Sure extensive falsetto vocals can wane on even the most hardened of fans after a while, but when the beats were as fresh and bouncy as they were in the NME/Radio tent, you don’t mind. After an excellent LP and summer festival shows, they have proven there worth, even getting a pre-Clean Bandit crowd to loosen up and lose themselves in the sultry grooves.
Band of the moment, Clean Bandit were next up, and showed surprisingly that there is more to them than mega-hit ‘Rather Be’. No, their live show was assured, confident and FUN! Their unique twist on the genre is intriguing, throwing in classical music influences alongside the bass beats we’re more accustomed too, aswell as the familiarity of guest vocalists peppering the majority of tracks. They weren’t mind-bending, but packed out the tent and offered heaps of fun and innocent pop music for those who wanted it.
The Kooks are another band that bring back memories of adolescence for those of a certain age, and their new wave of sound, with increased R&B influences did certainly not disappoint. Infact, whilst they didn’t match solid favourites ‘Naïve’ and ‘Seaside’ for the sing-a-long aspect, it’s arguable that new singles ‘Down’ and ‘About Town’ were the best performances of their set. The new album releases this week, and it’ll be very interesting to see whether it can revive what many thought to be another band lost to the ages. Based on this performance, the Kooks could stay with us for while.
To many Macklemore & Ryan Lewis seem wildly out of place on a Reading & Leeds bill, their chart-friendly beats and raps surely not acceptable at such a venue? Such things are simply not true though, as Macklemore proved with a friendly, yet humoured stage presence and half a set of gold. That is the one issue I had with this set, it was far too long for the one album rapper, who actually, rather embarrassingly, played the same song twice. But that aside, his song introductions may have been to mask the extended set length, but he made it work- just.
Man-children, Blink-182 made it three times they had headlined both Reading and Leeds sites, the first for four years and ahead of a new album rumoured to be released to the world by the turn of 2014.
Kicking off with ‘Feeling This’, the US rockers breezed through their set, peppering song breaks with some genuinely crude, hilarious humour and entertaining the masses excellently with their extensive back catalogue.The crowd of course reacted magnificently to all-time hit ‘All The Small Things’, but then this was Friday night of Leeds 2014, it was heaving and pits were breaking out all over the inside barrier.
The trio of songs that made up the encore summed up the evening for the Americans; ‘Violence’ a breath-taking tune that allows every band member to step up to the plate, ‘Dammit’ a veritable classic that the first strokes of the guitar riff sent everyone into a fit of excitement, and ‘Family Reunion’, a 40 second tune that manages to pack in all of the band’s trademark crude humour in an expletive-ridden blast.
One way to blast out any morning cobwebs are Derbyshire duo, Drenge. The much-hyped two are loud and fast, known for thrashing away at their instruments and barely stopping to acknowledge their audience. This mid-afternoon slot was not dissimilar to the expectations, they were impressive if straightforward, more new tunes alongside those from their self-titled LP would’ve been nice, but after a year of touring, I’d expect them to hit the studio and get more content to take their live show truly to the next level.
Firm R&L festival favourites, Enter Shikari appeared for their sixth straight festival (in more than one guise!), with circle hits in abundance as frontman Rou Reynolds took time to sprint across the Main Stage, kick out at amps and generally cause a bit of a racket- but a good racket nonetheless! Shikari have grown at this festival, as has their sound, but they know how to work their crowd and how to entertain the masses, even if they’ve never truly broken out into the mainstream, but you know what…I think they prefer things that way!
Vampire Weekend were a band I had been waiting to see ever since their inception as an act, a trio of album in and the NYC collective were incredible. They hit every right note, from Exra Koening having the nerve to play the set in a full grey tracksuit, to the imperious moods they created, from the heart-melding ‘Walcott’ the riotous ‘A-Punk’, to an exclusive track never played live before, ‘California English’, they were exceptional. The start of the set saw one of the day’s torrential downpours, but by its crescendo, the sun was beating down on a magnificent performance.
Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age were up first, having closed the previous night at Reading. The band put on a simply brilliant rock show, with thrills in the shape of some impressive laser-shows and some mind-melting guitar-driven beasts of songs. The energy from the band was subtle, growing and growing with each tune. ‘No One Knows’ as song number two was a daring choice, but paid off handsomely as newbies ‘My God Is The Sun’ and ‘Smooth Sailing’ more than benefitted from the buzz generated. Classics like ‘Feel Good Hit of The Summer’ and ‘Make It Wit Chu’ ensured that ardent fans were catered for too, although personally I felt that the fresher songs from 2013’s ‘…Like Clockwork’ were those more warmly received and those better performed generally.
The last coupling of ‘Go With The Flow’ and ‘A Song For The Dead’ were awesome. The latter allowed drummer Jon Theodore to take centre stage, with a sizzling drum solo, it was a song that the band performed with such intensity and vigour, it was hard to take your eyes away from it. And that was that from Queens, a band who managed to surpass my sky-high expectations.
Hoping to shake off the electrical problems which had plagued them the previous night at Reading, Hayley Williams and Paramore, started off by complimenting QOTSA and brought out an extensive light show as they closed the night. The first half of the show was full of the old fan favourites, with a big sing-a-long for ‘The Only Exception’. As a result, the second lacked the punch of the first, with many of the recent self-titled record, which featured a distinct change of sound, making it up. I felt Williams was as good a leader as a band could hope for, fully of charisma and energy, but the performance didn’t connect with myself as much as it did with the ravenous crowd, who screamed and applauded for Williams and co in their droves.
Closing off the night the co-headliners rocked with a stint in the Silent Disco was a good choice. The tent, which had to be closed in 2013 due to high winds, was packed to the brim and offered great variety of current and past pop hits on one channel, with the other devoted to the rock the Reading & Leeds fanbase are more accustomed too. However, it was nice mixing it up every now and then, the atmosphere crackling into life every time a sing-song came on, with each DJ encouraging their sides to make some noise, always a great experience.
The last day of Leeds Fest 2014 saw the much-anticipated Royal Blood finally play, ahead of their just released debut LP. It was a fast, frenetic set which saw the bass and drum duo tear apart the Radio 1/NME tent, packing it out and then some at two in the afternoon, a pretty decent achievement at the end of a weekend chocced full of live music. I can certainly see them making their way up the R&L bill in the future.
Another band I’ve kept my eye on for a while are Brummie starlets, Peace. Possibly the most popular of the current crop of B-town talent, the indie rock outfit made their maiden Main Stage appearance and had a sizeable crowd, their fans amongst the most passionate of the modern day indie era. It was nice for new single ‘Money’ to get an outing, and their new material may swing towards a more poppy sound, but if the UK is to re-start its Britpop scene, look no further than these guys.
Next up was a guaranteed party with the madcap antics of The Hives. Sure they’d released no new material since last appearing at the festival in 2012, but they really didn’t need to, as they performed a masterful set dripping full of favourites like ‘Main Offender’ and ‘Walk Idiot Walk’, beginning with the customary ‘Come On!’, descending into a crowd sit-in and ending with the front section losing it to ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’. Sure, I heard some complaints about frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s extended crowd interaction…but I loved it!
I caught only the backend of Foster the People’s Main Stage set, but from what I saw I regretted not seeing the previous half-an-hour. A more mellow version of ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ was pretty memorable, but more than anything they were a band full of confidence and had some good crowd interaction, you got the feeling they were genuinely excited and ecstatic to be with thousands of us in a field in Yorkshire.
One band who’ve had an incredible 12 months are Imagine Dragons, going from a smallish spot on the NME tent last year, just before they made it big, to collaborating with Kendrick Lamar, selling bucketloads of their debut record and making it up to third on the bill on the Main Stage. Again, frontman Dan Reynolds was immensely likeable and thankful for being up there, complimenting R&L for believing in them when no one else would and taking a chance on them. Crowd favourites, ‘Demons’ and ‘Amsterdam’ peppered the set, before a cover of Blur’s ‘Song 2’ paved the way for the rendition of ‘Radioactive’ Leeds had been waiting for. Album number two should bring more exciting times ahead for the Las Vegas act.
Bombay Bicycle Club were as charming as ever as they headlined the NME/Radio 1 Tent, packing it to the rafters, as slices were taken from 2014 album ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’, most notably ‘Feel’, ‘It’s Alright Now’ and ‘Luna’. I’d seen the polished show around the time of the album’s release, but it was nice to see it having been developed and smoothed out for a festival crowd. Collaborators Rae Morris and Liz Lawrence added that little bit extra to one of the most satisfying hour the weekend had to offer.
From the NME tent, it was a mad dash to see the band most had been waiting for the entire weekend; Arctic Monkeys. The Main Stage field was packed as far as the eye could see, as the Yorkshire quartet cemented their status as one of the biggest rock bands in the world, even if their set wasn’t entirely perfect.
One look at the setlist would tell you the Arctics dusted off all the favourites, alongside extended coverage of latest record ‘AM’, but the performance was rather erratic, as frontman Alex Turner was occasionally slurry in his delivery and a bit out of it, plus the performances of songs like ‘Brianstorm’ and ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ lacked their usual rapid rhythm, for whatever reason. But come the end of the set, it was hard to come away having not enjoyed at least a portion of the set, whether you were an old or a new fan, there was something for everyone in this intriguing 90 minutes.
And that was that for Leeds 2014, another grand Bank Holiday weekend with stacks of memorable moments and top performances by some of the most exciting acts on the planet, Leeds '15 can't come quickly enough!
Photos by Gary Mather