The torrential drizzle may have dampened proceedings in Leeds, but the quality acts and dazzling diversity of Leeds’ music venues made this festival one to remember.
First up was former Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes at the Leeds O2 Academy. A little past midday, the venue was full of eager punters looking forward to a day of tunes and cider – some people seemed to be well on their way to toppling over with a few jelly legs in attendance. Nonetheless the crowd was extremely receptive to Coombes who mixed his set with songs from his two solo albums. Switching between piano and acoustic guitar with all the stealth of a gazelle, Coombes’ set of symphonic power-pop had a contemporary feel with atmospheric synths and digital beats that kept his music distinctly fresh and dynamic. ‘Hot Fruit’ from Coombes’ first album was a particular highlight with its goose bump inducing compelling energy. No need for yet another 90’s Brit-pop reunion, Gaz Coombes seems to be doing quite all right by himself.
Making the 20-minute travail to Leeds University campus, Pixel Fix we’re appeasing the steady crowd in the Mine bar searching for some sanctuary from the insipid weather. Their set was tight and drenched with reverb but the band we’re let down by the sound desk which seemed to be a perennial problem throughout the day for many bands. Hailing from Oxford, the hometown of fellow reverb worshippers Foals, Pixel Fix’s sound suggests more of an appreciation for Birmingham bands Swim Deep and Peace. Not much originality here, but for one of the less experienced bands on the day, they brought a great deal of energy that just about made up for their lack of “killer” songs.
We then moved over to the larger venue in Leeds University’s complex, Stylus, playing host to The Vryll society, an MC5 cover band with all the danger and vivacity ripped out of them (I jest, they weren’t an MC5 cover band). The lead singer writhes around to the bands kaleidoscope of baggy psychadelic grooves fused with a more classic rock sound like a T-Rex having had one too many Jager-bombs. Most certainly one of the strangest bands witnessed on the day and not necessarily in a good way.
Voyaging through the rain like the Dawn Treader, we made it to the second of Leeds’ University’s, Beckett, whose venue had a grungier vibe that suited its line-up of scuzzy laidback rock. First up we’re Bruising who came across like a female fronted Pavement. Their merciless wall of sound had the crowd swaying, but the band came across as oddly twee without the bite to really capture the audience’s attention.
The same couldn’t be said for Menace Beach, who attracted a large crowd of youthful hipsters lapping up their distortion fuelled bratty pop-punk. The charismatic lead singer sounded eerily like a young Brian Molko from Placebo, all nasal androgynous wails and biting couplets with a look more akin to a peroxide long-haired Rivers Cuomo.
Following band, Gengahr, was tighter but the crowd had dissipated somewhat with their arrival. Their highly melodic sound and unassuming stage manner was a breath of fresh air amongst a line-up of bands heavily reliant on distortion pedals to get their teenage angst across. Vital to their sound is the lead singers vocals, which conjures up the same breezy falsetto as Andrew Montgomery from Britpop cult heroes Geneva. Some of the songs drifted a little too close to the hopelessly dull easy-listening indie rock of Kodaline or Keane, but Gengahr have enough about them to rise above such derisions.
After trawling back to Leeds Uni’s Stylus, we were met by a heaving crowd eager in anticipation for indie rock royalty Spector. The best set of the day, Spector intermingled their set with a combination of old songs and some new tunes from their up-coming album. ‘Stay High’ is a perfect slice of 80’s pop, piano-driven with a killer chorus, the new song prompts comparisons to Paul Simon’s pop epic Graceland. Through the set, lead singer and head honcho, Fred Macpherson, pulls sharp pose after sharp pose like one of Michelangelo’s muses, frequently greeting the front of the worshipping audience like a be-spectacled prophet. Final song, ‘All The Sad Young Men’ has clearly become their new torch song, an emotional master class in grand, poignant indie song writing. Spector’s prowess was clear for all to see as the crowd rapturously received one of the best live bands on the UK circuit today.
Headliners, The Cribs, are another band that can lay claim to the indie rock throne. Hosted in the rather opulent and majestic Town Hall, the crowd were waiting in baited breath for their Yorkshire heroes to clamber up on the stage. Certainly one of the more shambolic sets of the day, microphone stands and guitars flew around the stage in equal manner as The Cribs rattled through a set interspersed with old classics and the best from their recently released album, ‘For All My Sisters’. A rudimentary take on Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ turned into a bit of an awkward segue while some of Ryan Jarman’s intricate guitar work was lost amongst the distortion especially on early career track, ‘Hey Scenesters’. However, ‘Our Bovine Public’ sounds as fresh as ever and by the time final track ‘Pink Snow’ rolled around, the Wakefield lads were on a roll. Pink disco balls transported the 19th century building into an illuminated new wave Xanadu, as Ryan Jarman’s thunderous riff echoed around the upper echelons. A real punk gig for the ages and a wonderfully hedonistic climax to a mesmerizing day of live music.
Photo credits: Tim Copeland