So, it's that time of year again that the major festival season draws to a close, and while sister site Reading is viewed as the (slightly) more mature of the two, Leeds has often been renowned for bowing out in a blaze of glory...literally. Bearing all that in mind, it's worth mentioning at this point that this year's event passed without any (as yet) notable incident, and despite rumours flying around of punters being struck by tabletops on their way back from the Arctic Monkeys set on Friday and the odd allegedly "accidental" stabbing on Sunday, the atmosphere at this year's event was more akin to a teenage slumber party while the parents were away than any spontaneous riot. Despite the best efforts of the "bottle police" and the majority of the Security team (Colin: 933 - this one's for you) to employ heavy handed tactics at unnecessary times, it's probably fair to say this was one of the most enjoyable Leeds festivals for many a year, even if the wind and rain also conspired at regular junctures to dampen spirits.
This year's line-up also raised a few eyebrows, most notably with the inclusion of Thom Yorke and co. as Saturday's exclusive headliners sandwiched inbetween the more radio friendly fare of the aforementioned Monkeys and Kings Of Leon, who it has to be said, really do know how to put the bland in....bland. As seems to be the case these days, the Hollyoaks cast were out in full force as was a certain Peaches Geldof on Sunday night, while the rumourmill was also in silly season overdrive - Jeremy Kyle, Cilla Black and Lily Allen among the celebs we were told had met a premature demise - and although the main talking point was the have they/haven't they split debate concerning Oasis, by approximately 23:05 Saturday night, only one word was on the lips of many aghast punter here. Radiohead...
Despite the radically different circumstances, it would be fair to say that, similar to the Manic Street Preachers with The Holy Bible, most Radiohead fans fall into either the post or pre Kid A categories, yours truly favouring the latter. However, having witnessed Thom Yorke's sensational performance at Latitude last month, this Radiohead cynic's appetite had already been whetted somewhat, and even though the majority of tonight's set is culled from the aforementioned Kid A and its successors Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows, it would be terse to call their performance this evening anything short of being a revelation. The opening '15 Step' may have been cautious - by their standards at least - but by the time 'Airbag' kicks proceedings into full swing we're left in little doubt that the next 85 minutes are going to be among the most special those present can count themselves fortunate enough to have witnessed so far this year. Sure, there will always be groans when it comes to a Radiohead setlist; long-time fan favourites such as 'Creep', 'Street Spirit', 'Karma Police' and 'No Surprises' may be conspicuous by their absence here at Leeds, but such are the focused dynamics of all five band members that everything they do play is simply unmissable. 'A Wolf At The Door' and 'The Gloaming', both uneasy listening on record to these ears at least take on another level here while new song 'These Are My Twisted Words', saved for the encore, suggests album number eight may be their best yet this side of the millennium at least. Playful as ever, Yorke introduces 'Just' by way of the opening bars to The B-52s 'Rock Lobster'. At this point people standing around me are in tears, but only ones of joy. Truly phenomenal.
Leeds trio Dinosaur Pile-Up may have had the unenviable task of opening up the NME stage while most punters are still arriving onsite, but by the time 'Traynor' cascades the tent into a giant bulging, shaking overcoat, there's little doubt that this performance should herald the start of something quite magnificent here. Sure, the reference points are still in place - think early nineties grotrock such as Therapy? and Midway Still infused with a dose of Bleach era Nirvana and even pre-fame Soul Asylum and you're onto a winner. Or at least Dinosaur Pile-Up are, and only a tinnitus sufferer would surely bet against their elevation to a much bigger stage next year.
A Place To Bury Strangers
As possibly the loudest band on this year's bill, the fact that the sound in the Festival Republic tent had been sub-standard every day so far caused a few pre-match nerves both on and off stage for sure. Thankfully, it takes little more than one rip-roaring verse of 'It's Nothing' to convince those of us who've made the effort to watch A Place To Bury Strangers that the next half hour will be business as usual, and some. 'Dead Beat' and 'Keep Slipping Away' both prove incendiary tasters for forthcoming long player Exploding Head, the former's surf influenced hook'n'riff combination and the latter's industrial overtones both engulfed in Oliver Ackermann's penchant for excessive noise, aka total sonic annihilation. By the time 'Ocean' rings out the end of the set, people are physically unable to move, such is the level and ferocity of the sound emanating from the speakers. Perfect in every way then, except for the fact they disappointingly drew one of the smallest crowds we witness all weekend.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Having possibly the most iconic frontwoman of her generation in their ranks has undoubtedly helped elevate the Yeah Yeah Yeahs from being seen as nothing more than scene drifters riding The Strokes coat tails a few years back to being one of the most genuinely innovative outfits of the decade. While most of the attention may be focused on Karen O - and with such a dazzling array of head and body wear on offer for the next forty-five minutes why wouldn't it be? - it's sometimes easy to underestimate the talents of Brian Chase and in particular Nick Zinner in the process. It's also at times like this when one realises just what an outstanding and eclectic back catalogue they possess, old numbers such as 'Rich' standing tall alongside the more electronically based newcomers like 'Heads Will Roll' in admirable fashion. The now familiar acoustic performance of 'Maps' is simply heart stopping, while a typically frantic 'Date With The Night' complete with obligatory stage trashing at the end puts the seal on another fantastic performance.
The good thing about going to festivals with what seems like too many stages for its own good is that there's always something worth checking out somewhere, and thanks to a friend who insists we go and watch MSTRKRFT (who've sadly already finished), we stumble across this bag of delights instead. What we get however is a beat-laden mix of hardcore electro mixed with the occasional dubstep overtone that quite simply evokes memories of Jarvis Cocker's field in Hampshire where many a braincell expired. Proplus (or at least that's what it said on the packaging) is passed around with gleeful abandon and shapes are thrown in due course. As a precursor to the immeasurable climax that is Radiohead, Vitalic prove to be the most sonically natural high one could possibly wish for.
Schedule clashes at festivals, don't you just hate them? So do we, and whoever decided to allow the second half of The Horrors set in the NME tent to overlap with that of A Place To Bury Strangers elsewhere deserves to be paid a swift visit after hours. Nevertheless, the thirty minutes we do observe is among the weekend's highlights and evidently cements the notion that The Horrors work best as a live act in the darkened confines of a poky little room, canvas wrapped or otherwise. 'Three Decades' is as immense here as it is on Primary Colours, while 'Do You Remember?' and 'New Ice Age' sound like two worlds colliding in mid air before crashing down all around us. They even throw in an increasingly rare version of 'Count In Fives', which due to their newly honed sound, finds itself slowed down and beefed up with reverb and effects to the point where it could quite easily have fitted on the new record. Just as the show seems to be reaching its peak, we have to leave but do so safe in the knowledge that their Field Day set was just a minor blip. Roll on December and ATP...
The Big Pink
Although still relatively new to most ears outside of London, The Big Pink have already earned themselves a reputation for being rather hit and miss live, and tonight's performance on the admittedly heavily criticised Festival Republic stage does little to alter such an opinion. The hard-hitting beats and heavily distorted guitars that guide 'Too Young To Love' and 'Dominos' through the murky waters of a poor standard of sound quality come unstuck on a rather pedestrian 'Love In Vain' while at the mid-point of the set there seems to be confusion between band members what the next song in the set is meant to be, culminating in a lengthy discussion between frontman/guitarist Robbie Furze and drummer Akiko Matsuura. Eventually parity is restored thanks to a rousing 'Crystal Visions' and 'Count Backwards From Ten', but anyone here on the off chance or enticed by the hype surrounding them won't be fully converted just yet.
Say what you like about Vampire Weekend but there really isn't any better way to celebrate a first victory in ages over your nearest rivals in the sun at a music festival. In fact, we'll even forgive Ezra Koenig fluffing the odd line here and there (thankfully not during 'A Punk') as their particular brand of feel-good, global college rock has a unifying element that sees friendships formed between complete strangers and Facebook snaps aplenty. They also play two new songs, 'White Sky' and 'Cousins' that while neither re-inventing the wheel or suggesting a radical departure cum album number two, also doesn't see their knack of writing insatiable hooks married to catchy choruses subsiding for the foreseeable future either.
Currently unsigned they may be, but one suspects that that could change imminently for Frontiers if they continue the rapid progress they've made so effortlessly over the past few months. With a mid-afternoon slot on the handily placed BBC Introducing Stage, its quite a daunting task for the Nottingham four-piece going head-to-head with more established acts like Metronomy and The View, yet the way the crowd has swelled by the end of second song 'New Eden' tells its own story. Nevertheless, it's the closing double whammy of 'Alibi' and 'In Pursuit' that really set pulses racing, bassist Jake Austin's floor pummeling rhythms coupled with Charlie Burley's dazzling guitar work providing the undoubted catalyst in each case. Although it's still early days in their career, the future is surely theirs for the taking.
Being prompt and on the ball as we are, Thursday night's low-key festivities courtesy of highly feted Leeds label Dance To The Radio are fast becoming the stuff of legend, and this year proved to be no exception. Although most of the plaudits will go to Wild Beasts, and rightly so thanks to another faultless performance, it's Brooklyn's Bear Hands that really catch the eye, mixing lo-fi polemics with arthouse noise and a disturbingly hyperactive frontman that reminds us of HEALTH, Girls and Gang Of Four in equal measure, which makes them worth twenty minutes of anyone's time.
And so, onto the Arctic Monkeys and the set that didn't just divide opinion here on Friday night, but literally forced each into two corners with a referee (me) having to take charge in the middle. Let's put the arguments forward as to why this was a pretty special performance for starters. While most of their contemporaries find themselves stuck in a rut or crawling by the wayside, Sheffield's finest at least possess the audacity to push themselves with every record, and this transcended itself quite dramatically here, where instead of filling their timeslot with the most obvious cuts, opted to play the new album pretty much in its entirety and only four songs from Whatever People Say I Am..., the record that set the ball rolling in the first place (and which, 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor' aside, all sounded so out of place amongst their newer and wiser brethren). 'My Propeller', 'Pretty Visitors' and 'Cornerstone' all sound huge in comparison, almost as if purpose built for events like this, and while criticisms still remain regarding a lack of any real interaction between band and audience, well, it's hardly been a staple ingredient of an Arctic Monkeys show anyway has it. Of course the arguments against centered around the choice of songs aired this evening will probably haunt them until next summer's circuit kicks into life again, but even then the most savage of such detractors have to admit this was a brave decision to go with an obscure Nick Cave cover rather than 'A Certain Romance' for example. An understated triumph then, that in time the naysayers will look back on as a defining moment in the band's career, mark my words.
Photos by Gary Wolstenholme