A New Generation of Acts Reign Supreme at (Reading &) Leeds 2014
Leeds Fest, it’s been a while. Sometime during the last decade I swapped Foo Fighters and fields for chalets and Shellac but with that latter option now void (thanks ATP!), back to Bramham Park I go with a spring in my step and a packet of Boots Essentials Cucumber Wipes in my washbag. The last time I was here, the only “app” that threatened to drain your phone battery was called Snake 2, the Lostprophets logo was still an acceptable tattoo (so too was the Rolfaroo), and the bill was crammed with Noughties try-hard-hard-rockers Papa Roach, post-pop-punk emo blankets Jimmy Eat World, and the North’s answer to the Libertines, the Arctic Monkeys. (Glances at line-up.) Okay, maybe not that much has changed.
As ever, it’s the newest acts on the smallest stages that prove the most rewarding, and the established, complacent dinosaurs who tend to look silly and embarrassing. Celebrating his band’s twentieth year, Jacoby Shaddix seems pretty exhausted just halfway through Papa Roach’s second song. Still, he’s sporting the kind of facial tattoos that mean a return to the real world is no longer an option, so he gives it his best shot, rapping and roaring so hard that a neck vein the size of a drainage pipe pops out the side of the pink hot air balloon he calls his head. This is dumb and angsty nu-metal WIV ATTITUDE, so Shaddix is schizophrenically praising us one second and cursing at us the next. “Are you crazy heads ready to get this place jumping? Fuck off! Fuck off! I said, are you ready...”, “Don’t stand there with your thumb in your ass! Come and join the party!”, and suchlike. At the end of one track he smiles at the audience, appreciatively slapping his heart. Then he bares us his two buttock cheeks, pulls his trousers back up and slaps his heart again. “We fucking love you guys!” Well don’t moon us then, you berk.
Over at the Introducing Stage, two local groups certainly impress. First, Hull’s Mother play rowdy and swaggering punkish, fuzzy garage rock, exhibiting the kind of energy the Arctic Monkeys possessed before all that Homme production and tax shenanigans. Mother are at their strongest when one of the five-piece abandons his guitar in favour of making swirly Doors-ish organ sounds. Let’s hope no superproducer whisks them away to tidy them up around the edges and turn them into stars. Let’s hope they chug along forever like The Fall, continuing to snarl in the face of main-stage mediocrity until well into the next ice age. Stylistically, Girlsondrugs are a completely different kettle of Yorkshire fish, but no less exhilarating. With their music perfectly integrating the irresistible catchiness, yearning heartache and downright oddness that defines all the classiest pop music and the crowd swelling throughout the course of their set, Girlsondrugs deserve to be higher up the bill and hosted by the Dance Stage (at the very least). Calmly confident, Kat McHugh supplies the soul with her spine-tinglingly mournful vocals while Luke Lount controls the eerie, swirling, throbbing, and twinkling chillwave electronics. Will Girlsondrugs be next year’s FKA Twigs? Is McHugh the next Elizabeth Fraser? Is Lount the next Vince Clarke? Martin Gore? Chris Lowe? Ralf Hütter? That bloke from Eurythmics? Brace yourselves, people...
Speaking of Eurythmics, former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way has come dressed as Annie Lennox. “Sorry you don’t know any of the songs,” apologises the blue-suited and tangerine-haired old hand with a new band, “but you’re going to love them anyway.” Sadly, Way’s succession of plodding mid-tempo soft-rock numbers are nowhere near catchy or moving enough for anybody to truly love. Apart from a few frenzied devotees down front, the crowd in this half-full NME/Radio1 tent look muted, confused, and fundamentally let down by Way’s half hour of bland, tossed-off, “oh that’ll do” compositions. There is a reticence about Way’s lethargic shadow-of-his-former-self performance that suggests not even he is totally convinced of these songs’ value. Surely he should have the creative and financial resources to do far, far better. This frankly feeble set was a stark contrast to MCR’s world-conquering, high-energy and passionate performances, with the frontman exhibiting less hunger than Victoria Beckham after a second Happy Meal.
Despite the glowing reviews that have greeted her new album, there are only about fifty people gathered at the 1Xtra Stage when Lizzo begins. The numbers do grow, but most ticket-holders still missed one of the weekend’s best sets. Mind you, Lizzo did clash with urban hip-hop mac daddy Bill Bailey, so that might explain things. Sporting a fluffy blonde mane and a golden bumbag, Lizzo is completely unfazed by the criminally small audience, as she bounces around the stage rapping to DJ Sophia’s backing beats, infecting us all with her warm enthusiasm. “I remember when I was sad about boys and shit, that was back in middle school / Now I’m making Leeds make noise and shit”, she raps. She speaks too of the crazy times she’s had in Leeds before (once getting up to no good with Har Mar Superstar). She pulls a bearded, shades-wearing hipster out of the crowd to twerk with her “like you got a fat ass”. Imagine if Missy Elliot could also sing like Kelis, and you’re getting close.
An enormous posh farmer in a quilted jacket and cravat strides onto the main stage. One expects him to kindly request that we commoners depart from his estate post-haste. On closer inspection it turns out to be Californian rocker Josh Homme. As if to accentuate exactly what’s missing from QOTSA 2014, he opens with an unscreamed, Oliveri-less rendition of ‘You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar, But I Feel Like a Millionaire’ followed by a tribute band version of ‘No One Knows’. Dave Grohl’s drumming isn’t the easiest thing to replicate, but Homme might think of hiring someone who can get close (Travis Barker, for instance, whose talent is utterly wasted in dick-joke pop-punk headliners Blink-182. With their curious mixture of popular puerile nonsense and subsequent attempts at emotional maturity, they’re like the kid from Big who grew up, changed his mind, and got Zoltar to change him back again. Blink-182 equals Big 2, which would be film about a kid who has seen and experienced too much so there’s an underlying sadness every time he forces himself to laugh at excrement and willies.) ‘A Song For The Dead’ ends Queens’ set in style but the sad fact is that the current incarnation of Homme’s Jurassic group sounds about as urgent as the next Donna Tartt novel (and certainly not as heavy).
One band who aren’t exactly new but still bloody nail it are Gogol Bordello. Guitars. Drums. Fiddle. Accordion. Bongos. Moustachioed, flowing-locked sexy gypsy singer man who has the Mills & Boon reader within me crying out to be ravished (I didn’t even know I had an inner Mills & Boon reader, but there you go). And his assistant who, among many other things, bashes the tambourine on her bottom. What’s not to like? Seriously though, this is feverishly passionate music bolstered by a real sense of history, culture, and the importance of feeling alive. Squeezing as much raucous fun into their timeslot as physically possible, Go-Bo rattle through their set with barely a second-long pause separating each track, so Eugene Hütz has to swig from his wine bottle between lyrics rather than songs. This band is tighter than Alex Turner’s purse strings and must be militaristically rehearsed, yet they produce a delightfully ragged racket, aided in no small part by the presence of their chaotic, unruly singer, sloshing red wine all over the place like there’s really no tomorrow.
From the vaguely traditional to the grubby Thunderdome future, Die Antwoord’s set is a fiercely depraved thumping rap-rave sci-fi nightmare straight out of some sort of post-apocalyptic neon sex-club nether-dimension. With their white-gimp-suited backing dancers, anti-social haircuts, nudity, Clockwork Orange screens flashing seizure-inducing images of violence, cartoons and pornography, lyrics about big dicks getting freaky, and a statue that appears to portray Caspar the Friendly Ghost cutely cuddling a big old erection, it’s as if Mary Whitehouse left instructions on her deathbed detailing exactly how to make her roll in her sarcophagus.
Like Die Antwoord’s insane front-duo Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er, it’s something of a relief that the singer/guitarist from the Amazing Snakeheads is safely contained on the stage. Because if he screamed at you like that at the noodle bar, you’d involuntary excrete everything from your sphincter to your skull in one instantaneous, petrified movement. This band are Glasgow’s answer to the Birthday Party and Dale Barclay is Trainspotting’s Begbie having discovered a suitable creative outlet for his frustration, bitterness, anger and hatred. The line “I’m gonna take you dancing all night long” would sound romantic in the lips of most professional singers. Here it is the desperate scream of a deranged stalker who hasn’t found a good enough reason not to practice amateur taxidermy on your body and keep you in his loft.
Donating all proceedings from tonight’s concert to a bank vault in Switzerland, Sunday’s headliners are the Antitax Moneytrees. Cocking cock Alex Turner cockily cocks his way onto the stage looking about as sorry as Lance Armstrong pleasuring himself into the sleeve of a yellow jersey. What does Turner feel as he stares out from under his retro quiff at the people he is loath to support? At the society to which he contributes as little as possible? Is it contempt? Pity? Alienation? Remorse? He sings some of his old songs that were actually about things and some of his new songs that are about nothing at all. Slurring about his love of Sheffield while poncing about dressed as Nowhere Boy: The Vegas Years, Turner appears to have as little genuine affinity with contemporary Yorkshire as the Neptune branch of the Hard Rock Cafe. Oh, and he refuses to smile the whole time, as observed by a bloke at the urinals later: “he can fuck off if he can’t even be bothered to look like he’s enjoying it.” Like my neighbouring urinator, I too have decided to tax Turner 50% of my attention by leaving halfway through. I’ll give the final word to another grumpy member of the crowd who summarised the Moneytrees’ set more eloquently than I ever could with a penetrating heckle unleashed after just a handful of dull rock numbers: “fuck off back to the fucking Brit Awards you fucking fuck!”
Earlier in the weekend, during Fat White Family’s set, a red USSR hammer and sickle flag was lifted aloft by one section of the crowd. Singer Lias Saoudi spotted it, his eyes widened, and he hung upon his mic stand for a few seconds, grinning madly at the banner. You wouldn’t get that from Alex Turner. Saoudi got through maybe a minute or two of opener ‘Auto Neutron’ before giving in to the primal urge of ripping his top off and contorting his body into painful-looking self-induced fits. This was another triumphant, over-too-quickly, festival-winning set from the Fat Whites, every bit as thrilling as Live at Leeds back in May. This is what rock ‘n’ roll should be. Kids who probably smell. The threat that anything could happen. Not washed-up millionaires who look like they’re about to break into ‘Sweet Dreams’. Who can wait for the next Fat Whites album? That record is going to drag the Ourprice Monetarys into a cellar and execute them against the cobwebbed wall. That record is going to exile Homme to the desert and sniper him dead if he tries any funny business. That record is going to stare blankly at Blink-182 as they belch on about bladder infections and hooters and then toss them into a steaming vat of raw sewage to measure exactly how funny they really find poop-poop and pee-pee. That record is going herald a new Year Zero (Year Two Point Zero? - MySpace Generation Ed) in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. And if it doesn’t? Well then there’s no bloody hope is there? And this whole feudal rigmarole will fester on forever.
Now where did I put those cucumber cleansing wipes?