Oh Leeds Festival. Quite how the ground at Bramham Park manages to retain moisture the way it does is a mystery to me. A week before my overdue return to Leeds Fest, I endured a weekend at V Festival where it rained substantially more than here but the ground remained fine through the weekend. Whatever they’ve got going at Weston Park, it’s not the case here. The ground in the campsite quickly became hazardous and it was commonplace to spend thirty minutes on the journey from stage to tents.
And something I didn’t experience but heard a lot about was the organisation of the shuttle buses. Organisers can do very little about rainfall and, truth be told, it’s kinda fun when the ground gets like that as long as it’s as isolated. Which it was. What isn’t fun is four hours without a shuttle bus when it’s raining and you’ve got a hotel to get back to. For once, everyone was jealous of those with a tent.
If it feels like I’ve opened on a sour note then it’s only because I want to get those issues out of the way early. I loved my time at Leeds Festival 2016 but it’d be unfair if people’s concerns didn’t get a mention. My first trek into the arena this year was for a half-full Lock Up Stage, as Strange Bones opened my weekend. Think Royal Blood without the Radio 1 vibes and you’ve got it. It takes a lot for a new band to wind up crowd-surfing towards the end of a set at 2pm, and they quickly put down a marker that few would top across the weekend.
Cage The Elephant provided a highlight, too. They’ve come a long way since In One Ear and the contrast between their old and new material is stark; a reminder that they’ve refused to rest on their laurels. ‘Shake Me Down’ is their best song for festivals, a refrain of: “Even on a cloudy day, I’ll keep my eyes fixed on the sun” seeming ridiculously apt. Back to the main stage, I endured the back end of Fall Out Boy before settling in for Biffy Clyro.
They drew a curiously small crowd compared to the other headliners of the weekend. The popularity of The 1975 can’t be ignored, even if it can’t necessarily be explained. Still, this festival is basically home for Biffy Clyro and the set could never be anything other than a success. An acoustic version of ‘Machines’ was as beautiful as ever, and they also treated the crowd to both ‘57’ and ‘Folding Stars’. ‘Animal Style’ might just be their best song since their first three albums.
Saturday morning is where the weekend peaked. Frank Turner opened up the main stage with a special set before Frank Carter abused the crowd with his brilliance. After that, Nothing But Thieves could only disappoint. Boy Better Know baffled many and delighted others - it still feels strange having an act like that on the main stage here, but they pulled it off spectacularly. Foals showed they have it in their locker to be a top tier headline act and even treated the crowd to ‘Cassius’. Clearly, tracks like ‘Inhaler’ and ‘What Went Down’ stand out, but closer ‘Two Steps Twice’ is what really sends everyone into meltdown. Disclosure were abandoned in favour of Maximo Park which was one of the best nostalgia hits of the weekend.
I’m told I should hate Slaves. They’re derivative and unimaginative. And they don’t play their brilliant cover of ‘Shutdown’. But on Sunday they defied logic yet again and actually had one of the best crowd reactions of the entire weekend. Their onstage presence appears to be beyond compare and there is certainly something basic and thrilling about them. Courteeners face similar criticisms from some quarters, but try telling that to any of the fans gathered there today. They felt like more a headline act than anything I saw all weekend, and you have to assume they’d already be there if their popularity in the north was replicated across the UK.
After that, it felt a little bit like the festival ran out of steam. Imagine Dragons did what Imagine Dragons do and play songs so big that it forgoes any subtler moments. Not a bad warm-up for a headline act, though. Red Hot Chili Peppers weren’t bad, as such; they certainly proved a point after their incredibly disappointing 2007 set. It did, however, feel too much like a band going through the motions.
So Leeds. Last time I came (2013) it felt a little bit like Lord of the Flies. That vibe appears to have vanished and I’m eternally thankful. No doubt i’ll be back in 2017. This was one of the strongest line-ups in years and if they can even come close to replicating it then it’ll be another special year. Just look after people a little more next time, yeah?