Taking place on a cold, grey Saturday, Live At Leeds managed to take over the city of Leeds and yet still be subtle in its execution.
At least 20 venues played host to a wealth of musical variety, ranging from churches to arenas, and even occasionally in shops. A mixture of styles meant that audiences had much to choose from, and plenty of time to get from place to place.
With a small crew, The Yorker were only able to watch a few sets at the festival, and were further hampered by technical difficulties in two of the main shows we were covering. In both these instances, the bands were let down by the O2 Academy, normally a reliable largescale venue that supports big noises. On this occasion, the Academy could not deal with a fairly standard setup, leaving the audience wanting more, and failing to deliver.
“10 years in, Live At Leeds still seems to be finding its feet”
First up were London band Dry The River, at the surprisingly early time of 2:40. While the folk rockers are naturally loud and boisterous, they’re not normally liable to strain the system. When lead singer Peter Liddle told the audience the set was their first show back in the UK after a European tour, the spirits and expectations were high. These words would come back to haunt them as early as the second song, when the audience were plunged into silence midway through; at first the band appeared not to notice, finishing the song, before looking across in confusion.
While an impromptu acoustic version of “Weights and Measures”, with the three singers standing on the very edge of the stage, may have delighted the few fans that could hear it, the positives were sunk by the negatives – the three members’ heavenly vocals were unsurprisingly lost in a wave of audible confusion from the audience. As a result, the set was ultimately cut short by 15 minutes; whether fan favourites like “Bible Belt” and “No Rest” would have been included in the set is now an irrelevant footnote. Fans were also treated to a new song, which at least raised spirits to a degree for the audience. Finishing with a fully electric “Weights and Measures”, restored a little normality to proceedings, but a sense of disappointment still hung over the stage as Liddle and co. shuffled off, probably wondering why they’d returned to England at all..
Oxford-based band Stornoway were next to take to the stage, having recently released their critically acclaimed album Bonxie earlier in the year. As always the distinctive voice of Brian Briggs starred against a backdrop of constantly changing sound. Older fans of Stornoway may have preferred the pure acoustic joy of songs like “I Saw You Blink” and “The Road You Didn’t Take”, where the full band are given the chance to show off their close harmonies. However, as a band, Stornoway’s sound has progressed and developed to the extent that they are not as easily categorised as before. For example, the combination of wild bird noises and squelchy synths make “Lost Youth” a pleasant surprise, and lets you explore a much larger soundworld than you are accustomed to.
It was at this point, however, that the sound system of the O2 fell short once again. The sounds of the birds flickered and cut out on numerous occasions, until eventually being shut off. The already restless audience were further frustrated by this, as was the usually unflappable Briggs. An obsessive follower of birds, Briggs is unlikely to have been impressed by having to lose the powerful background noises. Thankfully, the rest of the set was mostly unaffected, with the crowding quickly warming to the politely awkward Briggs and the playful sound often produced by Stornoway. Another surprising high was the unlikely cover of “The Only Way Is Up”, showing Stornoway’s sense of humour and bringing in new audience members until the whole room was singing together. The band’s undeniable anthem, “Zorbing”, brought the set to a grandstand finish, ending an hour that will have converted many listeners to Stornoway fans.
Elsewhere, Leeds Beckett Student Union played host to headliners and Leeds band Eagulls. A typically dank, gloomy room, the Union arena provided a perfect spot for Eagulls to inhabit. Not far away Palma Violets were bringing their anarchic live show to the Leeds Town Hall. Eagulls provided a less crazy atmosphere, but impressed with their intelligent post-punk. The languid figure of lead singer George Mitchell was a commanding presence, often slouching down to almost a crouching position, while singing in a kind of relaxed holler. The initial moshpit of the crowd quickly subsided, as many chose to merely stand and listen. Crowd favourite “Nerve Endings”, performed at a slower pace than usual, remained the standout song from the set, but Eagulls’ homecoming gig was one celebrated wildly by fans.
Judging by word of mouth, technical issues appear to have been a theme of Live At Leeds, most artists blaming this on short soundchecks. 10 years in, Live At Leeds still seems to be finding its feet – while bigger and bigger artists are flocking to play, the problems we were faced with this year should not be being made so regularly. As an event, however, the festival continued its success, and will still be eagerly anticipated for years to come.