Leeds Festival, Bramham Park
By Graham Chalmers
Saturday saw a flurry of great performances at Leeds Fest, though overwhelmingly in stages under canvas rather than in the open air of the thinly attended main stage – from the raw excitement of Fat White Family to the deceptively sophisticated fun of Metronomy.
Perhaps it was fear of another mudbath, (the forecast was for rain), but as someone who has attended almost every version of Leeds Fest since the mid-90s, crowds on Saturday at Bramham Park were the most sparse since the days of its precursor V Festival at Temple Newsam, the era before teenagers started turning up en masse in post exam results party mode.
If only the stay-at-homes had realised organisers had devoted much time to anti-flood measures, including a raised road snaking all the way from the hill at the main stage past all the other venues on site.
In the event, the outbreaks of rain were too shortlived to necessitate a possible stampede among music fans for the safety of the high ground of this makeshift Roman road.
Five-piece American post hardcore rock band La Dispute may have been a bit too obtuse to impress fully on the NME/Radio 1 stage but Fat White Family grabbed their chance by the scruff of the neck amid the crowdsurfers of the Festival Republic stage.
Bare-chested, fully committed, their muddy, noisy sound mix somehow made their brash performance more thrilling.
Over at the semi-deserted main stage, the UK’s latest attempt to create its own version of Jack and Meg White, the Blood Red Shoes came and went with little impact.
This listenable duo aren’t the world’s biggest band and they were appearing on a bill this year which was widely regarded among regular Leeds Festival-goers I know as one of the weakest in terms of the main stage.
Did anyone really want to see sentimental sub-Springsteen pop band Deaf Havana or formulaic emo-esque American rockers Jimmy Eat World doing their thing on a football pitch-sized stage amid the stately beauty of Bramham Park?
Fortunately the smaller stages showed a lot more life, from the very London-sounding young dance-soul duo Alunageorge on the Radio 1 Dance stage which went down a storm with a sea of teenagers, as did the pleasantly stirring Palma Violet, the Lambeth quartet singing their hearts out as the final band of the night in the packed Festival Republic stage.
The impressive Temples showed they have the, er, template for a great psychedelic rock band, if only more of their actual tunes were as memorable as their shaggy hairstyles.
Playing in the penultimate spot on the NME/Radio 1 stage, Metronomy were a cut above almost everyone else at Leeds Festival.
On record, their quietly electronic pop is understated, subtle and small. Live, it’s bigger, livelier and more fun.
With the exception of the poker-faced pop maestro Joseph Mount, the band behave most of the time like a well-drilled 60s soul revue band.
But, such is the nature of Joe’s sly wit and intelligence, they are dressed to a man and lady like a lounge band from a glitzy hotel in the late 1970s - Roxy Music after they’d evolved from art rock to disco fodder.
Much of what wasn’t quite right about Saturday was reflected in dress sense.
The all-female Warpaint sauntered onto the NME/Radio stage dressed in a smart set of business clothes rather than their usual relaxed hippy chick look.
Lead singer Ezra Koenig of the usually brilliant Vampire Weekend turned up in a one-piece cotton tracksuit with hood.
The band proceeded to play their more basic songs from their first two albums, as if they had taken one look at the size of the crowd on the hill at the main stage and decided an injection of simple ska-punk-Paul Simon fun was the only safe course of action.
To top it all, co-headliners Queens of the Stone Age, who played a solid set of their best tracks from an increasingly distinguished career, faced the daunting task of warming the wilting crowds on the hill up with frontman Josh Homme dressed in a quilted Hunter jacket.
Was this Leeds Festival or the Bramham Horse Trials?
By the end of Saturday night some of the fans I spoke to were saying they feared Leeds Fest’s days were numbered.
Running such an event these days is an expensive business in an era when there are more music festivals than music stars.
The fact Reading Festival had the same line-up as Leeds and managed to sell out may suggest the only music event of this scale in the north is suffering a little from the different economics at work in our region.
On the other hand, reports say the main stage line-up on Friday and Sunday produced a much healthier turnout.
I, for one, can’t believe a festival which has done so much for music fans over the last 15 years won’t be back next year.