Thrilling day at LaL

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REVIEW: Live at Leeds day, various venues

IS that really a big, fuzzy blue wig the lead singer of Dublin-based guitar pop band We Are Losers is wearing?

It’s impossible to tell through the throng of people for, in this fifth year of the indie music extravaganza known as Live at Leeds, I’ve yet to actually see a band on stage at the otherwise very cool Nation of Shopkeepers venue.

It’s all about timing. Where to be and when, how to time your path from one place to another, otherwise you risk missing some real gems among the150 acts or so on offer What makes it trickier but more exciting is that most of them are ‘new’, as in the sense of not signed to a major label, and, unless, you’ve lived your life as one long gig, you can’t, and won’t have seen more than a smattering of what’s on offer.

As befits an important event which the city’s Futuresound organisation have done a brilliant job in bringing together, creating demonstrable proof that Leeds is the UK capital of indie, it’s all topped off by a smattering of bigger names.

But that’s not where LaL’s heart lies and, in that spirit, I waltz right past the queue for James Blake at the 02 Academy, sidestep Holy Trinity Church where Anna Calvi is performing and leap round the packed crowd for Pulled Apart by Horses at Leeds Met and instead take a chance on the following. . .

Yorkshire’s finest These Monsters make a truly monstrous sound under the main arch of The Cockpit. Powerful? Certainly? Boldy tasteless? In the lead singer’s unfashionable moustache and bare chest, of course.

Like one of the more experimental, early early 70s prog rock bands such as King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator, all big, ugly riffs and mad sax, the band whip up a mighty storm.

It’s just a shame their lead singer ditches things like melody and tone in his vocals, undermining his own band’s hard won strenghts with non-stop, high-pitched shireking.

Then again, like the brilliant Mars Volta, These Monsters are not the sort of band to believe in the maxim ‘less is more’.

I expected the worse from Mojo Fury upstairs in The Cockpit’s tiny loft. That name, so Oasis, so Kasabian - whoops, here comes those obvious trad rock riffs, which certainly are there.

But this young Irish band are more like three different bands in one - a mix of the obviousness of Britpop, the rock swagger of Thin Lizzy and little snatches of Radiohead’s dissorientating electronic ambience.

Which leaves them a bit of a contradiction but more interesting for it.

Clearly going in a straight direction are the impressive Let’s Buy Happiness.

Playing in the large back room of Leeds Met University, this very tight Newcastle-based five-piece (oh, that sounded a bit cliched) produce a clipped, quietly eccentric guitar pop.

With the melodic gymnastics of lead singer Sarah Hall prominent, the end result is a little like a less fruity Wild Beasts with PJ Harvey on vocals.

Lanterns of the Lake promise so much in Holy Trinity Church. It’s a venue which should be made for this north-east-based, multi-instrumental, large-scale ensemble.

How could such a mix of Sigur Ros post-rock atmospherics and Unthanks-like rural folk sounds end up so dull, especially when it’s this well played?

Perhaps it’s because their po-faced ambition is so obvious, leaving none of the mystery of their Icelandic counterparts, and the tunes so grandiose as to undermine the delicacy of those folk influences.

Good (well, they are on Bella Union, which means they must be) but not good.

In the same venue the commendably musically ambitious Adult Jazz also stumble without quite falling.

The instrument-switching, cerebral three-piece from Leeds itself play music which, to simplify things, sounds like the Foals fell in love with Vampire Weekend whilst listening to a cheesy 80s funk-pop compilation album.

Instrumentally, this is jolly nice, it really works. What causes the stumble is the overly-polite lead vocals which waffle around like a blow-dried 80s hairstyle.

Far less ambitious but more successful, in live terms at least, are London-based, five-piece dream pop band Still Corners who pop up in this wonderful church venue, too. It’s always worth spending time in Holy Trinity.

Blonde lead singer Rachel Goswell and co come up with nothing new beyond a spiky, template set by the Jesus & Mary Chain and The Ravonettes, in fact, compraed to some bands I’ve seen today, they are a little amateur.

What they have got is the good sense to stick to what works, to press those obvious buttons, to let the melody lines win the day over the delivery which means, despite their limitations, and purely on their terms, they are great.

Geeks in glasses up in the loft of The Cockput, Foreign Office try to reinvent an early version of The Editors without the gloom. Having travelled the post-punk road from London, it has to be said they do it well.

If only Foals had never existed.

Having got lost in a quagmire of interesting indie in the centre of Leeds, the time has come to say farewell to the obvious choices for late in the day, Pulled Apart By Horses, Anna Calvi et al.

Instead we make the trek to The Faversham at the edge of the university, not as far away as the brilliant Brudenell Social Club (once you’re there, you’re there for the day) but still a trek to regret.

Not because of the headlining act Aloe Blacc, the LA-based modern soul/hip hop vocalist who’s come all the way from America (a little further than we’ve walked!) where he’s become a bit of a hot ticket.

He can sing fine and is clearly talented but he doesn’t seem to push himself and it’s almost as if he can tell that the crowd are not real cognescenti of this sort of stuff, acting less like a typical Live at Leeds crowd and more like a bad wedding reception.

I/we leave disappointed, only to be refused entry by a burly bouncer at the door of the Pulled Apart By Horses show at Leeds Met University.

Maybe we should have played it safe all along? But that’s not the spirit of the special enterprise that is Live at Leeds day.

Graham Chalmers