Leeds Festival

Our goal was simple: see 30 acts across the Carling Weekend: Leeds Festival. We beat that. Hands down. Below is the story of 39 acts across five stages and four days…

The Topman Stage played host to the “Dance To The Radio Leeds Opening Night Party”: Festival openers Grammatics got things going with some good-natured bounciness, followed by the fantastic (in both music and title) Shut Your Eyes & You’ll Burst Into Flames. We heard snippets of Sky Larkin from atop the Big Wheel and propping up the bar at the Jack Daniel’s saloon before heading back to watch the finally warmed-up crowd lapping up the final songs. The Wallbirds were a little disappointing, and people’s interest began to drift, until ¡Forward Russia! took the stage and the party began in earnest.

Walking past the Topman Stage again, we were lucky enough to catch Whisky Cats, who, despite the early slot, had a good-sized crowd ska-ing like it was going out of fashion. Then onto the Main Stage for the first of many pleasant surprises, this time in the form of Gym Class Heroes, who were engaging and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Hellogoodbye followed and sounded nothing like their single, until they played it as the final track – to be honest, the best-known song doesn’t really represent them fairly. Onto the NME/Radio 1 stage for New Young Pony Club, who were a little odder than expected, and received a warm response from a portion of the crowd. The Maccabees were as boisterous as they had been on their recent UK tour, and inspired some enthusiastic crowd singalongs. Cold War Kids drew out the stare-at-your-shoes Indie kids, who applauded politely at the end of each track. Back to the Main Stage to hear some radio-friendly emo/rock, and Fall Out Boy took us by surprise, with Patrick Stump’s voice really standing out – as did covers of, amongst others, Billie Jean and The Power Of Love. Straight after, we joined the hoards cramming themselves into the Carling tent to see Kate Nash, and ended up with a view of little more than her left elbow. The first few tracks were well received, then she launched into “Foundations” and I thought the tent was going to collapse. On the last chord, two-thirds of the crowd moved back to the Main Stage to see the excellent Lostprophets, with Ian Watkins winning the Most Dictatorial Frontman award as he bossed the crowd around. A short break was followed by the evening mission, and this kicked off with Turbonegro on the Radio 1 Lock-Up Stage. The band would have been excellent, were it not for the fact that the frontman’s mic wasn’t set up right and it was up to the crowd to fill in the missing vocals. Back to the Main Stage for the crowd-mesmerising Nine Inch Nails, then a small jog to catch CSS followed by LCD Soundsystem on the NME/Radio 1 stage. The former really got the crowd dancing, while the latter surprised me by how many of their tracks I could sing along with. Back then to the Main Stage for Smashing Pumpkins, who put on an impressive stage show and covered a spectrum of their back catalogue, to the satisfaction of their diehard fans. And, having left the Main Stage early, we arrived to see the second half of Klaxons, with their crowd raving along and spilling out of the tent.

Having worn a hole in the grass yesterday with all our comings and goings, Saturday was more leisurely as we camped out at the Main Stage. Having been sidetracked by the cider tent, we made it just in time to see Gogol Bordello and danced along to their infectious Gypsy Punk. Straight after were Gossip, with Beth Ditto on top form, both with her vocals and her banter, and the crowd loved her for it. Maximo Park woke up the largely North-Eastern contingent of the crowd, and we joined a bunch of Geordies who seemed to know the words to each song better than the ever-energetic Paul Smith. Interpol brought the tempo down, but kept the excitement high, playing a fair mix of old and new. Caleb’s distinctive voice made Kings Of Leon’s set all that more special, and the crowd watched enraptured. Finally, Razorlight played a set that sat somewhere around normal. Enjoyable though it was, you sometimes wish the non-Borrell members had the opportunity to take centre stage.

The final day began with another lucky find: The Gentlemen opening the Topman Stage. Enticed in by the lamp they had casually plugged in behind the guitarist, the band were as Kaiser Chiefs must have been before NME plastered them everywhere. On the Main Stage, The Dead 60s looked a bit more chav-like than expected, and were enjoyable, save for their general refusal to play tracks from their first album. The Noisettes, on the NME/Radio1 stage looked like Amy Winehouse with more energy and a smaller band – they soon had the guys at the front bouncing away. Passing the Dance Arena, we caught the last couple of songs by Does It Offend You, Yeah? , who ended their set with a five-man stage dive, having trashed their instruments. Good Shoes, back on NME/Radio1 were surprisingly catchy and are a support band to look out for. On the Main Stage, The Shins focussed on new music, but rounded off their set with a well-received rendition of “So Says I”. The Young Knives brought a touch of farmer-chic to NME/Radio 1 and inspired a surprising amount of audience participation. Following act Pigeon Detectives rocked the tent, as frontman Matt encouraged chants of ‘Yorkshire! Yorkshire!’ and general audience participation, right from opening track “I Found Out”. Then it was a jog back to the Main Stage to see the end of Panic! At The Disco’s set (where’s the Emo gone? They actually seemed like a normal band!). Next up was the massively disappointing Bloc Party, who just didn’t seem at all bothered – crowd favourites “Helicopter” and “The Prayer” were rushed – and Kele seemed annoyed at being so far away from London. The night proper started with The Twang on NME/Radio 1, who opened their set with their best-known tracks and stood out with their double-frontman approach. Back at the Main Stage for the Festival finale, and the Arcade Fire entourage captivated the audience and inspired mass swaying across the field. Closing the show were the excellent Red Hot Chilli Peppers, who, despite clearly being tired from the end of a long tour, combined old and new tracks and still showed great energy onstage. Highlight of the night was tens of thousands out-singing Anthony Kiedis in the chorus of “By The Way”.

Simon Middleyard