Live at Leeds Festival @ Various Venues

Posted by vibrations on 10-05-16

There's something delightfully upside-down about starting your festival with a full on raucous dance party, but that's exactly what you get seeing Leeds-based quintet Zozo at the top of your festival schedule. Nothing quite grabs the day by the scruff of the neck like their superbly delivered, riotous jazz noise, full of intense screaming vocals, demented sax and positively bouncing bass, which has everybody reverberating around the dancefloor as if it were 2am. With such a zealous performance, it's no wonder that you could barely get through the door to Belgrave's gig room - not a bad feat for an unsigned local band at 1pm….

A hop, skip and a jump now to Howlin’ Ric and the Rocketeers at Sela Bar, and testament to the eternal-expansion of Live at Leeds, the strength of the fringe events show the whole city's inspiration to showcase it's own plethora of musical treasures. This impressive local trio bring quintessential 50s rock ‘n’ roll, driven by upright bass and led by excellent vocals from Howlin’ Ric. Meanwhile, down the road, the award for most confused act of the day undoubtedly goes to Girli - a bubblegum troop of pop-ettes, sporting Barbie pink tracksuits topped off with red-stained knickers. Their shtick is basically throwing sanitary towels into a slightly bemused audience, and although they've not quite nailed flying the flag for feminism, it's certainly a sight to behold. I genuinely can't remember a thing about the music though.

A late afternoon change of pace comes in the form of Altar Hanglands, the latest incarnation of local troubadour, Harry Ridgeway. Simple, no frills guitar provides the backdrop for what this is really all about; soul-bearing, gut-wrenching lyrics, delivered with an unfaltering intensity that entrances everybody into silence. The gig is perfectly placed too, and it's not only the impressive acoustics of the Holy Trinity Church that puts the icing on the cake, but the sprinkling of reverent magic that the venue graciously lends its stage inhabitants for the day.

After almost an hour of standing in the Doc Martens store watching Mystery Jets nonchalantly eat croissants, I resist the urge to leave just long enough to see them take to the shop floor for their secret, in-store show. Luckily, it was worth not disappearing in disgruntled protest as their performance is excellent, recreating an only slightly paired-down version of their trademark rousing, anthemic pop. The highlight of the show is recent hit Bubblegum, delivered full of intense emotion, cultivated by the intimate scenario. The electric anticipation, great crowd interaction, all the while being perched on the counter of the DM store makes this unique gig experience one to remember.

Corinne Bailey Rae’s much anticipated 10th anniversary show is the talk of the festival, and unsurprisingly Hifi is packed in with a well-oiled bunch. Opening with new single Born to the Moon, she is full of skulky, moody-sweet soulfulness and jazz nuance, and backed with a band who deliver beefy funk and soul. It's a shame then that the vast majority of her ten-year-catalogue set, was barely audible over the humdrum of festival goers in full party swing, whose attention was only briefly captured at the outing of monster pop hit ‘Girl put your records on’.

The Duke Spirit have an unenviable early evening slot, and with the weather outside Leeds Beckett turning positively Spring-like, the conditions don’t seem conducive to their moody, reverb-drenched sound.  The daylight proves quite incapable of penetrating the main room however, and the London-based five-piece quickly set about making the gloom their own.  The onstage dynamic is well-choreographed, front woman Liela Moss extravagantly wielding the mic stand with a confidence which borders on the confrontational whilst her colleagues busy themselves constructing hypnotic grooves spearheaded by woozy, tremulous guitar.  Having established a well-deserved spot in the pantheon of British noise-pop over the course of three albums (with a fourth arriving imminently) the band continue to carve their own distinctive niche with Moss’s belting vocals the main draw.

The all-seater main auditorium at Leeds College of Music is a welcome stop-off after the headlong plunge into town, with Teesside quintet Cattle and Cane providing an undeniably pleasant sonic diversion.  If I’m being less than fulsome in my praise here it’s because the emotional depth of songs as polished as these is arguably limited; the removal of their rough edges takes away much of their soul in my view.  This is more a technical criticism than a personal one - the band certainly don’t lack sincerity and it would take a harder heart than mine to be left unmoved by ‘We Were Children’ (a delicate rumination on bereavement). The earnestness does grow a little cloying over the course of a whole set, but with Mumford and Sons’ move towards the darker end of the folk-rock spectrum Cattle and Cane seem well-positioned to fill the gap they’ve left behind.

Descending into the subterranean environs of The Wardrobe, the sense of anticipation for Ghostpoet’s headlining set is palpable.  Last year’s Shedding Skin LP saw Obaro Ejimiwe both embrace and reinvent ‘guitar music’, and that album’s underlying aesthetic – in which genres flow together with a thrilling disregard for convention – carries over into the live experience.  His band have grown into an astonishingly tight unit whose judicious playing retains the spirit of his earlier, more electronic-sounding material whilst imbuing it with new life.  For all the prodigious talent on display it’s the obvious fraternal bonds, forged out of extensive touring over the last year, that make the deepest impression however.  Ejimiwe seems to be forever teetering on the brink of much greater stardom; as his languid, melodious sing-speak holds the crowd spellbound the thought occurs that opportunities to catch him in such intimate settings are likely to become increasingly rare.

Another venue, another dose of London-based psychedelia, but whereas The Duke Spirit made complete sense in the dingy confines of LBSU, The Boxer Rebellion’s expansive sound seems ill-suited to The Faversham’s modest accommodations.  Nevertheless, the four-piece close out the day in fine style with a set that draws heavily from their newly-minted Ocean By Ocean LP.  The music has a curious, mid-Atlantic flavour, attributable perhaps to Tennessee emigrant Nathan Nicholson’s status as frontman; his pristine voice soars above a towering wash of guitar and synth punctuated by Adam Harrison’s dextrous basslines and Piers Hewitt’s metronomic drums.  It’s potentially very commercial fare, but accusations of careerism surely jar with the 15 years the band have spent toiling in relative obscurity – judging by the enthusiasm which greets them tonight they’ve won a small but devoted following.

Katharine Hartley and Greg Elliot