Live at Leeds has 24 venues, each with an average of 12 slots during the day. If my maths is correct, and assuming one has a Star Trek-style transporting machine which enables instant travel between one venue and the next, that means there are 24 ^ 12, or 36,500,000,000,000,000 different ways to schedule one’s day. Clearly a task that even the most musically-informed maths whiz would find a challenge. Thankfully, the lovely people at DIY had come up with such a tasteful and diverse lineup for their Brudenell Social Club residency, that such venue-hopping became almost entirely unnecessary.
TGTF’s day began with a very pleasant walk in beaming sunshine to the Faversham on the edge of the Leeds University campus, in a quest to kick everything off with a native Leeds band. Marsicans have got riffs and jangles and lovely Yorkshire-accented vocals, hooks you could hang a greatcoat on, all mixed together to generate the musical equivalent of an enormous grin on a summer’s day. They’ve got a single out, ‘Terrapin’, which is generously available for free, which is matched in jollity only by their previous release ‘Chivalry’, whose enormous singalong chorus is, if anything, an even more diligent earworm.
The walk from the Faversham to the Brudenell Social Club is a stage-setting experience in itself. The settled sandstone calmness of campus life gives way to tired yet still noble multi-storey brick terraces. Many residents sit on their front porches, smoking whilst taking in the sun. A 19th-century school has been demolished, leaving only rubble and temporary fencing as a bleak reminder of its proud history. Perhaps it’s the wrought-iron shutters across front doors and windows, or the scattering of dog-eared independent supermarkets, minicab firms and backstreet garages, which all conspire to create a distinctive atmosphere of, if not menace necessarily, then lives lived in complete indifference to the shiny artifice of Leeds’ city centre, lives in which concerns about protecting oneself from crime, or of how to pay the electricity bill, take higher precedence than another new shopping centre, or indeed the niceties of contemporary independent music.
Those few souls living in Burley or Woodhouse who are indeed partial to decent live music every night of the week are fortunate, because that is precisely what the Brudenell provides. The place is as aesthetically unattractive as venues get: architecturally lumpen, with a circular auditorium which does nothing for the acoustics. The interior bears the hallmarks of many an enthusiastic amateur DIYer. How appropriate for today’s residency. The PA in the main room is deafening – always bring ear plugs. But there’s no doubt that it’s also a deeply funky place, imbued with a century’s history of bacchanalia, repurposed as a live venue despite its physical shortcomings with more respect than any number of cookie-cutter chain pubs have for their former banking halls.
Ten minutes is all that TGTF gets of Bearfoot Beware, and it’s enough to determine that this self-confessed mathy three-piece can do tunes, funk, and boot-stamping riffs in equal measure and to an equally high standard. Imagine if Red Hot Chili Peppers were still good and decided to mix their loose funk with complex, bordering on atonal, guitar work, replete with diminished fifths, and theme their songs equally unconventionally. ‘My Love is a Seagull’ is a prime example: there’s two or three intense guitar themes, a bizarre hula drum interlude with all manner of swirling guitar effects; the final minute of instrumental call-and-response has bassist Ric Vowden bouncing and throwing shapes – as do, if they have any soul at all, the audience.
The biggest crowd of the afternoon is drawn for Parisian trio We Were Evergreen (pictured at top). And theirs is the trickiest set to describe. Imagine Manet’s A Bar At The Folie Bergère, then further imagine the late-19th century beat combo which might supply the background music: at once providing beautiful harmonies, a touch of twee sweetness, yet bathing in a decadent groove that is both inspired by and further encourages their city in its bohemian, bourgeois excess. Then bring those minstrels into the present day, equip them with looping pedals, synths, and a ukulele, and you are getting close to We Were Evergreen’s sound.
There’s a touch of Röyksopp in the way Michael Liot’s gentle delivery combines with the electronic beats and toy-like synth melodies, and in the rhythms that gently build to a danceable crescendo. But the songs don’t descend into by-numbers euphoricism: there’s solid songwriting chops on display. ‘False Start’ has a rock-solid chorus, complex, almost obscurantist lyrics, and a surfeit of beeps and bleeps to keep the most ardent electronica fan happy. Their debut album ‘Towards’ was essentially released at this gig – it’s officially out on the Monday hence but copies are on sale here – on the evidence of this performance it’s shaping up to be one of 2014’s essential purchases.
Coasts breeze onstage in a whirlwind of white denim, Doc Martens and wild-eyed charisma. In case one was in any doubt, they’ve brought a palm tree to reinforce their self-confessed trop-pop credentials. But that’s only half the story. With their big melodies and shape-throwing frontman they’re bidding for the affections of Hollyoaks viewers, The 1975 devotees, and any girl who cares to wear denim hotpants in the spring. Musically there’s nothing new about the sound – Fenech-Soler have been doing this Balearic-indie for years – but fair play for trying to breathe new life into this dance-related genre, even if it means that despite five members they still rely heavily on backing tracks to reinforce the dancefloor-friendly beats, one of which inevitably goes catastrophically wrong mid-song.
‘Rush of Blood’ relies on familiar saccharine tropes – “you took the beat in my heart / the words in my mouth / kept me out of the dark / you put the taste on my tongue / the life in my soul / give me air for my lungs”. Smitten, isn’t he? Their live performance reflects these motifs, the drama dialled up to 11 from beginning to end. The faux-sincere intensity does, frankly, wear a little thin after a while, with little in the way of dynamics to maintain interest across the whole set. Much like a takeaway burger, one’s hunger is quickly satiated by the carefully-engineered sensory button-pushing, but when it’s over all that’s left is a guilty, greasy aftertaste.
If Coasts are the class jocks, then Jarbird are the shy, retiring, bookish geeks quietly planning world domination from their perfectly-ordered desks right at the front of the class. In utter contrast to what’s gone before, they deliver fragile four-part harmonies and delicate instrumentation – live electronic drums vie with synth and the most skeletal of Stratocaster work – to create something quite unique and of a compelling, delicate beauty. Recent single ‘More Bad Celebrity Poetry’ evokes a deep sense of yearning melancholy, whilst somehow still remaining optimistic and uplifting – an impressive feat of composition. Clearly still a young band, they have an endearing humility to their presentation that comes as a refreshing change to those who clearly yearn for nothing less than to make themselves enormous in the music business. Jarbird, precisely because they let the music speak for itself, deserve to do very well indeed.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Martin’s riveting account of Live at Leeds 2014.