Live at Leeds 2014 Review (Part 2)

By on Thursday, 12th June 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

To read the first half of Martin’s review of Live at Leeds 2014, go here.

Happyness sound like they come from Slackersville, USA, their sound reminiscent of college rock luminaries such as The Lemonheads. But a quick post-gig chat with affable singer Jonny Allan reveals they’re actually from South London – it’s their record collections, not their accents, that are transatlantic. What’s also very British is their moderately grumpy, slightly pained, dead-pan intra-song witticisms (imagine if Derek and Clive formed a band and cut out most of the swearing) which puts the lie to their optimistic name.

Such obscurantism matches the music well – the full name of one song is revealed to be ‘I’m Wearing Win Butler’s Hair; There’s a Scalpless Singer of a Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’. Said song has a superbly laid-back groove, making it pretty much the perfect song for a late afternoon spent indoors when it’s sunny outside. There’s every day at a festival there’s a band who summarise the mood, linking atmosphere, location and sound in a perfect circle of gentle euphoria – Happyness are that today.

Woman’s Hour (pictured at top) trade in gentle washes of electronica and minimal beats, topped with Fiona Burgess’ peachily delicate croon. Smooth and fragile, here appropriately swathed in smoke-machine atmosphere, Burgess making smooth motions with her hands as if hosting a communal tai-chi class. Much like the smoke, there’s the suspicion that Woman’s Hour are a bit ethereal, slightly monotonal, perhaps without the dynamics to structure a set which fully engages right to the end. Within their niche, very competent, but The xx have nothing to fear.

Highasakite sound like nobody else and are certainly the most ambitious band of the day. They make a fantastic orchestrated noise, perhaps best described as prog-pop, where guitars are just another instrument to carry their elegant, architectural melodies. Ingrid Helene Håvik strolls on stage unassumingly, wearing a hoodie several sizes too big, but when she starts to sing, the true potential of the band begins to be realised. ‘Since Last Wednesday’ is an epic on the theme of loss, featuring cathedral-size pipe organ and enormous drum hits, ‘Indian Summer’ has an enormous uplifting chorus, and latest single ‘Leaving No Traces’ melds spaghetti-western sensibilities with an electronic pop chorus which manages to be both icy cold and deeply emotional all at the same time. Quite a ride.

Each member of the band appears to be a virtuoso, particularly the impossibly-talented, formally-trained synth player Marte Eberson, whose playing stands out as being as stunning as her looks. In the back room of the Brudenell, with not much more than a handful of audience members, this starts to feel like a rare treat, of a band with stadium-sized potential playing a private gig for a select few who know the secret of where to find nuggets of otherworldly music. This is the performance of the day, and, for that matter, of the year so far.

There could hardly be two bands more different than Highasakite and The Orielles. One is an ensemble of refined, trained musicians who formed at the Trondheim Jazz Observatory. The other is a group of two sisters and their schoolfriend from Halifax who have a, shall we say, more rudimentary approach to their instruments. What isn’t rudimentary is their ability with a tune. Their sound is 60s-inspired melodic surf-psyche-garage of the most endearing naiveté. But there they are on Spotify and iTunes, with an EP and a single, showing for more experienced practitioners how to go about this music business thing.

Check out something like ‘Old Stuff // New Glass’ from their ‘Hindering Waves’ EP (video of the title track we featured earlier on TGTF here) – there’s a fantastic surf-guitar sound that Dick Dale would be proud of, there’s the double-double-barrelled Esme-Dee Hand-Halford giving Louise Wener a lesson or two in offhand cool, and her sister’s Ringo Starr-esque drumming holding it all together with a simple, tight groove. They even take on a bit of white funk in ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’. Tonight, the audience are mostly men, mostly at least twice the band’s age, heads nodding and feet tapping to the frenzy of noise coming from the stage, as the band race through their set with no banter or niceties to lighten the intensity. You might go to see them for the novelty of age, but you’ll stay for the tunes. (For more of our coverage on the Orielles, go here.)

By the time TGTF arrives at Leeds University for a look at the Wytches, the well-refreshed crowd are already as excited as a toddler at Christmas, bless them. The appearance of Kristian Bell and his the sound of his dirty power chords sends them over the edge – a tsunami of people surge forward and crush the photographers and their expensive gear who’ve braved the front of stage position. The photographers don’t stay long, the crowd continuing to press wave after wave of human flesh against the barrier. A fight breaks out at one point, which seems perfectly normal given the circumstances.

The band themselves do have a nice line in semitonal noise, mixing ’60s psychedelia with ’90s mainstream grunge like Temples‘ naughty little brothers. In ‘Wire Framed Mattress’, Bell emotes about his dignity collapsing, and it’s clear some members of the crowd can relate to him from first-hand experience this evening. Overall, The Wytches are about as scary as a Vincent Price film, and just as corny, but they’re good for a laugh in a paradoxically light-hearted way. Just don’t stand at the front if you value your bones unbroken. (For more of our coverage on the Wytches, go here.)

It’s left to Drenge to wrap the night up. They take the visceral impact of an act like the Wytches but manage to tidy it up a bit, making proper songs that don’t rely on tons of reverb and walls of noise, but feature audacious concepts like groove and melody. Eoin Loveless is a positive guitar hero for a new generation, despite, or perhaps because of, not really ever playing a solo. (For more of our coverage on Drenge, go here.)He loves a good riff, though. Kids these days, eh? Sadly the crowd here is even further removed from the mores of polite society than the previous one, with flying beer cups, extreme moshing (some punters even come complete with anticipatory plaster casts already applied), and the final straw – enthusiastic vomiting just in front of the speaker stack. TGTF retreats to a safe distance – outside the venue, watching from the stage door – just to be able to enjoy the performance without being assaulted by various fluids, bodily or otherwise. And that’s it. The end.

The genius of Live at Leeds is that it attracts enough ticket sales from those wanting to see bigger, more mainstream acts – apparently Frank Turner’s acoustic set was at capacity long before stage time – that they can afford to run a fringe of more interesting new music. DIY’s programming of the Brudenell was flawless – in another universe TGTF stayed there all day and saw The Amazing Snakeheads, Fair Ohs and Pulled Apart By Horses. But the program is so varied that there’s something for everyone, and at £25 for a whole day of class acts, superb value. Roll on 2015.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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