Festival review: Live At Leeds 2017

Now in its 11th year, Live At Leeds has established itself as the largest new music festival in the North of England.

The Pigeon Detectives at Live at Leeds. Picture: Olivia Williams
The Pigeon Detectives at Live at Leeds. Picture: Olivia Williams

Involving more city centre venues than ever, it featured dozens of up and coming acts alongside established names such as The Pigeon Detectives, Wild Beasts and Slaves as well as Brit Award winner Rag ’n’ Bone Man.

Here’s what our reviewers thought of this year’s festival...

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Kimberley-Marie Sklinar Green’s Live At Leeds

Wild Beasts at Live at Leeds. Picture: Ben Bentley

As the UK festival scene approached peak saturation amid mediocre line-ups, Leeds’s annual season starter, Live at Leeds, pulled out all the stops for 2017, with more than 10,000 revellers in attendance.

Metropolitan festivals are increasingly the way to go - trading the ubiquitous festival toilets and potential for mud for the ability to sleep in your own at night is a growing trend, and one that Live at Leeds showed us for yet another year of hyped bands and killer headliners in the city.

Our Live at Leeds 2017 kicked off after a swift wristband pickup, heading to Belgrave Music Hall for scuzzy indie wildcards, Indigo Husk. And at precisely 2pm, the upstairs gig venue was already packed out.

Knocking out upbeat garage-pop nods to Jamie T and The Libertines, Indigo Husk’s punchy set proffered an ambitious slice of frenetic guitars, juxtaposed with some serious West coast surf vibes.

White Lies at Live at Leeds. Picture: Andrew Benge

From the Belgrave to the newly-refurbished Nation of Shopkeepers it was next for the euphoric MARTHAGUNN, named after their hometown of Brighton’s most famous dipper.

By the time we arrived, it was a one-in, one-out situation but MARTHAGUNN’s bohemian alt-pop beckoned the crowd to sneak in right at the back. Vocalist Abi Woodman definitely beckons a Florence Welch comparison, and the band have only been together two years - but have the absolute potential to become one of your favourites.

CIty festivals can involve a ridiculous amount of walking between venues, but this time it wasn’t so: next up at the new Shopkeepers was London’s purveyors of infectious indie melodies, Judas, who emphatically tore the venue apart once their set got going, to a packed out room. The performance was tight, the setlist was on point, including new track Some People. They’re the indie band on everyone’s lips at the moment - when the crowd weren’t mouthing all the words - and understandably so.

To the O2 Academy it was next for Black Honey, winners of The Guardian’s Band of The Week back in December of 2015. This rocking quartet stormed most of the UK festival scene’s discovery stages last year, and it’s great to see them back for more in 2017 taking on larger venues such as this.

Ekkah at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

More often than not, Black Honey sound like they’re soundtracking a Quentin Tarantino movie live via plentiful spaghetti western riffs and imposing basslines as they played through famed number Madonna, which was plagued with sound issues and underwhelmed. But it was worth sticking around.

As the set neared its end, the band redeemed themselves with breakup rocker All My Pride, which saw a hurried crowd push its way to the front to get a closer slice of the raucous action. It’s difficult to distinguish whether the uncohesive-seeming band are a collective, or a vehicle for milkshape-sipping frontwoman Izzy Baxter, who incidentally was wearing a Tarantino shirt throughout the show. But either way – Black Honey pack a ballsy punch live.

The Wardrobe was our next port-of-call, an undoubtedly underrated gig venue housed in the belly of its city-edge bar. We were here for Dutch indie-gazers Amber Arcades, whose debut album Fading Lines dropped last year to much acclaim. Originally the solo project of Utrecht-based singer-songwriter Anelotte de Graaf, the band are on the cusp of releasing their upcoming EP Cannonball next month.

Understated and unassuming, the band ploughed through a perfect set, opening with Right Now before bursting into an energetic rendition of Fading Lines later on.

The Pigeon Detectives at at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

“This is a new song,” Anelotte proclaims, before bursting into latest single Can’t Say That We Tried, intimating that the outfit’s upcoming material is a funk-led affair.

The final slots of the day were fought between Wild Beasts, Nothing But Thieves, Rag n’ Bone Man, and more, but the former won our closing time as we headed to Leeds Beckett University for the final show of the day. Wild Beasts have had quite the career since the release of debut album Limbo Panto in 2008 on indie label Domino. Still calling Domino home, and now on fifth album Boy King, the outfit show no signs of slowing.

Wild Beasts set came on after an ego-massaging synthy intro fed on the growing crowd’s anticipation. Waiting expectantly in the dark, we were finally greeted by Hayden Thorpe and co as they burst straight into Big Cat, and gloriously pumped out hit after incredible hit. Drawing on every album besides their debut, Wild Beasts’ sounded so good they could have been miming (they weren’t), as we were treated to Ponytail, A Simple Beautiful Truth, and Hooting and Howling which saw the crowd hang on then sing back every chorus word, unable to keep still. Referring to 2BU, Hayden bellowed out, “Thank you Meanwood for frustrating me,” nodding to where the track was written.

The band’s headline set peppered through the back catalogue, and the crowd were clearly fans from their incarnation, but a return to Boy King material asserted their position as a very current band with a lot of mileage in them, before ending almost 90 minutes of music with The Fun Powder Plot.

While Wild Beasts have that electrifying je ne sais quoi for an arena show, there’s nothing quite like the intimacy of being right at the front of the stage when a hypnotising frontman like Hayden Thorpe walks into the crowd mid-track.

​​And that’s the beauty of a city festival like Live at Leeds​, who can claim that in 2017, another triumph was definitely hailed.

The Amazons at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

James Nuttall’s Live At Leeds

Fickle Friends – The Refectory

All ages turned out to see the five-piece that is Fickle Friends at The Refectory. Their upbeat synthpop provided the perfect mood setter for the early springtime evening. No doubt, the airplay they have been receiving on the likes of BBC Radio 1 and 6 Music enticed a great deal of punters to this performance. On record, they are the perfect balance between today’s radio-friendly pop music and classic 1980’s electropop.

Brand new tracks like Hello Hello were received just as well as more familiar material, and lead singer Natassja Shiner instantly had the crowd eating out of her hands. So, with some good natured between-song banter, they bopped their way through a delightful set with (maybe a little too much) help from some pre-recorded backing vocals. Despite their namesake, Fickle Friends certainly made some lasting friendships in the crowd that evening.

Temples – Church

There is, perhaps, no better venue in the world to host Temples’ music than The Church in Leeds. Not only for the wonderful irony of their respective titles, but also for the other-worldly and haunting atmosphere that both the band’s music and the venue posses.

Still riding off the success of their new album, Volcano, Temples have taken quite a turn since their debut in 2014. Floating away from the neo-psychedelia feel of their first record, Sun Structures, their new album has incorporated a harder edge, matched by powerful synths. It was this combination that made for a somewhat schizophrenic set.

Fronted by the ever ethereal James Bagshaw, Temples spun from hard-driven rock to spacey folk psychedelia. With a pretty impressive light show to enhance the atmosphere, they bounced back and forth between tracks from their two LPs. As ever, the Kettering quartet delivered an evening of celestial delight to a packed and sweltering congregation.

Gang of Youths – Belgrave Music Hall

Despite a shortened set due to technical difficulties, Australian rockers Gang of Youths’ five-song set convinced a packed Belgrave Music Hall that here is a bona fide live act, well deserving of a headline slot.

Putting aside lead singer David Le’aupepe’s political rant after the first song – during which time they could have probably squeezed in another musical number – his on-stage charisma and pitch perfect vocal performance made this an endearing and all too short set. With a cocksure strut and backed by a sterling group of musicians, he showed no fear as he leapt into the crowd to shake hands and dance with the admirers at the front.

Tom Newton’s Live At Leeds

Wuzi – Brudenell Social Club

Opening Live At Leeds 2017, and the perfect Saturday morning hang-over cure to wake up the senses, Wuzi are all scuzzy, effects heavy grunge-rock.

Playing out like Dave Grohl channeling The Mars Volta, the four-piece are brimming with confidence made all the more justified in their skills as musicians.

For a band setting their stall out so early in the morning, Wuzi drew a notable crowd and set the proceedings off to a blistering start at the Brudenell Social Club.

The Golden Age Of TV – Brudenell Social Club

A change of pace and tone over in the second room of the Brudenell. Female fronted The Golden Age Of TV, are a charismatic mix of funk and sweet hushed vocal delivery. Once they hit their stride, this eclectic band of miss-fits are a joy to watch. Theirs is an infectious energy mixed with complex time changes and sample driven interlude’s. Pushing the range and vocal ability of the best of Alison Goldfrapp and Bjork. A welcome addition to the mornings proceedings.

Team Picture – Brudenell Social Club

I’m thoroughly enjoying the current roster of Leeds Psych-Garage bands, and Team Picture are up there with the best of them. With a light show to rival most arena acts, the band played a raucous set back in the main room of the Brudenell. The female/male vocal hand-off creates a sultry depth to the delivery. An often un-sung hero of this genre, is the thundering rhythm section that carries the gravity of the tunes with a searing pulse pounding motion. With a loyal local following, the band get a strong attendance and still only the third act of the day at Brudenell.

White Lies – O2 Academy Leeds

White Lies return to Leeds was met with queues’ fit for a pilgrimage. From the venue door to Millennium Square, the crowd gathered early to be in with a chance to witness the band play a hits-heavy fan-pleasing set. The four-piece grinned throughout, noticibly elated by the overwhelming support.

The fans gave back as much as the band, singing every word and clapping to every beat, worked into a frenzy in the early afternoon opening set of Live At Leeds in the 02 Academy.

Newer cuts Morning In LA and Hold Back Your Love, were played alongside old favourites Farewell to the Fair ground and Death, all of which sit comfortably as a blend of the best of the bands discography.

The attendees fortunate enough to get through the door, had been treat to a performance that will go down in Live At Leeds history.

Rob Chadwick’s Live At Leeds

Pigeon Detectives at The Church

Pigeon Detectives, a mainstay within the Leeds indie heartbeat, kicked off Leeds Live with a rip-roaring opener at The Church. The band, who formed in 2004 varied their classics with the sure fire highlight ‘Take Her Back’ rounding off an epic performance. The band had everyone involved from the first, with front man Matt Bowman, always full of stage presence, taking selfies with an onlooker’s phone of the full band, whilst planting a pink flamingo on the sound system! An array of satirical interludes followed from Matt in between crowd surfing and stories of owls on stage. The ecstatic front man also offered us an insight into their next tour, their 10th anniversary of Wait for Me which starts this Autumn which had us all raring for the get-go. The crowd really got off to a flyer here with this opening set, and well, The Church, what can we say? Its debut as a Live At Leeds venue certainly got off to a more than solid start.

The DMA’S at O2 Academy

Aussie bands invading the UK are becoming a modern trend and I must say we love it. The DMA’s have had a somewhat busy year, their festival schedule for the summer is, to say the least, heavy. However, this didn’t stop them from bringing their A game to the historic O2 Academy. With a selection of lager on stage and a set of acoustic guitars Bob Dylan would have been proud to own the full venue sang along weepy eyed to ‘Delete’, whilst ‘In the Moment’ and ‘Too Soon’ also got blessings and chants from the well oiled audience.

Jagwa Ma at Leeds Beckett University

The psychedelic Aussie trio have also marked their territory in Leeds throughout the years with a plethora of disco, funk and acid-tinged samples. The curating of their sets ebbs and flows effortlessly even though they always seem to act as though it’s their first ever performance in our great city. From ‘Uncertainty’ to ‘Come Save Me’ they always warm the punters up, and the Beckett Uni, a venue I have only been to a handful of times in my 10 years in Leeds, married the crowd and band perfectly. A full house got together for renditions of ‘Come Save Me’ while tracks from their new album ‘Every Now & Then’ also got a nice welcome.

Black Honey at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
The Hunna at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Wild Beasts at Live at Leeds. Picture: Ben Bentley
White Lies at Live at Leeds. Picture: Andrew Benge
Ekkah at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
The Pigeon Detectives at at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
The Amazons at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Black Honey at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
The Hunna at Live At Leeds 2017. Picture: Anthony Longstaff