LIVE REVIEW: Leeds Festival – Friday @ Bramham Park, Leeds – 26th August 2016

After a massive downpour last night, the Leeds Festival site currently resembles something closer to a primordial swamp than anything even remotely like a field. Still, the crowds are out in their droves for yet another hugely varied, hugely divisive lineup with something for literally everyone.

Considering Black Foxxes [7] opened up the Pit tent at last year’s festival, they’ve certainly got a lot to prove as they step onto the Radio 1 / NME stage. It’s possibly the biggest crowd the trio have ever played to, and cuts from their excellent debut album I’m Not Well fare even better live, with the raw emotion in Mark Holley’s voice and the beautiful instrumental breaks falling nowhere near short of captivating. It mightn’t be the most high-octane set but it earns them cheers, and there’s no repeat of last year’s technical difficulties, providing the cherry on top of a winning Leeds appearance. • GJ

On paper, State Champs [7] opening the Main Stage in the blazing sunshine is something that can’t really be beaten. Compared to the event in actuality that’s a bit of an overstatement – the band’s super-likable pop-punk flies well but Derek DiScanio’s vocals frequently get caught by the oncoming wind. Still, it’s impressive nonetheless, with Shape Up serving as a truly slugging opener and Perfect Score having the fantastic pop appeal that should be prevalent from an act on this size stage. There’s nothing revolutionary about the New Yorkers’ set whatsoever, but for a quick fix of some digestible yet addictive pop-punk bangers, State Champs tick all the right boxes. • LN

 Last time Basement [8] played Leeds, it was to a packed-out Pit crowd shortly after their reform. Now it’s to a packed out Radio 1 / NME tent, and the whole crowd is lapping every moment up. There’s an audible echo around the likes of Aquasun and Spoiled, and the huge number of crowdsurfers would divert everyone’s eyes if it weren’t for singer Andrew Fisher’s unbelievably endearing dad-dancing onstage. It’s an incredibly tight performance by the band themselves too –note perfect while allowing the soaring vocals and fuzz from the guitars to complement each other as on record. Particularly special closer Covet only proves that the only way it up for Basement. • GJ

Why are The Virginmarys [4] on the Main Stage? The whole point of this stage is to show off the most popular and exciting acts today, and a trio that sound like a pub band offered an extremely lucky break are neither. Sure, they’ve got a couple of nice, chunky riffs on Dead Man’s Shoes and For You My Love, but they ultimately feel like garage rock hitting its most stale nadir, an act that make the Stereophonics seem colourfully diverse by comparison. It’s such a misfire in terms of a booking, and ultimately feels like nothing more than a waste of a half-hour slot. • LN

 Spring King [8] are known for their high octane shows and they don’t disappoint when they play the Radio 1 / NME Stage, harnessing the energy of the frenzied crowd to take their show to the next level. Huge moshpits form as the band rattle through fan favourites Detroit and The Summer, and tracks such as They’re Coming After You show just how much people have taken to the band in such a short space of time as frontman Musa is barely audible over the cries of the crowd. It is scenes like this that make you question why such a band were placed so low on the bill but it clearly doesn’t bother the band who are oblivious to the strangely small crowd. The whole thing feels weirdly intimate, whether it be due to Musa’s casual chat with the audience or the fact you feel like you’re watching four mates just messing about in their dad’s garage and having a laugh. By the time set closer Rectifier comes to an end, the majority of the crowd are drenched in sweat but, judging by their faces, they would be willing to do it all over again. • CD

Usually there’s at least one wildcard act on the Main Stage earlier in the day that sparks the same sort of excitement or curiosity as those on a fair bit later. Coheed And Cambria [6] are not that band, and with them receiving nothing more than a polite, restrained reaction from a generally uninterested crowd, it’s disheartening to say the least. It’s a shame considering the immense technical proficiency and dexterity the band display, ranging from soaring, proggy pop-rock like A Favor House Atlantic and You Got Spirit, Kid to hulking slices of riffola like Welcome Home and even a progged-up cover of Nirvana’s Drain You. But as impressive as it may be, there’s just a general feeling of disinterest; even Claudio Sanchez’s attempts at flash by playing solos behind his head or with his teeth receive little more than a few conciliatory whoops. It’s not a bad set at all, but to watch it fall on deaf ears this hard isn’t what you’d want to see. • LN

 From the minute The Vryll Society [7] walk out onto the stage, they have everyone’s attention. It may be thanks to lead singer Mike Ellis embodying all the best qualities of Mick Jagger and Liam Gallagher or it may be the attention to detail the band have for their sound, as if they are nurturing every note. The kaleidoscopic sound swirls around the Festival Republic tent and tracks such as La Jetee and debut single Deep Blue Skies are almost hypnotic in their sound and give a glimpse of what to expect on their debut album. The crowd is bigger than expected for this tent at this time and, it may be due to this, but the band fail to connect fully with them. Talk between songs is scarce, limited to only a quick “ta” or the introduction of the next song. However, its clear the band have something and they’ll surely be higher up he bill next time. • CD

 There may be deafening screams as Kellin Quinn swaggers onto the Main Stage, but by the end of opener We Like It Loud, it’s clear that Sleeping With Sirens [5] haven’t brought their A-game to Bramham Park. For the most part the songs played are all so similar sounding they blur into one, and it’s not helped by Kellin’s sore throat. He has to hold the microphone up for the crowd to sing the more straining parts of songs, which turn out to be a lot more common than you may think. Older tracks like Do It Now, Remember It Later and If You Can’t Hang are far and away the high points of the set, but they can certainly be performed a lot better than this. • GJ

The Magic Gang [6] are quickly becoming the band of the moment with their infectious pop songs reminiscient of the geeky anthems of Vampire Weekend. The fairly big crowd that The Vryll Society garnered almost doubles for their successors, with people running in throughout the set to grab a glimpse of the band. The band are clearly in touch with their fans with the set list being perfectly put together for a festival, with every song being uplifting and getting the crowd dancing. At times some tracks seem a little throwaway and a little repetitive but mass sing a longs to tracks such as Feeling Better push this thought from your mind. Although melodically opposite to their predecessors, like The Vryll Society, they lack showmanship slightly, with awkward silences occasionally creeping in between songs. Nevertheless, the crowd don’t seem to care and, judging by the number that have gathered to see them, the band will soon be residents of the NME Stage thanks to popular demand. • CD

A suit jacket embellished with metallic badges may not scream ‘festival attire’, but Beach Slang [6]’s James Alex doesn’t care. His bandmates, dressed in more casual clothes don’t seem to, either. They race through their back catalogue on the Lock-Up stage, with “race” definitely being an appropriate word. They fly through songs, and it all drags on a bit due to a lack of crowd interaction from the stage, and the observers from the floor don’t seem to be visibly bothered about what’s going on. But most frustratingly, there’s something missing from the songs being played. Guitar crunch replaces the smoothness and wonderful optimism of the recorded versions, and it really bogs down the set. Today has proved that Beach Slang are much better through headphones than on a stage. • GJ

Even with the diversity that’s ever present in Leeds’ lineup, the world of super-American, Download-friendly metal is one that’s never really been touched upon. It makes sense, then, that Five Finger Death Punch [9] are the act from that scene taking the maiden voyage into these uncharted waters – they’re easily the best band from that circle, and on the Main Stage they play an absolute blinder. Subtle and nuanced it is not, but their power is impossible to ignore – Under And Over It and Got Your Six hit with the impact of a bullet train, and the morose knell of Bad Company that peels out of the speakers sounds phenomenal. It definitely helps that the quality of the musicianship is top class as well, with Jeremy Spencer pulling some surprisingly dexterous solos out of the bag (and pumping up the crowd with a medley of Walk, Crazy Train and Smoke On The Water), while Ivan Moody’s vocals are raw power manifested. It’s top-drawer stuff from start to finish, a phrase very rarely used to describe this sort of metal in any capacity – that’s how good Five Finger Death Punch are. • LN

There’s a great pop-punk band waiting to break out of ROAM [5], and every time it threatens to surface, something stands in the way. It’s another case of that today – the Eastbourne band have buckets of energy on the Lock-Up Stage, with vocalist Alex Costello bouncing around and doing scissor kicks like a child on one hell of a sugar rush. But when it comes to the songs, there’s something so frustratingly pedestrian and unimaginative about their sound, a problem that plagues the swathes of other bands ploughing the same arid furrow. The likes of Cabin Fever and Warning Sign are really only satisfactory in energy alone, and the acoustic snoozer Tracks can’t even muster up that as it murders any sort of momentum. It’s not completely irredeemable and could be a lot worse, but ROAM really need to find something to help them stand out, because otherwise these mid-afternoon sets are going to be looking pretty familiar before long. • LN

 Battles with mental health issues brought Modern Baseball [8]‘s Reading and Leeds dreams to a halt last year. But this year, they’re back, and the overflowing Lock Up tent is a testament to just how much people care about this band. It’s the most the tent has resembled a tin of sardines all day, and definitely the loudest it’s been, too. The reaction to closer Your Graduation, in particular, is an incredible one, especially for a tent as small as this. Modern Baseball themselves have mastered their live show arguably to a better standard than some genre stalwarts, but still maintain a huge sense of humbleness – a rare find amongst today’s ‘rockstar’ pretenders – and it’s without a doubt the secret to their ever-growing success. • GJ

That The Vaccines [8] haven’t made it to the penultimate Main Stage slot at Reading and Leeds is somewhat hard to believe considering their brilliant third-from-the-top appearance in 2012. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but watching Justin Young throw himself around the stage in the most over-the-top way imaginable is an absolute joy to watch. Sure, he comes across as completely and utterly up his own arse, but it’s a good change from the safe, pretty boy outfits and bands with desperate to be controversial pricks for frontmen. It’s easy to forget how many hits The Vaccines have, too, with Teenage Icon and Wrecking Bar (Ra Ra Ra) among the blissfully summery cuts which seem to be tailor-made for sitting around a festival stage as the sun goes down. By the time raucous closers If You Wanna and Norgaard ring out, The Vaccines have definitely exhausted slots as low as this – surely the only way is up from here? • GJ

It’s rare these days to come across a bad Arcane Roots [7] set. The trio seem to have fallen into a groove as of late of slipping into festival slots with no fanfare and dishing out some killer progressive alt-rock. Surprise, surprise, that’s exactly what they deliver today. There’s definitely a familiarity to them – a lot of these songs have been set staples for the past ten months or so, and they’re on the exact same stage as when they last played in 2013 – but it’s the same kind of familiarity experienced from, say, a cup of tea – you know exactly what you’re getting but you’re never left dissatisfied. The swooping Slow Dance piles on the drama that the Lock-Up Stage has been starved of up to now, and If Nothing Breaks, Nothing Moves is still the steadfast closer that it has been for just under a year. Admittedly the set isn’t anything remarkable, but as a way of keeping the momentum going it succeeds in every respect. That next album can’t come soon enough. • LN

People never seem to run out of things to complain about when it comes to Fall Out Boy [8], be it the post-hiatus retcon of their sound or some questionable decisions they’ve made in recent months when it comes to their music (*cough* Ghostbusters *cough*). But today in their co-headline slot (read: sub-headline), a gigantic crowd seem to have thrown any complaints out of the window. You can’t blame them either as, even with a set that draws extremely liberally on their divisive latter-day material, the Chicago quartet have some massive tunes under their belts. Uma Thurman and Fourth Of July are welcomely beefed up thanks to some more prominent guitars and drums, while Centuries retains its status as the Main Stage-conquering monster it has been since day dot, and piano-led duo of Disloyal Order Of Water Buffaloes and Save Rock And Roll (the latter delivered as a tribute to David Bowie) act as a well-timed mid-set breather. And of course the big hitters do the heavy lifting – everyone knows This Ain’t A Scene, It’s An Arms Race, Dance, Dance and Thnks Fr Th Mmrs and sing along with according adulation, but the inclusion of relative deep-cut Hum Hallelujah feels like a love letter to those who’ve stuck with them through all of their drastic changes. Granted the small problems do add up – Patrick Stump’s vocals sound slightly worn out compared to previous appearances, and the scantily-clad fire dancers cheapen the affair (not helped by some particularly lecherous camera operators scouting for a tit flash whenever possible) – but there’s nothing set-breakingly awful here. At long last it would appear that Fall Out Boy have finally found their mojo again, and hopefully this time it’s here to stay. • LN

  Last year’s Festival Republic headline slot must’ve been bittersweet for The Wombats [9] – the tiny tent may have been teeming, but with Metallica and Rebel Sound on the bigger stages, there wasn’t much else to entertain the throngs of indie fans at the festival. But as the thousands of people crammed into the much-bigger Radio 1 / NME tent scream back the words to Moving To New York, there’s no doubt about the trio’s strength as a stand-alone name. And there’s nothing but bangers in this set, from huge newer songs like The English Summer and Give Me A Try to indie classics like Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves) and Let’s Dance To Joy Division. “Classics” definitely isn’t a term used lightly, either – just ask the huge crowd. There’s a distinct echo around Matthew Murphy’s vocal, and honestly, it’s shiver-inducing. With sets consistently as strong as this, The Wombats have proved themselves as one of indie’s leading lights. They’re certainly the most underrated one. • GJ

 There are people stood by the food stalls ten metres away from the Radio 1 / NME tent just hoping for a glimpse of The 1975 [7], and the screams when they saunter onto the stage is ear-splitting. Are you really surprised? The angular guitars and pounding drumbeat of Love Me are the perfect opener to one of their sets, but the pace drops hugely a handful of songs in. Three-quarters of the hour-long set is made up of slower, wispy, ‘artsy’ songs from their latest album I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it and the likes of If I Believe You and A Change Of Heart bring everything to a complete standstill. Despite that the execution is brilliant, even if singer Matty Healy and drummer George Daniel are clearly under the influence of, well, something. If the outstanding closing trio of Chocolate, The Sound and Sex are anything to go by, The 1975 are definitely worthy of a high-profile slot like this. The Main Stage is already calling their name for their next Reading and Leeds appearance. • GJ 

There’s an unshakeable grin on Simon Neil’s face, not just because he and the rest of Biffy Clyro [9] have just closed out the Leeds Main Stage for the second time in four years, but because once again, they’ve absolutely fucking smashed it. With their 2013 debut headline set being rightfully praised as one of the best in the festival’s history, following it up is one hell of an act, and to be perfectly honest, they can’t match up. Then again, no one was really expecting them to, and even with that in mind, their hour and a half onstage is enough to put about 95% of other bands to shame. The thunderous Wolves Of Winter is certainly a good place to start, and they never let up, even with a large chunk comprised of material from their relatively mediocre new album Ellipsis. These tracks really come into their own live as well – Rearrange sounds gorgeously delicate compared to its recorded counterpart, and On A Bang meets the same explosive, angular criteria as Stingin’ Belle or That Golden Rule. But the real crux of Biffy’s set comes in their keen ear for a truly monstrous chorus, and there’s absolutely no danger of the well running dry in that respect. Howl gallops along brilliantly; Mountains sounds as gargantuan as its titular landform; Bubbles zips around with a brilliant melodic sensibility; it’s the sort of thing that has one foot clearly in the mainstream but still with ties tightly attached to their underground roots. Having said that, the ballads that Biffy bring to the table are songs designed for this size stage and this size stage alone, so it’s no surprise whatsoever that they’re the true centerpiece of this set. While Biblical and Many Of Horror are indisputable, arms aloft brilliance, Machines sees Simon Neil taking to the stage solo with just an acoustic guitar, and sounds as intimate as this band can feel, one of the many moments of perfection peppered around this set. It’s clear now that Biffy have the headline set formula nailed – there are fluid peaks and troughs, all consisting of peerless songs for an hour and a half that absolutely flies by. Biffy Clyro have well and truly proved themselves as capable festival headliners now – the time for them to really stretch their legs is now. • LN

Words by Luke Nuttall (LN), Georgia Jackson (GJ) and Clara Duffy (CD)

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