Leeds 2012 proved to be an interesting mix of established bands, those on the verge of becoming big and exciting new talent.
The three main headliners this year all adopted very different approaches.
Dave Grohl has been in the business for over 25 years now; music is his life. As he freely admits, the Foo Fighters have come along way from their first UK performance at Reading in 1995. Their Friday night headline set demonstrated their evolution from ramshackle chaos to becoming accomplished musicians. The amount of t-shirts and merchandise on show was indicative of how big a draw they are, and in Grohl, they have one of rock’s great showmen.
As the first chords of All My Life chimed in, the huge crowd went completely wild. The following 150 minutes was a journey through their back catalogue, with the earlier work garnering the best reaction; ending their set with Best of You to a rapturous applause. Their encore included a cover of Queen’s Tie Your Mother Down with Rufus Taylor and finished literally with a bang. As the last note of Everlong began to fade into the night, festival goers were treated to a fireworks display.
The Cure are a different breed of musicians and played their set with stark audience interaction. However, the fans were here for the music and they were rewarded with an epic set. Hits such as Close to You, Boys Don’t Cry and Lovecats were interspersed within a varied array of songs from throughout their career. When a grown man is spotted in tears because he’s waited 30 years to see them, it becomes apparent just how much this moment really means to some people.
Kasabian closed off the festival with a typically noisy and brash set; Tom Meighan swaggered around the stage in a skeleton t-shirt accompanied by an impressive light show. They brought the party to the Main Stage, throwing-in a cover of Praise You along with enthusiastic renditions of On Fire, L.S.F and Shoot the Runner. He even had the audacity to end with a brief a cappella version of the Beatles’ She Loves You.
Other highlights from the Main Stage included The Vaccines, who from the reaction of the crowd look set to be head-liners one day themselves. As well as playing favourites from their debut album they showcased songs from their forthcoming release. Pulled Apart by Horses became the first band from Leeds to open the festival, and they didn’t let the height of the stage get in the way with their energetic set; Tom leapt into the pit mid-song without missing a beat. Crystal Castle’s Alice Glass can never be accused of not having a lively stage presence. Indeed, much of her time was spent between rolling around in the pit, getting into the crowd or swigging Jack Daniels from the bottle making for a rather surreal Crystal Castles performance.
Two-piece bands appear to be the in thing at the moment, and The Black Keys, were on hand to warm-up the crowd up nicely before the Foos came on, including a beautiful rendition of Little Black Submarine. Meanwhile, DZ Deathrays and Wet Nuns both put in storming sets on the smaller stages. In the Festival Republic Tent, Deap Vally won over a slightly dubious crowd with their catchy southern garage; sounding at time like an all-female version of The White Stripes.
Several memorable performances took place in that tent. Fidlar, who despite being slightly perturbed that people were still sober at lunchtime, put on a lively show of slacker rock.
Fellow Americans Oberhofer were a joy to watch. Brad cavorted around like a jumping bean all along the front of the barrier and back, playing a set stuffed-full of catchy tunes. This is a band going places fast. Niki & The Dove and Sleigh Bells were also on good form attracting large and enthusiastic crowds.
Bristol sisters 2:54 embark on their largest UK tour this Autumn, and there was a good crowd in the Festival Republic tent to see them. The Thurlow sisters entertained with their dark brooding Gothic landscapes, You’re Early stood out with its almost hypnotic intensity. Hannah stalked her territory with rather bizarre animalistic moves; if that’s her mating dance then I’m in.
After re-uniting at the beginning of the year, At The Drive-In were a band that hordes had been desperate to see. The NME/Radio 1 Stage was packed out and the band did not disappoint which made for a great atmosphere. Cedric Bixler-Zavala leapt off the drum kit as they blasted into Pattern Recognition.
He proceeded to cover every inch of the stage over the next hour, ending on a high with the song most people had been waiting for, One-Armed Scissor.
Friday night head-liners Justice have been setting the festival circuit alight this summer. They drew a large crowd who raised the roof when the beats of the first song kicked-in. They have a sound and show which could easily grace any stadium and are the hottest thing in electro-dance right now. The French duo has built up a reputation for their explosive live shows, which incorporate stunning live visuals. They gradually built-up and experimented with their songs, keeping the revellers on edge, before unleashing the full force of 18 stacked Marshall amps on the baying throng.
The Joy Formidable appear to have seamlessly made the progression from playing small rooms to major festivals, not for one second looking out of place. They sounded magnificent and really went for it on stage, Ritzy alternating between defiance and smiles.
Graham Coxon on the other hand didn’t look best pleased to be there. He mixed in new songs with his earlier material, which was all good but the negativity on stage seemed to filter out into the audience; creating a rather deflated atmosphere, with neither band nor crowd really getting into the set.
The BBC Introducing Stage was a revelation this year, with an incredibly varied line-up of new talent. The highlight was Rachel Sermanni, who despite being completely out of place at an Indie/Rock festival, managed to captivate the festival revellers. Reminiscent in many ways of Laura Marling; Rachel has bags of talent and managed to captivate the festival revellers with her endearing stage presence, resonant vocals and intricate storytelling. Despite being up there on her own, she transfixed a rather lively crowd.
We Were Frontiers have all the attributes to become big. They have a sound that is “hot” at the moment, a mix of lively Americana and Indie-folk, along with the songs to carry it off.
Max Raptor worked the crowd into a fervour before exploding into Obey the Whip. They even managed to get a mosh pit going in-front of the tiny Introducing stage.
Tall Ships headlined on Friday and will no doubt be on a much bigger stage at festivals next year. They looked totally assured on stage playing a great selection of music from their upcoming debut album.
Over on the Lock-Up Stage, Frank Turner went back to his Million Dead roots for his new band Möngöl Hörde. They were much more hardcore than his previous output, but it worked really well. In what was only their third ever gig, Turner prowled the stage bare-chested, spewing out defiance and rage.
Ceremony’s sound has progressed from their early hardcore days towards a more punk ethos, and their Saturday set reflected this. Ross Farrah contorted and convulsed around like a drunk on stage, momentarily lulling himself into a stupor, before trying to take-on an invisible opponent.
The Alternative Stage provided some amusing moments, particularly from Andrew O’Neil and Jason Byrne with his rolling race Outfit and Theme Park, and also played great sets to a near-deserted tent. Theme Park’s brand of uplifting electro is sure to be a winner and Outfit’s more reflective sound is incredibly refreshing in its understated-ness.
Leeds Festival 2012 was a melting pot of new and old rock, a lot more diverse than expected and much the better for it. This seems to be the direction the festival organisers are moving in, and long may it continue.
Words: Rob Aldam
Pictures: Lara Cullen