Festival season 2019 is go! Live At Leeds marks the starting pistol on months of inner city fun and hazy fields packed with our favourite bands. This weekend (4th May), we decamped to the mighty northern powerhouse to watch some of the brightest new and established talent on the planet kick off their campaigns in style, including a Dork stage packed with some of our biggest crushes. Here's our run down of just some of what happened.
When Vant announced their indefinite hiatus at the end of 2017, it was a sudden shock from a group who seemed like they had a lot more to say, see and do. Their return is a welcome one - and we’re not the only ones who say so.
They’re the first band on at The Wardrobe today, coming onstage as morning gives way to afternoon, and the room is already at capacity. A slow-burning, acoustic rendition of ‘Time & Money’ starts things off, wistful and spacious before a new track opens things up even further. ‘Exoskeleton’ is a twitching plea for help, desperate for a change of scenery and something new while the stained glass of ‘Propaganda Machine’ stomps with a communal heart.
Elsewhere ‘Thank Lucifer’ slow dances with abandon, as Vant stray further from what came before. More deliberate, more measured and packing a synth, that rebellious spirit is in full effect as the band refuse to play by anyone else’s rules - including their own.
And that energy has been threaded through their back catalogue. The wailing intro of ‘The Answer’ is like a lit-match on petrol-soaked rags, ‘Parking Lot’ has been stewing in its own frustration while ‘Birth Certificate’, anxious and angry, is spat rather than sung before an explosive ‘Karma Seeker’ finishes things off with the band at their volatile best. It’s good to have ‘em back.
Bloxx have been busy. With mega tours with Sundara Karma, The Wombats, Pale Waves and Circa Waves under their belts, the band who return to Live At Leeds today are not the band you once knew. Sounding massive and uniting as one, the gang deliver a set of their greatest with new-found confidence.
From ‘Monday’, grungey and snarling, while also channelling the sunshine abandon of hazy summer days, through the haunting shake of ‘Coke’ and ‘Headspace’s direct burst of uneasy joy, the band are fearless and totally in control of the heaving room. ‘You’ inspires grinning dance pits around the room, while onstage the band twirl with chaos as they see how far they can push things without it all falling apart. Turns out, very far.
Bloxx sound better than ever, and they spend the entirety of their set having the most fun. Guitar solos are played behind heads before Fee leaves the stage at the end of their set, only to return and watch the rest of the band burn bright for a few more moments. Bloxx have come a long way to be here today, and every mile can be felt in how much they’ve grown. With the promise of a debut album on the horizon, the band aren’t slowing down for anything.
It’s hard to make out the opening lyrics of Sea Girls set amongst the screams, not least from the woman next to me who bellows ‘last year there was like twenty people here!” This time? Try nearer 2000. With heartfelt melodies that race towards arms-aloft choruses, it’s not difficult to see why. Bassist Andrew and guitarist Rory bounce around with an energy that would unlock some serious fitness tracker points, while Henry’s strong voice (imagine Luke Kook without the inflexions) rouses kids onto shoulders for even the previously-unheard new tracks such as ‘Damage Done’ and ‘Closer’. This debut album is going to be mega.
With queues coiling around the venue like a Stone-Island-clad snake, we sneak our way into Sam Fender’s show at the O2 along with one the largest, but most respectful crowds of the day. A static audience is usually a bad sign, but here, it’s something akin to worship, with care given to hang on his every politically-charged lyric. The shows are only getting bigger, and the leaps and bounds he’s made in his performance in the past year are already notable. Next stop, headlining?
Last festival season, Whenyoung flew along with the most hype-inducing of buzz, a smattering of bangers and with everything to gain. Today’s set is their last stop before they make good on all that promise with debut album ‘Reason To Dream’, and they’re full throttle to the last. As the circling taunt of ‘Pretty Pure’ chimes out, the band emerge battle-ready and shining in the light. Their wide-eyed vision now their everyday, the band throw themselves into every song with whole bodies, full hearts and devilish glee. ‘Future’ coils and strikes, blending urgency with the twisting unknown while a revamped ‘The Others’ trembles with fierce purpose, a fear of being let down and furious at the lack of empathy. With the band unafraid to show their teeth, it’s a vicious counterpoint to the dreamy promise of ‘Never Let Go’ that swells under rainbow lights. ‘Given Up’ might be dazed and confused, but Whenyoung have never sounded more sure of the band they’ve become.
Putting a gig on in a space as small as The Social (while remaining open for normal Saturday business) sounds like a recipe for disaster. Luckily, Beabadoobee’s set is anything but. Playing acoustically to an intimate gathering of doppelganger teens clad in her trademark oversized tees, scrunchies and chunky trainers, she delivers an effortlessly endearing set, giggling to herself every time she makes eye contact with somebody who knows the words or doing enthusiastic impressions of her drumfills to mimic her new full-band set up. If a good gig is one where you leave wanting to be the person’s friend, then we best get ordering our matching BFF necklaces.
When ‘Let Me Entertain You’ is your walk-on music, you best be ready to put on a serious show. Sports Team are more than up for the task, frontman Alex channelling the spirit of Mr Rudebox himself with every gesture, mic thrust and messiah pose, never breaking character. ‘Kutcher’ is nothing but joyous, while their promise to buy you "a flip screen Motorola" is delivered with a determination that is almost menacing, an air of danger that causes mass movement in the crowd but still manages to do so with a jovial wink and ‘all in this together’ attitude. An easy play for the highlight of the day, their live show is not to be missed.
It’s been three years since Swim Deep last made the trip to Leeds, but they seem intent on making up for the lost time. Dosed up on honey and lemon to fight a summer cold, Austin Williams is a more sedate frontman than most today, but his bucket-hatted bliss is greeted like an old friend, the whole room chanting along to ‘Honey’ and ‘Francisco’ while flinging arms around necks and planting kisses on cheeks. Maybe everyone's drunk, maybe they’re knackered after a full festival day, or maybe they’re just happy. Tonight doesn’t mark any huge steps forward, but sometimes a room full of love is quite enough.