Fan Review: Rain, Injuries, and Music at Leeds Festival

Leeds Festival August 26 – 28, 2011
Fan Review by

As a lover of live music of any sort and having visited Reading Festival last year, my friends and I decided we would go to its sister festival in Leeds to see how it compared to the original down south. At this point, I could describe all the feelings of excitement and apprehension because of the forecast rain, but I know people will come here to read about the festival, so here goes:

Being an Early Bird ticket holder, I was allowed to set up Wednesday to ensure space for my tent. The first task is getting to the shuttle buses, a tiny and supposedly easy task in comparison to the weekend, but this turned out to be one of the hardest elements. I’m not sure what it is about the organisers of Leeds Festival, but they appear to hate signage of any kind. There was a complete absence of directions to the shuttle buses, and this paired with the fact the locals seemed to have no idea that Leeds festival existed, let alone was taking place this weekend, led to us walking around the city for 2 hours with our heavy equipment. We finally found the shuttle buses, only to discover that there were some right by the train station we arrived in, literally hidden around a corner. If I wasn’t so tired I probably would’ve punched the bus driver in his big, smug, laughing face.

Bramham Park

Arriving at the campsite after a 40 minute bus ride led to further confusion, as there was, again, a complete lack of signs. After wandering round and asking a few staff members we found our way to the campsite. The layout wasn’t the most efficient, with badly set out paths, too many hills and again, no directions. We eventually set up, and it began raining, beginning our festival experience properly.

Thursday wasn’t the most exciting day. One of my friend’s tents flooded during the night, leading to sessions of drying kit out in the sparse sunshine and changing sleeping arrangements. The people around us was friendly, which turned out to be true for most the weekend. In fact, the festival goers in Leeds were much more sociable and friendlier than the one’s at Reading. Another thing to note is that Thursday we realised that the shops were extortionate. More so than last year or any festival I’ve been to. It’s probably £7 and upwards for any food item and £2 or upward for any drink, even though the quality of such meals would probably turn the stomach’s of anybody who wasn’t starving / dehydrated. Another thing about Leeds was the toilets. Festival toilets are never good, but these were literally mostly-open, unroofed cubicles with a hole in them looking into a communal cess-pit and walls smeared in shit and piss. This was day two, so you can imagine the state of them at the end of the weekend. Just to add to the situation, the cubicles were below head height, so whilst urinating it was nearly impossible not to make eye-contact with other men, which is a truly awkward experience. Especially when someone feels the need to talk to you (why do people feel the need to talk in toilets? WHY?!). The festival organisers had the foresight this year to have separate men’s and women’s cubicles, which probably improved the situation for the women at least, although according to female friends, they were just as bad.

Now I can finally review music. But before I do that, I’ll just say that the Arena has been set out horribly. All the stages are stretched out along a field that takes around 20 minutes to traverse, all on strange angles to each other, meaning it’s difficult to navigate from stage to stage between acts. To add to the confusion, the festival organisers published incorrect times online, so people like me who were relying on them missed many of the first acts Friday before we realised they had revised the times. NOW, onto the music;

We Are The Ocean:
A good attempt at a festival performance, but they didn’t really have the presence / fame to bring in a really big crowd. They tried their hardest and played a few songs the crowd managed to sing along to (almost) correctly. They also tried a few tricks to win the crowd over (chanting and such) which mostly worked, so all in all, a good performance, especially as they played at 12pm, when most festival goers are barely awake.

Cage The Elephant:
Apart from the fact that the sound technician for this performance should be shot for absolutely fucking up the vocals to the point where you couldn’t hear the words at all, this was a great set. The crowd clearly weren’t there for Cage The Elephant, so it took some time to win them over, and it was a shame that only a select few of us sang along to “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”. Having said this, the band knew what they were doing, played really well and managed to give everyone a good time, even if they weren’t sure who they were watching.

Enter Shikari:
Having seen them in Reading completely butcher their performance with out of tune and out of time instruments I didn’t get my hopes up for this one. At this point it was raining, my raincoat had failed and I was drenched. I felt like a moody bastard and was in no frame of mind for music. Surprisingly, they played an alright show. I would say it was no more than slightly above average, but it was much better than what I’d previously seen. Enter Shikari are much better suited to playing night shows when people are a bit drunker and are in more crowded environments, day time festival gigs in front of a less-than-happy crowd are just not their strong point.

Friendly Fires from the Sound Tower

Friendly Fires:
For this show, we managed to bullshit our way onto the sound stage, and so we got a superb view of the show and a chance to dry off (slightly). Admittedly, I’m not a massive fan of Friendly Fires. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just I haven’t any idea what songs they play or what they sound / look like. This changed all that, they came on and played tune after tune. The sound quality was great from my vantage point and they were relentlessly hammering out tunes. The atmosphere of the festival lifted by degrees, and everybody felt better after hearing their songs. According to fans I spoke to, the songs they played were mostly from the new, less loved album. But, they hastened to add, this didn’t take away from the fact they played in the rain and made it feel like the sun was shining.

Having seen the shit start to their Glastonbury set, where they wailed out “The Birds” tunelessly to a very bored crowd, my hopes that Elbow were going to be good were dashed. I was hereby nearly floored by chock when they came out and played amazingly. It was epic. So epic in fact, the word deserves a sentence to itself. EPIC. There, I did it. The highlight of the set was “Ground For Divorce”, where there was a little Freddie Mercury-esque singing back and forth with the crowd, and then when it became apparent that “Ground For Divorce” was approaching, an uplift of voices and hands. Everybody sang along, and people who weren’t fans were converted. It also meant that the “Whooooa-ohooo-ohoo whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohhhh” part was stuck in my head ALL WEEKEND. It was that good.

Flare set off in Elbow

If Elbow was epic then Muse deserves a new word all for them. FEPIGASM (Fucking Epicly Orgasmic). But in all honesty, the performance Muse played defies description; the opening where they built up the tension until they exploded into “New Born” kick started the crowd. The atmosphere was one of awe. They played all of Origin Of Symmetry first, as a celebration of 10 years since release, but they really came into their prime when they played a greatest hits set in the latter hour. Hit after hit after hit were exploded out, the crowd shrieked as one and the mood was definitely high, even in the torrential rain. Wolstenholme played a truly amazing bass solo, and it definitely came to a head when they finished with “Knights Of Cydonia”. It’s also important to mention their stage set. They said it would be their greatest ever and I do not doubt that it was. Fire shot out of the stage, during “Plug In Baby” massive eye balloons filled with confetti exploded from nowhere. They had a massive screen in the background, showing psychedelic effects galore. It truly was a stunning performance, one that words cannot do justice to. We all went back to our tents, had a campfire and sat there in silence contemplating the amazing music we’d just heard.

Eyeball Balloons in Muse
Jets of fire in Muse

Pulled Apart By Horses:
I was introduced to this relatively small band from Leeds by a friend at a smaller festival this year (Wakestock). Although the crowd was literally 10 people strong there, they played a blistering set. At Leeds Festival, I hoped that they’d play just as well, and they didn’t disappoint. The crowd was big. Very big for 12pm at the NME Tent. As they shredded their way through a frankly amazing set, the crowd exploded from one song to the next. There were mosh-pits galore, all of which I participated in, and got repaid by having my thumbnail torn off, my arm bruised and “according to the medics) possibly breaking a bone in my foot (which I had to suffer for the remainder of the weekend). But don’t let this put you off, this was one of the best live performances I’ve seen; the crowd were friendly and lively, as were the band, who all crowd surfed in the end.

NME Stage

Rise Against:
At this point, the dreaded rain that had plagued us all this weekend started again. I managed to secure a relatively good position on the right side near the front of the main stage. Unfortunately, the now heavy rain kept many people away, which made the first half of this performance not as enjoyable. Even when they opened with “Chamber the Cartridge”, played such hits as “Ready To Fall”, the crowd merely mumbled along and shuffled their feet. Luckily, at the latter half the sun came out and people flocked to watch, making it much more enjoyable and a more musical experience on the whole, having people sing along to “Make It Stop” or “Saviour”. A well deserved end to a show that had a slow start.

Two words to sum this performance up; disappointingly dull. It’s a shame, because they had the potential to play a truly amazing show, it’s just the sound was messed up for one (all you could hear was the bass booming away), and secondly they never really seemed into it. Sure, they jumped around and played well (a highlight being “My Own Summer”, where the audience actually responded a bit), but none of them connected with the crowd, so everyone stood around watching rather than enjoying (much like the start of Rise Against). I have a feeling many people were there for the Offspring, so an hour of the Deftones was not something they relished. Perhaps if the later bands had been more musically like the Deftones, it would be a different crowd who enjoyed it more, but alas, this was one dull performance.

The Offspring, Photo: Tom Martin/NME

The Offspring:
One thing I noticed straight away with the Offspring is they’re getting old. But clearly so. That doesn’t change the fact that this was amazing set; they started slowly (which themed to be the current theme for the Main Stage that day), but then really got into it. They played “Why Don’t You Get A Job?”, “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” , “The Kids Aren’t Alright” etc.., with all the gusto their 20 year old selves had. The performance was only dampened by two drunken idiots starting fights and passing out, but this was soon forgotten when they finished with “Self Esteem”, to the sound of the whole crowd chanting “NA-NA-NANANANA” back to them.

Apologies at this point to anybody expecting a My Chemical Romance review. I was on my way to watch them but slipped and my (already painful) foot “cracked”, I hence got to watch the opening song, and promptly spent the next hour and a bit in a medics tent getting my foot looked at and prodded by doctors and trainee medical students. So, sorry about that. From what I heard, they were really good, and everybody who watched them in my friend group said they were mind-blowing. I’m sure that the BBC has posted some, if not all, of the performance online, so look around!

Sunset over Main stage

I was supposed to watch Seasick Steve first, but my incredibly drunk friends all passed out in the arena, leaving me (equally drunk) to watch out for them whilst they slept on the floor. So instead of Seasick Steve I had to settle with Justsick Friends. Sigh.

Being a massive fan of Ska, and Madness being the amazing heritage band they are, I was expecting great things from this set. Rightly enough, they opened with “One Step Beyond”, which was played just like old times, as was “Must Be Love”. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. There’s a sense that they’re getting “on” slightly (older) and simply don’t have the heart to carry on playing. The days when they were all in matching suits is over, with two of them matching, one in a different suit and the rest in t-shirts. There’s the feeling that they simply don’t care and don’t need to anymore, which led to a rather disappointing performance.

Jimmy Eat World. Photo by Gary Wolstenholme

Jimmy Eat World:
Having seen JEW at Milton Keynes, I was curious to see how they would handle their Leeds festival slot. They actually played a much better slot than they did in Milton Keynes, possibly because they didn’t have the massiveness of the Foo Fighters looming over them. They seemed to have more fun, played hits such as “Bleed America”, “Pain” and “The Middle”, which the crowd all seemed to enjoy. The only disappointing fact about this performance was they finished on a relatively weak song, so the crowd got build up to a high, but went out on a bit of an exasperated sigh.

I unfortunately missed the first half of Capdown’s set, but arrived in time for the last 5 songs and managed to fling myself to the front of the barrier. As they hammered their way through the songs, including the brilliant “Ska Wars”, the crowd reacted perfectly in time, moshing, leaping with fists raised and singing along. It was a much better reception than I’d hoped for, and this was again one of the best live performances by a barely known band.

Jane’s Addiction:
I would’ve reviewed this, even got near the front of the stage, but they pulled out due to an apparent bout of Laryngitis. The peculiar thing is, the very NEXT FUCKING DAY they played at London’s Koko club. Which is either a miracle or pretty bloody strange if you ask me. So anyway, no review here either.

Jane's Addiction pulled out of their Reading slot on Saturday night. Member Dave Navarro arrived on stage, telling the crowd that the set was off due to the severe swelling of singer Perry Farrell's vocal chords. * Photo: PA

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones:
Instead of seeing Jane’s Addiction (DAMN THEM), we went to see a reggae / ska band I had loosely heard of called the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. The Lock-Up stage where they were performing was relatively empty, but managed filled up as the performance continued. They were truly sublime at playing, hitting just the right notes, connecting with the audience and they were really in-tune with the feeling of the festival. They’re basically the American equivalent of Madness, and were surprisingly much better at performing live than Madness themselves. Even when I got kicked in the face during crowd surfing it didn’t dampen my spirit. This really was a high to end the festival on.

To conclude, this years Leeds Festival was truly amazing. Even the rain, mud, cold, injuries, flooding, bad directions and hangovers couldn’t ruin the experience. If you get a chance to go, I advise you to do it.

Adie: Big thanks to Matt for this awesome review! Follow him on Twitter!
For anyone else who wants to review a concert/festival (band/genre don’t matter) just contact me via Twitter, Facebook, E-Mail or just by commenting one of my blog posts. You can find links to all my account in the sidebar.

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