Review by Gig Scene Editor Graham Chalmers
Part 2: Live at Leeds 2013
Everywhere I look there are indie-looking youngsters on street corners milling around between gigs and venues.
Though outnumbered by Saturday afternoon shoppers, Leeds looks totally different today.
“They just couldn’t put on this sort of thing in the north,” I say to James in my best/worst southern posh accent. “Thank god we live in the south.”
Walking away from the city centre, we arrive at Leeds University (main hall) just in time to see fans piling out after Dinosaur Pile-Up’s show.
Quickly into reverse, back through the university student union building with its shops and beauty treatment centre and round the corner into the far smaller Leeds University Mine venue.
Who knows that you will come across at Live at Leeds.
On stage is a noisy band dressed in uniform T-shirts bearing the legend ‘C’ writ large but, then, Castrovola are larger than life in every sense of the word.
“They look like a Peter Kay spoof band,” says James.
To be fair, their ugly, fuzzed-up, big riffed, high-pitched shouty vocals thing is very entertaining. The band is pretty terrific live.
Not sure about the songs.
Back to Leeds Met Uni and a truly amazing act.
Atmospheric, cinematic, utterly romantic, London Grammar are like a bigger, bolder Bats For Lashes.
Boasting a pretty blonde girl on vocals and a cute male sidekick on every type of percussion going, this band are thrilling live.
It’s easy to imagine them turning up as the club band in a David Lynch movie.
My only doubt is their desire to always strive for the big moment at the expense of the actual song.
Cut across the city centre to the Town Hall Tavern for real ale and falafel burgers.
We enjoy chatting a bit too much and miss the beguiling (it says in the official programme) Leeds-based sextet Heart Ships on Leeds Met 2 stage, who we’d thought about trying to see.
No matter. We do catch the excellent Electric Guest in the main hall of the same venue.
People around me are dancing a bit and my toe is tapping.
My toe is tapping because this hipster LA outfit are really no more cutting edge than 80s synth pop sensations Soft Cell, though the latter were a great group.
Their only radical elemnent is some cool noddlings on synth which disrupt their catchy, upbeat tunes, a little as if Scissor Sisters had lost a member and drafted in Brian Eno. I liked them.
It’s hitting eight o’clock and we walk back to the tranquility of Holy Trinity Church.
On stage, I say stage, though he’s scarcely standing above floor level, is acoustic act Luke Sital Singh.
He’s a little more interesting than Nick Mulvey earlier in the day and the hooks are clearer.
“It’s all whine,” says James.
The long walk back to Leeds University and I’m feeling the pace. A football injury, you understand.
It gives me the chance to test put my latest brilliant fake acronym to the unimpressed James and Mike, a musician friend who joined us late afternoon.
LaLaL, I pronounce proudly.
(It stands for “Limping along at Live at Leeds).
It’s worth the pain for Dutch Uncles. Standing in Leeds Uni Stylus, feet nearly stuck rigid to the floor thanks to the amount of beer it’s soaked up since opening for its first band at 3pm (experimental pop act Swimming Lessons, if you must know), these BBC6 Music favourites are a lot more fun on record, though they’re pretty good on record.
With their skinny, falsetto frontman dancing like a man trying to draw a crowd’s attention to a fire, the Dutch Uncles remind me a bit of Field Music - and their high-pitched art pop is a lot more fun in the flesh.
With their excellent drummer thumping out tracks from current album Out of Touch In The Wild with abandon and a heavier dance feel throughout, the Dutch Uncles live make me believe a band can take Steve Reich’s minimalism and make it sing.
Just to show how non-dull they are, the band throw in an enjoyable cover of Grace Jones’s lithe and louche 80s funk classic Slave To The Rhythm.
Up next in the same venue but even better are The Walkmen.
I don’t really know this New York-based five-piece’s material and the songs don’t impress me that much as actual songs but, woah, what a live band!
On stage The Walkmen deliver what you think The Bad Seeds are going to deliver at Nick Cave gigs but rarely so these days because of their longevity and age.
Mean, moody, magnificent, their sound is as serious as their dark suits and white shirts.Bathed in stark but dramatic lighting, I think I’m in love with this band.
Despite their alt-indie status and their rippling electric guitar lines, there’s something very ‘old weird America’ about them, as if Johnny Cash had joined Interpol before he got too old to do so.
For the time they are on stage, the band and its music are thrillingly as one.
Mightily impressive, there’s a touch of the wild prairie about The Walkmen.
Can the day get any better?
It’s past ten o’clock and we head to the Nation of Shopkeepers, mainly because Mike wants to go there.
I’ve not once managed to get properly inside this trendy indie venue on Live at Leeds day - despite several times in the past.
The closest I’ve got to seeing a band has been to see the back of heads in the packed crowd at the bar.
This time we do get in and we squeeze our way forward until we manage to get reasonably close to the front.
Wait. How French, Melodys Echo Chamber, the final band of the night at Nation of Shopkeepers, is still soundchecking.
Twenty-five minutes after they’ve supposed to have started playing, they’re still “testing one-two, one-two.”
If I sound anti-French here, it’s nothing to do with UKIP.
I hd a bad experience a couple of years ago when I as running Harrogate International Festival Fringe and booked the wonderful Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals to play a solo show at Harrogate Theatre.
His tour manager/soundman was a youngish French guy who spent four full hours on Gruff’s soundcheck.
But the wait is worth it. Melodys Echo Chamber a great band, not because of their pretty, befringed brunette lead vocalist, nor their attractive,sub-Serge Gainsbourg/ sub-Stereolab/sub-Air bass sound, nor their ethereal melodies or friendship with psychedelic gods Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker.
No, this oh-so-cool dream pop band are so good live because they rock.
Their three-man guitar section, in particular, like to let loose in true extravagant 1970s prog rock style.
I can imagine Melodys Echo Chamber are quite atmospheric and polite on record (though I’ve never heard a single track) but live there’s lavish moustaches on show, heads bobbing, guitar necks straining to the ceiling, smiles all round.
The slightly aloof Miss Melody Prochet just stands there calmly, the centre of the storm while all round her is Gallic wildness.
Let it loose, indeed.
That is the spirit of Live at Leeds and that’s why it’s my favourite day of the year.