Live at Leeds: Swedish band steal the show!

The Pale White on stage at Nation of Shopkeepers at Live at Leeds on Saturday, May 5. (Picture by Andrew Benge)
The Pale White on stage at Nation of Shopkeepers at Live at Leeds on Saturday, May 5. (Picture by Andrew Benge)

Review: The annual Live at Leeds fest blossomed in the bright glare of the weekend sunshine with its best line-up of indie, alt rock, electro and acoustic acts to date - and some of its biggest crowds.

A sizzlingly hot Saturday saw LaL wrist band holders spilling onto the city centre's pavements, some trying to get into packed out, sweltering venues, others trying to get out for the next gig in the next venue.

Peace on stage at the 02 Academy at Live at Leeds. (Picture by Andy Hughes)

Peace on stage at the 02 Academy at Live at Leeds. (Picture by Andy Hughes)

There were so many great acts that even the most diehard of fans couldn’t hope to do more than scrape the surface of what was on offer in a golden day featuring more than 200 acts appearing in more than 20 different venues across the city.

At noon, youngsters were still queuing politely outside The Wardobe to get into see the punky Idles even as the band were announcing their final song on stage downstairs.

At 1pm in the cool of Belgrave Music Hall’s upstairs gig room, a three-piece dressed in black from Glasgow called Lovesick impress with their sparse,electronic soul, if only their talented female lead singer could gain more self-confidence.

At 3pm inside an expectant Stylus at Leeds University, the kooky and cool Superorganism blow an amazing arrival on stage by putting more thought and imagination into their quite stunning visuals than their actual music – their modern-day digital psychedelia coming across like a lazy, flimsy Flaming Lips. But fun.

At 4pm at the 02 Academy in a crowd dominated by young girls are treated to a brilliantly barn-storming performance of early Verve-like psych rock by Peace – a proper band (ie guitar, bass, drums, vocals) with tunes and big guitar solos and all.

At 4.30pm on the small second stage at Leeds Beckett University, an outrageously outre Swedish five-piece in red and black leathers who would have suited Todd Haynes’ movie Velvet Goldmine grow the crowd from 15 to 50 people in the space of just half an hour and nearly steal the whole festival.

Oozing jaded charisma, lush opulence and a mesmerisingly provocative blonde-haired lead singer with an old skool Flying V guitar whose hypnotic stage persona is one part Madonna, one part Johnny Rotten and one part serial killer, Ruby Empress reveal they have driven 26 hours to be here.

Full of drama, slickness and hooks, there’s possibly a few too many Chic disco moments in their set for my taste but I shake the singer’s hand afterwards and tell him they were absolutely brilliant.

5pm on the main stage of Leeds Beckett, another almost equally outre five-piece, though Fling have only travelled from Bradford.

Boasting blonde hair, facepaint, a yellow top and striped black and white trousers, so impressively theatrical is their lead singer, it’s easy to imagine he would have been a star through sheer force of personality in the era of glam rock or punk in the 1970s.

Like Cabbage or Fat White Family, the ultra-lively Fling want to connect with audiences like Oasis once did – but without having to play such traditional rock n roll.

The end result is a bit all over the shop musically hitting peaks then mad flights of fancy but, hearteningly, the crowd love them.

In the dark, small live music room at Headrow House at 7pm another young trio are playing moody electronic soul.

Tyne are just as good as Lovesick were at the start of the afternoon, really, except they’re blander and less over-wrought.

7pm inside the hottest venue of the day – Nation of Shopkeepers – so hot, in fact, the lead singer of hi-octane garage band The Pale White, a young three-piece in matching black T-shirts from Newcastle, says he feels like he’s just stepped out of a bath. He looks it, too.

The sauna-like atmosphere doesn’t stop Adam, Jack and Tom rampaging through a blistering set like early And You Will Know Us tackling the songs of The Strypes or Nirvana covering Black Keys.

One of the sets of the entire day.

9.30pm, or 9.55pm rather, the late start for The Horrors has the benefit of letting the atmosphere in The Church build into the sort of pre-gig anticipation The Who or Siouxsie and the Banshees would have generated at their respective peaks.

Emerging into stabbing shafts of blue lights, the magnificently moody Faris Badwan and his bandmates play opening numbers Hologram and Machine off recent album V in magnificent style like a band reborn, cutting shapes in a violent fashion like they did in the early less motorik, more dark punky garage band era.

Perhaps its the two-thirds full main room in Leeds Beckett but something feels a bit fag end about British Sea Power despite their prominent slot at 10.15pm.

Fifteen years after their debut album, their crowd has thinned a bit – and aged.

Any thoughts that the most veteran indie band on the entire Live at Leeds bill themselves are wilting in the heat disappears after a powerful opening salvo.

Once fully in their stride, BSP are revealed, once again, as a far greater band live than on record, more rock than art rock, as full of life as the real trees and foliage they still decorate the stage with.