Live at Leeds review

I Like Trains.
I Like Trains.

IS it a compliment or an insult to say that a lot of the venues in this year’s mammoth Live at Leeds all-day indie music festival seem to be full of people who don’t care which act is on?

But people are here even though there’s plenty of other things they could be doing in the city of Leeds right now rather than watching Cave Birds in a packed Holy Trinity Church.

“They sound like Simple Minds in the toilets,” my fellow gig-goer James says, and what he means, I think, is, instrumentally, there’s an impressive, understated grandeur to tracks like Some Lightning Thrill which creeps up on you.

It’s hard to detect any hints of Syd Barrett, Talk Talk or Kate Bush amid the band’s rich, atmospheric sound but the band’s lead singer doesn’t try too hard to please, which is interesting, and there’s something unusual about these Cave Birds which is hard to pin down.

It’s the sixth annual Live at Leeds and acoustic songstress Fran Rodgers has become something of a fixture, though it’s not the same Fran Rodgers every time.

This year’s model looks far more bo-ho and sounds more mildy psychedelic than the prim and proper, straight-looking young woman of old. Her voice is just a stunning, however, inside the lofty echo chamber of this gorgeous church.

In the bigger cathedral that is the 02 Academy I Like Trains have also changed a lot in the last six years.

The world’s darkest-sounding singer remains the same, though David Martin’s baritone now purrs and croons nicely amid the trademark gloom.

The band always were masters of musical tension and drama, those brooding synths and soaring guitar lines striving towards unseen heights but they’ve become more subtle but bolder masters of the art now.

They’ve also got a richer sonic palette, adding prettier melodies, interesting rhythms and more upbeat influences from krautrock and modern electronica.

The young couple in front of me may be telling each other this is the most depressing band they’ve ever seen but the applause and whoops from the rest of the Academy crowd is growing with each number, even though these are songs hitherto unheard from their new album The Shallows.

Taking riffs and teasing out every bit of juice like a cat toying with a half-chewed mouse, new songs like We Used To Talk, The Turning Of The Bones or the new album’s title track suggest I Like Trains live in the same world as, say, Foals or The Horrors and they sound better for it.

Like a crew of trawlermen telling tales of the depths of the sea, I Like Trains are manly and magnificent putting on, musically, one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen at Live at Leeds.

In complete contrast, the rumbustious punk of Kleine Schweine, merrily battering away inside the packed heat of Milos, the crowd spilling out onto the pavement near the Corn Exchange, are a throwback to Live at Leeds’ roots, to the 1990s when the city’s venues were small and scruffy, like the bands themselves trying back then to create the bigger, trendier scene which exists now.

S.C.U.M are impossibly romantic, so much so that the two central figures in this young, well-educated five-piece from London spend the whole gig literally inside their hair, their fringes so long they can’t see out of the envelope of the powerful sound they’re helping to create.

The sound inside The Cockpit doesn’t do them any favours but nothing can trample the soaring, synth and guitar melodies of songs from their brilliant album on Mute records, Again Into Eyes, a beacon of hope amid a mediocre last 12 months for fans who like their guitar bands to be bold and big but not dumb.

Like The Horrors’ younger brothers, the majestic S.C.U.M exhibit a Pre-Raphaelite-like desire to remake an ugly world into something beautiful.

It’s always hard to stay on course for the whole day at this festival, too many choices, too many distractions - the tragedy of this wonderful event and its beauty.

Picking Scroobius Pip at The Wardrobe may have been a bit of a mistake, especially when some civilised looking man in a nice suit tells us we can’t get into the venue area in this very nice venue because it’s been ram-jammed all day.

Don’t our press/VIP wristbands count for anything?

Undeterred, we sneak downstairs to discover the place busy but not painfully so with a scrawny man in a baseball cap on stage.

It has to be said Mr Pip’s most famous track Thou Shalt Always Kill from a few years back is a belter but there’s no Dan le Sac tonight to help.

London is a victim, goes one of his tracks - or are we?

Scroobius Pip is certainly entertaining, but James suggests he’s also a lot like Pam Ayres with a southern accent.

A rude conclusion to a great day but sort of funny I think you will agree.

Graham Chalmers