FESTIVAL REVIEW: Live at Leeds 2017

Live at Leeds continues to thrive, growing with ambition each passing year. For a mid-size inner city festival it does very well to cover all the bases: a plethora of diverse venues, a cornucopia of international acts and fresh talent, culture, and community. With the heavyweight billing, it means you to have to be ruthless and decisive in your pursuit to find musical glory. So it’s with nervous excitement and an adventurous spirit, we go forth to explore this year’s festivities.

Thoughts by Jay Plent (JP) and Charlotte Holroyd (CH).

The Golden Age of TV (Brudenell Social Club)

After the release of two brilliant, though somewhat mellow singles, the most surprising thing about TGAOTV live was their ferocity. Their movements angular and pronounced, the music fiery and emotional, it was a great pleasure to see the band so fervently energetic, and this tenacity gave an unexpected conviction to their music. Fletcher’s planted presence onstage acted as a totem pole for the rest of the tribe to tear around, channelling their dreamy, agitated sound into the audience with genuine brilliance. The band’s attention to detail and skill in creating a distinct visual appearance (there were gift shop knick knacks galore) is matched only by their fantastic songwriting. It thunders when it needs to, draws back to pull the audience in, and balances complex stabs of rhythmic intrigue without becoming alienating. TGAOTV are a gift to see live. JP

Bryde (Holy Trinity Church)

Photo Credit: Charlotte Holroyd

Starting the day at Holy Trinity Church was the right decision. We’ve watched the artist come into her own over the course of this past year, whilst she had already made a name for herself as one part of the successful duo Paper Aeroplanes, Sarah Howells found new purpose in solo project, Bryde. This performance is special though, as today Howells is joined by her brilliant band mates on bass and drums fusing a new kind of oomph into the performance. Prompting no introduction, they launch into ‘Wouldn’t That Make You Feel Good?’, sinister at first glance with skulking guitar riffs and pieces of ambient percussion discharged in an alarming arrangement, in this setting, it’s all the more potent.

Howells is poised when she talks, later revealing that this performance is the last in the current tour, it’s a shift when we see her moving through the songs, her temperament metamorphosizes and becomes this super-charged behemoth of emotion. It’s impossible to ignore the intensity that drives the music and the performance; a Bryde show covers heavy subject matter told through a steaming cauldron of sharp guitars and fuzzy undertones, it’s this fight between darkness and light that makes the whole thing so thrilling (and unforgettable). Howells find the time to also break out on her own, and play solo, in a stunning rendition of ‘Wait’, the silence between the words is used to great effect and screams like a warning sign, and the reflective ballad ‘Transparent’ fills the room in the most gorgeous way.

Live, these songs are another beast entirely, taking on new forms each time they’re played and finding new meanings within each audience member. The feeling we take away with us after the show is so vital, Bryde isn’t just the embodiment of an artist, it’s a platform to speak openly and to offer a safe place for all who are in need. We preserve on, and learn to accept our flaws through this adrenaline ride we call life. Thank you Bryde for the early morning coaching. CH

The Opera Comic (Church)

Church as a venue is rather an imposing challenge for any band above a certain level. Its size and grand decor make it more suited to a band with a more bombastic fanbase. However, The Opera Comic did a damn fine job of making themselves at home. Opening with a surprisingly fiery cover of Pure Imagination, the band were musically very accomplished and interesting throughout, bringing bravado and confidence in heaps. Though they were at the disadvantage of having such an oversized venue, they made it their own and made their operatic synth-driven music feel as hallowed as the location in which it was housed. JP

White Lies (O2 Academy)

Photo Credit: Charlotte Holroyd

It’s the band of the day to take residence in one of the largest venues at the festival, the queues outside spiral around the building and once inside, the coveted spots are taken immediately. It’s not often bands of this calibre play in venues of this size so you have to take the opportunities when they come, and this was one not to be missed. Walking onto the stage slightly later than billed, White Lies waste no more dalliances and launch straight into lead single ‘Take it Out on Me’ from their recent fourth album.

After taking a two-year break in between album releases, it was unsure that the band would be met with open arms when they returned with a record that steps even further away from their original sound, but like most leaps of faith, it paid off. Songs from ‘Friends’ are played as whole heartedly as the classic singles, whilst clearly not gaining the same unanimous reaction as ‘To Lose My Life’ or ‘Farewell to the Fairground’, the crowd still remain chirpy and attentive to the newer cuts. Particularly towards ‘Morning in LA’, which sees a rare moment from frontman Harry McVeigh taking a loss of inhibition to po-go along with the pop-tastic chorus, the crowd take a shine to this enthusiasm and roar along in solidarity, provoking a response from McVeigh: “I never thought I’d see people so lively at three o’clock in the afternoon.” The whole affair remains gracious throughout, both parties never take their eyes off each other, it seems like everyone in the room feels euphoria at one point or another.

Not many bands connect on a level to move their audience members to embrace one another, watching a scene like this break out across the sea of friendship groups during ‘Bigger Than Us’ is one of those life-affirming moments you don’t forget. It’s when music becomes more than itself, all walls break down and unity is what’s left. CH

Flyte (Leeds Uni Stylus)

Photo Credit: Jay Plent

Flyte were stunning. There is no other word to describe them. Few bands are as deserving of the good reputation that they have built up in a few short years. Every track played sounded as if it had come straight off of a fully produced and mastered album; they were slick, they were accomplished, and they were flawless. They’re a band who have built their sound off the back of clear, choir-like vocal harmonies, and the impact is orgasmic. With all four voices in perfect sync, the swell of their choruses far exceeds expectation, and the instrumentation that backs them only further enhances the power of the excellent songwriting. Flyte unfortunately had their set cut short by Live at Leeds’ time constraints, and honestly, of all the bands that deserved a longer slot on the festival, they were by far the most deserving. If you can get near them, do not miss them. They’re fantastic. JP

LYRA (The Faversham)

Photo Credit: Charlotte Holroyd

When we heard the news that LYRA was playing the festival, we were very excited to say the least. A pop talent that cut through the noise reaching our ears this time last year, with a fabulous debut single, and a mysterious image that captured our imagination, leading us down the rabbit hole and into wonderland. In person, LYRA brings beauty and fascination to the fore, as she moves in her own distinct way in line with the thunder and claps of her band’s dramatic orchestra. At times the music is serene and ethereal, but when it truly hits, it’s stormy and quaking, turning her sensuality into furious movement. She talks to the audience as if she would a friend, passing comments on her beverage of choice, her appearance and the seven hour journey from Brighton that morning.

Airing songs from her already released catalogue (‘Rabbit in the Headlights’ , ‘Broken Down’), as well as a bunch of newly written tracks, including a song that I’ll guess is named ‘My Heart is Beautiful’, whether it’s still a work in progress, I’m not sure but the level of crowd enjoyment seemed to surpass everything else, and in my view, it’s the most commercial of the lot, it has ‘hit’ written in stars around its very core. Ultimately a gigantic note to loving yourself, and what could be more relatable than that. The first song she ever wrote (and it’s a personal one) makes an appearance, ‘Emerald’ captures icy vocals that recall the Scandi dark-pop boom of recent times but the difference, delivered by LYRA, a strong accent of her home country comes through, strengthening her call about the importance of family ties.

The limitations of production and scale were visible in the performance but in many ways, the au naturel approach suited the Irish songstress, for it’s her vocal talents that primarily carry the songs, and her fashion shows a desire to match this. A backdrop and mood lighting would’ve captured her stylistic tropes much better but in time this will come (we have to remember this was only a glimpse of her live set up after all). A LYRA show is equal parts gothic and glacial. CH

Black Honey (O2 Academy)

One of the bigger bands of the day, Black Honey brought an energetic charm to proceedings. The band was inspired a vivid reaction, and really had their fingers on the audience’s pulse. Cheeky, but aware of their control, they made short work of any stooges unwilling to dance, and put on an enjoyable show that sadly lacked much in the way of diversity. JP

The Bay Rays (The Key Club)

Photo Credit: Olivia Williams

The dark, foreboding surroundings of The Key Club seem slightly jarring against as upbeat a band as The Bay Rays. However, from the off, there was plenty of blues-soaked alt rock to satisfy both traditionalists and modernist fans. Stylistically in line with the punk-like R&B of Dr. Feelgood (even down to their lead singer’s intense, unblinking glare), The Bay Rays quickly overcame technical difficulties to put on a fun, uncomplicated show that won over much of the crowd and was a whole lot of good honest fun. JP

Fazerdaze (Leeds Beckett Union)

Photo Credit: Charlotte Holroyd

Making their return to Leeds were Auckland’s Fazerdaze. A shoegazey dream pop delight, full of zesty guitars and sprightly sun-soaked rhythm. The Leeds Beckett building was sufficiently attended, leaving Amelia Murray and co. to whisk onwards with their dizzying indie pop. The thirty minute set took in tracks from the artist’s self-titled EP and newer compositions which feature on the debut album ‘Morningside’, Murray’s dreamscape vocals ease the listener into a pleasing hum whilst her band mates translate the sunny wooze of her melodies to perfection.

It’s all too easy to linger in a moment when you’re in the presence of a band like Fazerdaze, every subtle nick and twang of peppy instrumentation is handled with care and it shows. The only real qualm I had was with the sequencing of the set list, maybe it’s more of a personal critique than a collective response, but there were points when the pacing became tedious, a wispy song after a slow song for example, it’s just a question of variety. More driving guitars and gritty nuances would appease any misstep here. Overall a satisfying first meet with the band. CH

Get Inuit (The Key Club)

Photo Credit: Andrew Benge

It was a packed Key Club for Indoor Pets, on-stage and off both sizzling with excitement. The work that the band has paid in up to this stage is evident, from the long bouts of touring to the hyperactive interaction on social media, the fans are with them 100% and will bop till they drop, if they have to, just to please their favourite band’s will. This all seems too good to be true, yes, but if any band is worthy of this kind of reaction, it is Indoor Pets. They have a live show that is unrivalled in its pure joy and smart back and forth, the songs aren’t half bad either. From the highly infectious choruses to the zinger of one liners that you’ll be quoting for days after, Indoor Pets always give you your money’s worth.

Like a sugar rush hitting a high, the set delivers action-packed life lessons for young adults who are in need of a zap of camaraderie, Indoor Pets is here to help. There is bags of substance to their wacky wonderful world, tackling deep issues like mental health and moral dilemmas, yet it’s easy to swallow as the themes are well concealed within ounces of crunchy guitars and layers of bouncing plucky rhythms. To pick a centre-point in this set would be foolish, all the tracks aired hit fever pitch in seconds of opening but particular onus falls on ‘Barbiturates’ and ‘Pro Procrastinator’ to build up the crowd in a celebrated revelry as the set nears its close. Guitars are the revolution and don’t we all know it. CH

HMLTD (Leeds Beckett Union)

Photo Credit: Nathan Dainty

To say ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’ is an accurate, though unfair point to make when transitioning from any run-of-the-mill indie act to HMLTD. They are, to put it mildly, quite the experience. If mid ’70s David Bowie, The Cure and Talking Heads were gene-spliced together in a bizarre prog science experiment, then let loose into a studio with as many drugs as they wanted, the result would probably be about half as captivating as HMLTD. You can tell that they, and their fans, have taken the band uniform philosophy to heart, which only goes to show that they’ve cultivated dedication, and deservedly so.

The madness of their live performance is obvious from the off, but the complexity of their music, and the fascinating textural ground it covers is refreshingly unpredictable, but remains catchy as hell. There’s plenty of meaty synth stabs to get in on, lots of yelped, Joy Division-esque vocals to latch onto, and really the whole show just felt like a massive acid trip. You could also, quite reasonably, be totally terrified by them as a band, but then that’s the point; you can’t imbue dedication without living on the edge of the cutting edge. JP

DMA’s (O2 Academy)

Photo Credit: Andrew Benge

Walking into the O2 Academy when DMA’s are in full swing is a game changer. The full scale production of a major touring band is impossible to ignore, not just because of the giant neon rogue sign glaring their nom be plume above the stage, it’s more than that, it’s a change of atmosphere – the majority here are engrossed in the songs, they know them back to front, they’ve bought into the band and are steadily getting more and more enthused with each passing second, it’s the sign of an established following. And they don’t disappoint.

Breezing through their catalogue of seminal hits (‘Delete’ , ‘Lay Down’ , ‘Step up the Morphine’), the lively atmosphere intensifies and energizes the whole climate, it seems that their brand of oh-so-melodic ’90s throwback indie rock has captured today’s youth in full technicolor. Bodies adorn shoulders, mass singalongs ensue and some break out in a slow dance, it is a beautiful sight to behold. A feeling that can’t be matched by any other medium. DMA’s are one of the few LAL alumni’s that are sure to be a permanent fixture on the billings, knowing that they will drive a good steady stream of heads through the door is always a plus (and the bonus, they always deliver a joyful set). CH

Yonaka (The Lending Room)

Photo Credit: Charlotte Holroyd

The stages on the fringes provide great reward, the timely trek involved to reach their destinations will not be in vain, for what lies inside the walls is worth the effort. This was true, at least, for Yonaka‘s set at The Lending Room. Though the set was cut short due to a technical hiccup (a vital piece of kit kicked the bucket), the band held strong for the five song run. With the might of Theresa Jarvis’ formidable holler, we are set free into the wild realms of Yonaka’s tribal rock opera, mixing hard rock with dark pop, the band have founded a new sound.

The heavier elements compliment Jarvis’ versatile voice in magical ways, and never contradict the band’s want to build hooks into the songs core, this binary approach to songwriting sure works well in a live setting. Running through live regulars, ‘Run’, ‘Gods and Lovers’, and ‘All in my Head’, each member has their turn to shine. Each have their own captivating quality but it’s Jarvis’ commanding presence that drives it all, even when her voice is on the brink of collapse, she never gives up and throws everything into her performance, it’s inspiring to say the least.

Yonaka assure time and time again that their live show is one that cannot be forgotten, or emulated; this band exist to re-invigorate the British rock scene and so encourage an addiction to form around their live sets – for the one time experience is a doorway to a lifelong investment. CH

Slaves (O2 Academy)

Photo Credit: Nathan Dainty

Over the course of their rocket-fuelled rise to the top, Slaves have been established as one of the UK’s best live bands. It’s a claim well founded in fact, I can assure you. You want a lesson in intensity? You want a lesson in fury? You want a lesson in tapping into the unrelenting disillusionment of every under 25 year old in the country today? Just observe Slaves. Observe how they make punk music that doesn’t give a shit who you are, as it’s meant to be. The only downside of the band’s live show is that it makes their studio work sound comparatively tame. They are a band who thrive on the rich power of stage presence, and they’re pretty bloody good at it. JP

Her (Belgrave Music Hall)

Photo Credit: Charlotte Holroyd

Her aren’t like anyone else on this year’s billing, this collective of musicians and creatives breathe a different air. Style here is king but substance and skill won’t be overlooked either. True to their dignified presence, Her perform a refreshing thirty minutes of eclectic music, taking in influences of neo soul, pop, gospel and hip hop. I say collective, because every person on that stage gives a little part of themselves away, in the same way, the audience don’t leave the same as they arrived – the performance is a communal experience, it’s about sharing this time we have together rather than segregating ourselves into an ‘us’ and ‘them’ classification. We feel the music, we feel each other, we come together.

Playing tracks from both of their released mixtapes, we are allowed the time to be fully acquainted with every aspect of their sound. From the sensational seven-minute epic of ‘Quite Like’, a stripped back rendition of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, to the rebellious tones of ‘Queens’, Her make sure they cover every inch of the stage in their mission to keep us entertained. The biggest crowd reaction appears when the opening finger clicks and unmistakable guitar riff of ‘Five Minutes’ sets in, perhaps the immediate familiarity is due to a lucrative placement in a commercial for Apple (but hey what does it matter), the song sounds even better live and makes for a groovy throwdown. We leave feeling sufficiently stimulated, if not hoping a little bit, that we might re-live the performance once more. CH

The Big Moon (Brudenell Social Club)

Photo Credit: Jay Plent

A day ended with The Big Moon is a fine evening indeed. Riding on the back of their debut album’s release, the band came on to what must by now be a familiar sight, an audience of beaming excited people ready to mosh their troubles away. ‘Cupid’ damn near caused a riot, ‘Formidable’ lived up to its name, and the band were playing like champions. Hilariously, they almost seem surprised by their own success, constantly thankful throughout, reminiscing about their first time at Live At Leeds, and generally coming across in their usual likeable, relatable manner. Nobody came away from that show disappointed, and if they did they weren’t paying attention, because The Big Moon are great, and to paraphrase the band themselves, they got things perfectly right. JP

Featured image: Indoor Pets by Andrew Benge

Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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