The weekend festival is a staple of the summer season, coming in hot with their first-ever staging outdoors, Live at Leeds gave us their In the Park edition. For one incredible day of live music, they took over the grounds of Temple Newsam—a Tudor-Jacobean-era estate hemmed by rolling hills and sprawling vistas of the West Yorkshire idyll. It makes the process of attending a day-long festival quite easy, everything is in close proximity to the next and the whole site is one of the best for ease we’ve ever experienced. Well located, well planned and just smartly programmed.
Across four stages endorsed by the likes of MTV, Dork and DIY, music flowed from the midday hours into the night. The only obvious disappointment was the bleed through of sound between the Hill Top stage and DIY‘s Big Top, they were so closely positioned that it was all down to wind direction, and unfortunately, a very blustery day got the better of a good plan this time. As we know it all too well in the UK, festivals here are so very dependent on the weekend’s weather forecast, good news is that it stayed clear all day. No rain. Just bitter Northern weather (with a touch of sunshine).
Suffering from the noise pollution effect was The Lounge Society‘s set, it was a disservice to the promising prospect of a band who is currently on an upward trajectory, with their debut album scheduled for later in the summer backed by the insatiably hip Speedy Wunderground, it’s easy to draw parallels of where this is going. Yet, this time round the crowd’s interest wavered considerably, and it is unlikely that this was due to the quality of the band’s efforts. There’s the certainty of youth in their words, in their presentation, in their music. It’s keenly melodic, played fast with a hectic sense of rhythm but a softness of pace that lends itself to a more spaced-out sludginess than just a standard offering of funk-dazzled punk that makes one move. So many flavours are present in the Lounge Society, that it’s not fair to put a definitive over their sound: It’s rough around the edges but assured. There’s something of a darker tone lingering beneath the surface pep of their swell assault. On this day, we saw something good, just not the whole picture.
In the Dork tent, there resides two stages—one on the left and one on the right. It’s a neat idea, as Sfven noted. The reality of it, is that both stages are staggered and pass the baton between each other throughout the run and it’s also very interesting to look at, like a kind of split screen aesthetic. The banter at a Sfven show is fun. They keep spirits high and the mood light. Sfven is the moniker of alt-pop artist Jamie Clarke, in the live band he’s joined by “Hot Dennis” (aka. Brandon) on guitar and Greg [Burns] on drums, Jamie completes the trio playing the bass guitar. Some of the songs rely heavily on groove and others more on the intimacy of the lyric, on one hand there’s gentility inspired by the lo-fi pop aspect of what he does, then there’s also a deeper sense of polish and performance, because when it all boils down, this is indie pop and it straddles the line between so many worlds. That’s probably why it still remains so popular. Sfven’s sound is like if Rex Orange County and Thundercat jammed together under a moonlit sky. It just makes you feel at ease. Sfven has the power of subtlety on his side, there’s a genuine honest charm to what they do and how they deliver their set. So much so, it goes beyond endearing and reaches a feeling of comfort, a sort of homeliness away from home.
Molly Payton played directly after Sfven, in the same tent but on the other side of the room. Molly Payton’s music is absorbing, steeped in raw emotionality and passionate catharsis. Like Angie McMahon, and Angel Olsen, and Middle Kids, her brand of alt-indie finds its powers from deep inside, a guttural confessional. It’s the kind of expression that compels one to look into themselves as it feels so relatable in its subject and tone. She plays alongside a band, and it’s their first time playing in Leeds, Payton is a New Zealand-native turned London-dweller, it makes sense that Northern gigs don’t come around that often. The songs are vivid and offer evocative pictures as they describe relationship dynamics from a woman’s perspective. At one point she sings, “You have such a way with words/ And God, I hope that this will last,” which leads a crescendo into a powerhouse outro. The set builds from quaint foundations into swirling, heady bliss. Recent single ‘Honey’ ends the set on a high note.
In the DIY Big Top tent, Dream Wife came out of the gate strong with the rollicking zest of ‘Hey Heartbreaker’. They wear attitude like armour, it’s not meant to be taken at face value, it’s a choice they own with a wink and a nod, which tips it to the powerful. Since I last saw them play, their stage production has evolved considerably. There’s high kicks, confrontational energy, crowd-intensive comradery and fun bits that put a new spin on the songs, like during ‘Sports!,’ a series of activities ensue: A choreographed battle between members Alice Go and Bella Podpadec which aligns more audience participation, all leading to the big event as singer Rakel Mjöll reaches for an apparatus which dispenses play money into the arena. It’s delightful moments like these that are indispensable and make the live experience so completely unique. Watching Dream Wife perform is like watching a ballet unfold, so beautiful yet delicately menacing. And one needs this to feel that sense of teetering energy, the element of risk that punk music indelibly carries within its bones. Each of the band’s members has something remarkable that they bring to the stage, they all have their individual moments to shine but really Dream Wife is all about collectivity and collaboration. This is very clear in the words Rakel Mjöll dedicates to all “bad bitches” when introing ‘Somebody’: “To be a bad bitch or to identify has absolutely nothing to do with gender. Gender is a construct. So, can we please, everybody in this tent, tear it up together? To be a bad bitch, all you have to do is support your fellow bad bitches.“
For Holly Humberstone, this main stage performance arrived in amongst a year full of amazing milestones: BRITs 2022 Rising Star, a lengthy US tour opening for teen sensation Olivia Rodrigo and a slew of incredible musical releases, with even more world touring planned for later in the year. It’s easy to see where this could be going when watching Humberstone sing to a field full of people, the connection her songs have inspired is so pure and deep that love like this isn’t simply ephemeral, it’s for life. It feels like we’re in the beginnings of a trajectory similar to Ed Sheeran. Humberstone’s personality is very endearing, she speaks so candidly, like she’s talking with friends. She switches between guitar and keyboards throughout, showing off her versatility and growing musicianship. ‘Defect,’ a song dedicated to her friend was written to show her compassion in a time where she didn’t have the words to express it through any other means than song, it’s a beautiful moment and one that is equally reflected in the sun’s arrival on the day, the rays began breaking through immediately as Humberstone started to play this, sparking everybody in the crowd to burst out in uproar—”Sun!” Warmth is such an unusual feeling in this current British summertime. It was almost as if the Gods were talking to us.
All in our emotions, we then ventured up the hill again to join the DIY tent in full bloom, where Confidence Man were deep into the party. The busy atmosphere reflects, in a way, the spectacle of which this Australian group wields, dance music will always carry allure and in the capable hands of Confidence Man, it feels mightier than ever. They somehow make the backstroke look cool as a dance move, they do the robot and it catches on—tell me how often does this happen? They’re rave conductors. It’s tongue-in-cheek and utterly feel good. It might not be everybody’s taste but if you’re lucky to get it, you really get it. There’s plenty of outfit changes and OMG moments, it’s a non-stop flow, it keeps you guessing as much as it keeps the entertainment on tap. Handstands, champagne, shirts off, LED bras, body rolls—it’s an absolute hands-in-the-air acid trip. They break the conformity, and in our book, that’s good.
Sports Team on the main stage offered exactly what they’re known for; anthemic revelry with a hint of raucous delivered by brute force vocals. And in drummer Al’s hometown of all things, great turn out, easy winners. Keeping on the guitar high, Tribes hit the late-afternoon sweet spot with a sun-kissed performance on the Hill Top stage. It marked their first show in Leeds in a decade, it’s been a journey to get to this point but the band still sounds just as fresh as they have always have. Ultimately, it is 45 minutes of satisfaction and sing-alongs. “Can’t tell you how good it is to be back in Leeds, it’s one of our favourite towns,” said Johnny Lloyd. And he’s right. It’s a place and a people that devours music, it always feels good to be surrounded with like-minded company. They play a few new tunes, one’s more American slacker rock and the other more British-indie-leaning Oasis-tinged in tone. The set list has good contrast, it towers and winds: ‘Bad Apple’ is there to help you ponder the existential and ‘Nightdriving’ continues the deep thought. It’s one of those songs that feels like it had to have been written late into the night. ‘Walking in the Street’ meanders at a sludge pace. ‘When My Day Comes’ delivers heady abandon and is a real hoot. But it’s always about ‘We Were Children,’ and don’t we all know it. An epic finale. Man, nostalgia is a blood rush.
On the main stage, Sea Girls reminded us why festivals are so secure in the summer season, it’s because we all crave and need a little bit of unfiltered fun. And this band is very good at this. ‘Call Me Out’ is the OG banger, and it still bops like the best of them. ‘Violet’ is another roaring success. ‘Lucky’ is a deep album cut and delivers lyrical substance in tow with a ravenous appetite for hooks. There’s nuance across the hour they play, songs from every point in their catalogue, of which they’re now two albums deep. ‘Lonely’ sees Henry Camamile “teach” the audience a chorus on acoustic guitar, in this setting it’s a touching moment as the song swells and hearts swoon over their mutual longings and heartaches. ‘Hometown’ and ‘All I Want To Hear You Say’ are the closers, and no one can grumble with that. They sing in their songs about opening up, explaining your inside feelings, relationship quarries and how the job impacts life and the decisions one makes. It’s all very moving. And Sea Girls themselves have moved mountains in the last few years, now one of Britain’s most successful exports. It’s a story of tremendous affirmation.
The Vaccines delivered power pop in droves, they still remain a staple in any setting. Songs like ‘Wetsuit,’ ‘Teenage Icon,’ ‘Handsome’ and ‘All in White’ never die. They’re simply eternal. You take one look around when ‘If You Wanna’ is playing and even if people are heading in the opposite direction, they can’t resist but mouth the lyrics. It’s just impossible. They’re such a good time. Bombay Bicycle Club stated that this was their “first festival of the year,” and upon hearing this it instantly feels like a privilege. They brought so much colour to their headline slot, a horn section goes down the gullet like pure honey and their five-album-deep discography pleases in such ways, also. Liz Lawrence joins them up front as often as possible, they sing ‘Home By Now’ and ‘Lights Out, Words Gone’ together, and it’s some of the most glorious moments in the set. ‘Eat, Sleep, Wake (Nothing But You)’ remains a tonic filled with euphoria. ‘Carry Me’ is a gorgeous reminder to always acknowledge the goodness that others bring into our lives and equally stand by them and offer the same support back. ‘Always Like This’ closes everything on a high, with full-bodied chanting and dancing erupting across the fields.
For all that happened across the day, the lingering feeling prevails, that every single act is a headliner in their own right on their own level. The quality of the billing was the best I’ve seen in recent times. If there’s a takeaway to be found from it all, I would offer this space up to Confidence Man, for the honours of their indelible wisdom: “We all need something for live for, baby.” And that’s really all that needs to be said.
Live at Leeds returns in October for their In the City edition, taking place across venues on Saturday 15th, 2022. Tickets are on sale now, available at https://www.liveatleeds.com/
Photo Credit: Dream Wife by @SarahOglesby_Creative