Live At Leeds

Review of Live At Leeds, 4th May 2013

Now in its 7th year, LAL 2013 was the biggest to date, with over 100 acts booked to play across nine city centre venues. Although the festival officially began on the Thursday, the main events took place on Saturday, May 4th, an ideal excuse for many of the 30,000+ student population to adorn elaborate Star Wars costumes, for the day.

LAL doesn’t just attract a young crowd however, the calibre of its line-ups means it has pulling power across the age groups. People flock from all over the country for a chance to catch some of the biggest up and coming names on the touring circuit, for a very favourable £22.50. While punters last year were able to see now household names, Alt J and Jake Bugg, this year the main attractions included Everything Everything, Tribes and BBC 6 Music darlings, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Tickets for their respective tours have been selling for well over half of the LAL asking price, so no one could argue they weren’t getting an absolute bargain.

We arrived in Leeds around midday, from Newcastle, and quickly found our way to the museum to collect tickets. Already, there was a buzz around the city centre, with queues for nearby venues Nation of Shopkeepers and the O2 Academy stretching down the road adjacent to Millennium Square, right in the heart Leeds. Out of the nine venues, three were within easy walking distance of this central hub. The others however, involved long treks across Leeds. They included three located around Trinity Square and another three, including Leeds University and the uber cool Brudenell Social Club, at the opposite end of the city; to get to them required (especially if you wanted to get there in good time) a fairly pricey taxi journey.

The result of this was that it was impossible to see and appreciate the whole thing. With certain bands starting at certain times, you had to ensure you arrived early to gain access to venues, or face standing in lengthy queues. So, after a quick lunch we made our way to the O2 Academy for our first band of the day, local five piece The Pigeon Detectives. Leeds’ Academy is virtually identical to our own. A big, maze-like building on two floors with a mezzanine seating area, overlooking the very large standing area and bars. We took the seats for The Pigeon Detectives, but despite being comfortable and in the front row, a great deal of leaning forward was required to really take in the atmosphere of the venue. The theatrics of the band however, were clearly visible. Certainly energetic and very much in the alpha-male mould of local peers The Kaiser Chiefs, The Pigeon Detectives are also a band who have reached that awkward stage of all being 30+ years old, yet adored by and groped at by 14 year olds.

We felt a certain pang of regret at this point at perhaps not visiting one of the smaller, cooler venues early on, but in doing so we may have missed Newcastle band Little Comets, who were up next at the Academy. To show our true support, we ventured downstairs for their set.  Despite technical difficulties, Robert Coles and the lads didn’t disappoint with their repertoire of mini indie pop anthems. The stage however, was perhaps a little too big for them and on reflection both they and the organisers will probably wish they’d been located elsewhere, on the day.

It was very clear though, during Little Comets’ set, and being in amongst the standing crowd for the first time, that this was a real musical audience. There was no aggression, people were singing along and everyone just wanted to talk about the music and where they were heading next. My immediate thought at this point was how very different that was to our annual Evolution festival on the Quayside and also whether or not Newcastle could pull off something similar to LAL, in the future? We have the venues and although Evo Emerging, NARC Fest and last year’s Oxjam Takeover show us how it could be done in the microcosm of the Ouseburn Valley, it would be interesting to see how including the Universities and the O2 Academy, may appeal to a wider and even national audience, with the promise of an all round classier festival, for the North East.

Anyway, at around 5pm Tribes followed Little Comets and finally fitted the Academy bill perfectly, playing their now anthemic hits to what must have been a capacity crowd. From here, via an excellent Thai restaurant, we made our way to The Cockpit for the most anticipated band of the day, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. At eight thirty, half an hour before the band were to take the small stage, there was a vast queue outside the venue, stretching about five minutes down the road.  We were lucky to use our press pass to gain access, but for most people, the one in one out system would have meant they would miss UMO.

After spending what seemed like an age setting up, the psychedelic American three-piece Unknown Mortal Orchestra finally launched into their mesmerising set, which included tracks Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark) and So Good At Being in Trouble, from acclaimed album II. BBC 6 Music’s Marc Riley was even in attendance for this one. The Cockpit is a long, thin and very hot venue, particularly when packed to the rafters, so we were very grateful to leave after just over an hour, jumping in a nearby taxi to head to our last stop, the 2000 capacity Leeds University Refectory, for Everything Everything.

Arriving early, we were able to chill out at the spacious bar area before heading into the massive venue. And despite the huge crowd that had made the trip to see the headline act, there still seemed to be plenty of space to mill about at the side; a far cry from the sardine tin-like Cockpit, earlier in the night. Everything Everything were a perfect end to a great day out. Playing for well over an hour, their eclectic and complex songs with front man Jonathan Higgs’ excellent vocal range, kept the crowd enthralled for the whole time. Higgs commented at one point that he didn’t realise ‘this many people knew who we were’ as he gazed out across the vast refectory space. Out of the three venues we visited, this was definitely the best.  LAL will definitely be on the agenda again, next year.

*A version of this article originally appeared on NE:MM.