Live At Leeds 2016 - The Review

by - Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Ten years in and the humble Live At Leeds festival has grown in both size and stature. Where once before it was just a place for all the hipsters of West Yorkshire to gather, it's swelling line-up of 200+ bands for a relatively low pricetag of £32 makes it a genuine attraction for new-music hungry noisenicks right across the country to come and experience things oop north.  

As Leeds dwellers ourselves, it's clear that as the years have passed, Live At Leeds has really grown into itself, taking true advantage of just how eclectic it's city's landscape has begun. The streets feel busy but not claustrophobic like years previously - the influx of new bars, venues and cool hangouts like Headrow House and Belgrave Music Hall since we last reviewed the festival in 2013 has meant that Leeds city centre is more equipped than ever to deal with the increase in foot traffic. Let's not forget the huge presence of the First Direct Arena either, keeping all the press action in one contained space leaving music fans to room free about the city. 

(Photos courtesy of Andrew Benge

And roam they do. 45 minutes before Leeds o2 Academy even opens for the day, the queue stretches long enough that it reaches the tip of the next venue. The reason is Mystery Jets - comeback kids who's latest album 'Curve of The Earth' has seen them move from colourful art-rockers into something with more promising longevity. A huge part of this is clearly the shot in the arm that their member mix up has created - new bassist Jack has the affability of a shaggy-haired kids TV presenter, doing most of the talking and flinging himself about the stage with an infectious enthusiasm. The album naturally forms the majority of the afternoon's set - they open with Telomere which proves just how robust a live offering they have become. Oldies 'Serotonin' and 'Flash A Hungry Smile', go down well, but it's 'Blood Red Balloon' that really fills the space, a spacey journey that computes pleasingly well with the 'three pints in' haze of the audience. 

(Photos with thanks to Giles Smith)

Strong planning brings us handily close to Leeds Beckett Student Union, where we arrive in time to catch our old housemates band Forever Cult. Friendly nepotism aside, it's clear they've come on leaps and bounds since we last saw them - an increase in focus is evident as they tear through old and new tracks with barely a hitch. 'Winter's Glow' draws a succession of floppy-haired pogo-ers to lose their shit on the front row, as does newbie 'Seafood', wonderfully obnoxious with it's 'Not My Problem' refrain. A hometown offering, they emphasise LAL's potential as an A&R mans dream day out. 

( Photo by Andy Smith

Speaking of buzz bands, it doesn't get more hype than Spring King (Leeds University Union). Made famous overnight thanks to that Zane Lowe endorsement, they're pleasingly down-to-earth on stage - clad in oversized ADIDAS and thanking the crowd repeatedly with a genuine air of surprise at the turnout. Luckily, the music lives up to the legacy - they start strong with a quick 1-2 of 'Better Man' and upcoming album title track 'Tell Me If You Want To' that sees a crowd member crawl onstage before being swiftly booted off by security. The air is thick with youth - the moshpit has an average age of 17 and is an overwhelmingly jolly affair that is more hugs and free love than punky aggression. It's wholly befitting of Spring Kings appeal - a bunch of talented kids making young, exuberant pop rock.

(Photos by Jenessa Williams)

It's fair to say that no critique of Los Campesinos! is going to be particularly bias-free around these parts, but it's equally fair to say that their co-headlining set at Leeds University Union is a triumph. While Gareth may joke about people wandering in to see them just to kill time before Circa Waves, they win over casual and placate fans alike with a high-energy set that covers the majority of their career. 'Avocado Baby', 'My Year In Lists' and 'What Death Leaves Behind' all sound particularly strong, but it's the 'Tory Boy' line in closer 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future' that really hits home in this northern venue. 

(Photo by Jenessa Williams)

Maybe it's the copious red stripes, or the  sweat in the late-night air, but our long-forgotten crush on We Are Scientists Keith Murray comes flooding back like the stuff of #indieamnesty dreams as soon as they begin the closing show of the night. Potential objectification aside, there is no avoiding the fact that even after sixteen years in the business, he has barely aged a day. Luckily, neither have the hits - 'Chick Lit', 'The Great Escape' and 'It's A Hit' (literally) are delivered with the razor-sharp precision that only playing the same songs a billion times can make. Tracks from their week-old record Helter Seltzer do drag a little at times, but their Flight-Of-The-Conchords-worthy stand up keeps the momentum flowing, as does a particular touching rendition of 'After Hours' that gets the couple standing behind us snogging like the world could end at any moment. A fitting end to a glorious day, we're already looking forward to seeing what Live At Leeds comes up with in it's next decade. 

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  1. Looks really good! Tramlines is in a few weeks in Sheffield! More expensive than Live at Leeds though and not even as good a line up....

  2. That said, Mystery Jets are playing at tramlines festival too

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  4. I love the Alchemist! I've been a few times and the only downside being that it gets so busy and it's such a small space. what to do in Leeds