Live at Leeds 2018: The Review

Words by Joe Emmett, Holly Marsden & Elli Brazzill. Check out the photo gallery here.

Expectation and hype are always a double-edged sword – just look at Live at Leeds. Over the past ten years or so the metropolitan festival, which  groups up the city’s numerous fantastic music venues and fills them with some of the best acts around, has cemented its reputation as ‘must-attend’ on the festival calendar. Hosting sets in previous years from The Joy Formidable, Los Campesinos!, Wild Beasts, The Twilight Sad and The Hold Steady the festival books acts that linger long in the memory for those lucky enough to catch them. So, naturally, Live at Leeds 2018 carries a weight of expectation and, on first glance, the lineup was studded with acts that could deliver way more than previous festivals.

The Too Many Blogs stage at Nation of Shopkeepers got off to a flying start as Yorkshire boys GRDNS immediately pack out the venue at 12pm and bring their psychedelic indie to a flurry of excited and fresh-faced punters. Delicious delay and mystical cymbals create a thrilling atmosphere for hit single ‘Juniper’, leaving many walking away from their set listening to Tame Impala on the stereo, hoping they might be next to fill their spot.

Londoners KAWALA are next up bringing the venue to capacity and after their set it was clear to see why. Tight, upbeat and passionate indie pop, the band show a variety of influences and bring this genre up a level in comparison to their contemporaries. ‘Do It Like You Do’ is the stand out single: acoustic and electric come together with Jim and Daniel’s vocals melding together perfectly, creating an optimistic and happy-go-lucky sound you just have to bop along too. They’ll be killing the festivals next summer, for sure. Hanging at TMB HQ means we miss FEHM at Brudenell Social Club – be sure to go and check out the Leeds post-punkers though because they’re really, really great.

Mishaps aside, and stepping out of blazing sunshine into Leeds Beckett Union’s Stage 2, Canadian duo Partner (below) bring tunes about being stoned in the supermarket and finding a sex thing in your roommate’s drawers while looking for drugs, all set against the backdrop of Weezer-esque power chords and riffs. It was a set that immediately brought a smile to the faces of people watching despite any earlier technical troubles. Fun personified, it really was a pleasure to catch Partner on the first date of their UK tour and in the party setting of Live at Leeds.

A quick hop, skip and jump back into the centre of Leeds was next to see the much-hyped Haley Heynderickx, whose advocates include LP Records and Goldflakepaint, at Holy Trinity Church. Certain venues and artists instantly seem to click and this was the case for the Oregon native’s turn. Set against the backdrop of the church’s huge stained glass windows, the solo performer’s reverb-soaked, intricate, almost Lomelda-esque music took on a majestic quality as its fragile strength filled every corner of the ambitious building. Live at Leeds has always had a knack for creating memories, and Haley Heynderickx at Holy Trinity Church in 2018 is sure to join an already impressive canon.

One of the highlights of any Live at Leeds is unearthing a diamond in the rough and finding something that leaves you slackjaw in excitement. This year, that band was Sons of Rapheal back on our very own stage at Nation of Shopkeepers. A guitar-wielding two-piece backed with what seemed to be a reel-to-reel tape player playing drum loops, the band’s set was reminiscent of New York Dolls in its affinity with fuzzy power-pop guitar and its ‘what-the-fuck-am-I-witnessing-this-is-the-best’ vibe.

Despite being (I’m pretty sure) the only rapper on the entire line up, South London’s Benny Mails made sure to make his trip up north worth the journey. While most people sit at the back sipping their pints in Brudenell Social Club’s new Community Room, a small crowd gather at the front to be up close and in awe of his flows. Mails maintains his energy and flawless lyrical prowess through ‘Aware’, ‘Mantra’ and new single ‘Buried Alive’ despite the more relaxed vibe in the room compared to a usual Benny show. “I was only going to play this if there was at least 50 people in the room, but let’s do it anyway,” he jokes. Cheers pour out and we all gather forward for hard-hitter ‘I Blocked My Dealer’. If he continues performing to this standard, Mails will surely make the step-up from underrated to rated in no time.

After catching a smidgen of Spring King as they pack out Leeds Beckett Union with their impressively visceral take on garage rock, Leeds four-piece Pulled Apart By Horses were next up. Initially famed for frenetic and frenzied live shows and now four albums in, the band’s energy and intensity hasn’t relented. Ploughing through old favourites like ‘VENOM’, ‘Back To The Fuck Yeah’ and ‘Meat Balloon’ it felt like the band, as much as I hate to say it, had matured in their finely tuned raucousness. Coupled with the slightly psych-infused feel to the band’s new material, PABH’s set showed a band aware of their own power and in complete control over it. Later on in the day, Blaenavon (below) took to the Stylus to play their first gig in almost five months. It was clear to see that the band’s absence hadn’t weakened their popularity with their fans. The crowd refused to stand still even for the slower songs, including new tune ‘Catatonic Skinbag’ and classic favourites such as ‘Orthodox Man’ and ‘I Will Be The World’.

It’s always a shame when a set is beleaguered by technical issues and that was unfortunately the case for British Sea Power’s headline slot at Leeds Beckett. However not even an occasional blast of feedback could take away from the quality of the band’s set. Seemingly opting for their more atmospheric, post-rock tracks, it was a set that felt like a near-perfect antidote to a hectic, sun-blistered day. With this in mind, it’s a testament to the long-serving indie stalwarts that this star-gazing was punctuated by the still enthralling blast of ‘Lights Our For Darker Skies’ and ‘It Ended On An Oily Stage’, dragged down by feedback but still packing a characteristic amount of feeling.

Expectation and hype are always a double-edged sword, but, when lived up to, they breed consistency and that is the case with Live At Leeds. This year’s iteration once again provided a day of varied and stunning sets that only a select few festivals could pull off. See you all there same time next year, yeah?

Photos: Alyx Ashton (Partner), Holly Marsden (Blaenavon)