Review: Live at Leeds Festival 2019

At one time, Britain’s rising stars could only look to the likes of The Great Escape Festival and SXSW in America as showcases for new talent, but on Saturday 4th May, a new behemoth on the festival calendar announced itself with a stellar line-up across a multitude of stages and venues. Taking place across the first band holiday weekend of May, Live at Leeds 2019 proved to be an event fit for all music fans, highlighting the very best of new British talent alongside some staple favourites and future festival headliners.

Despite its early midday start, there was no doubt that punters were fully embracing the bank holiday weekend in full spirit as they flocked to Leeds’ iconic venue The Wardrobe and flooded the bars even before the opening 40-minute set from London-based rock band Vant had begun. Fronted by the enigmatic and now pink-haired Mattie Vant, the band thrashed through early hits Time & Money, Peace & Love and I Don’t Believe in God whilst offering a glimpse of their new direction with the slow-crawling Exoskeleton. Having an established band perform at such an early time was easy marketing for the festival as it drew crowds instantly, but such was the popularity of the set that the venue had reached capacity within twenty minutes. Ending with a mosh-pit-inducing performance of The Answer, the set was a quick glimpse into what the rest of the day would pan out to be.

As the weather started improving and we moved from one side of the city to the other, it was clear just from looking at the crowds littered around that a sense of anticipation was building for some sets in particular. Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard attracted a huge crowd early on for their set at Leeds Beckett SU, the Cardiff based outfit showing why they are one of the most talked about rising bands at the moment with a blistering set of classic rock and roll, with the added youthful exuberance that comes with a passion for performing.

As the remainder of the stages finally got under way, we had the opportunity to sit down with some of the stars on the bill. In the few hours that we spoke to Marsicans, Vant, Tom Grennan, Sea Girls, Lady Bird and Black Honey, a few noticeable points kept cropping up. Firstly, their admiration for a line-up of such quality and depth was apparent from the get-go, with all expressing desire and excitement for their sets on the day. Another takeaway point talking to both artists and organisers was the hype surrounding North Shields rising star Sam Fender, whose 6pm slot at the Leeds O2 Academy looked set to be a first-come first-served spectacle. With a handful of interviews done, all of which will be published in the coming days, and the chance to see a sneak-peek of Sea Girls’ new track Damage Done during their soundcheck, we descended into the heart of the city’s music scene, to the infamous O2 Academy.

Marsicans set the venue alight during their set, a real surprise given the more light-hearted nature of their sound. Expecting a blissful dose of indie-pop, the raucous crowds and enigmatic stage presence of the four sparked frenzied mosh pits and flailing limbs around the venue. As wry smiles crept along the three bouncing frontmen, it was impossible not to be swept up by the band’s more insurgent new material, tracks that will surely define them as one of the nation’s most treasured new indie bands in the coming months.

As Marsicans’ set died down and the crowds found time to take a breather, the sense of occasion swept around the venue as more and more excitable punters flocked to the venue in eager anticipation of seeing the newly-crowned prince of guitar rock. BBC Sound of 2018 winner Sam Fender has already amassed the support of media titans and grassroots music fans alike with his sweeping Springsteen-esque breed of socially-charged guitar rock, and his set at Live at Leeds showed to highlight a man stepping up to the mantle.

With nerves of steel, Fender and his band swept through Millennial, Will We Talk in the Morning? and All Is On My Side, before dazzling with unreleased single The Borders, a grandiose statement of intent for what to expect on his highly-anticipated debut record set for release in August. Dead Boys, his critical commentary on male suicide in North Shields, was met with rapturous applause, whilst Hypersonic Missiles sparked fervent life into the already dazzled crowd. It takes guts and talent to live up to expectations on nights like these and Fender did that with abundance to spare. Play God put the audience in the palm of his hand, whilst That Sound saw thousands of listeners screaming each and every word back to him. Ending with a barnstorming cover of Oasis’ Morning Glory, it sends a shiver down your spine when you think of the potential he has. It’s a bold statement to make, but the craftsmanship of the musician and the hold that he has on his audience makes Sam Fender a festival headliner-in-waiting.

As we tried to gather our emotions again for more music, we headed to Leeds University to see The Academic, the Irish outfit famous for legendary indie anthem Bear Claws. Playing to a loyal crowd of fans at the Refectory, the four piece offered a hearty dose of fun and ended on Bear Claws and Different, two singles of contrasting sounds but both equally as enjoyable. Over at the main stage, ominous psychedelic outfit Goat Girl gave a mesmerising display of fearless and idiosyncratic rock. Playing the best of their self-titled debut album, the Brixton all-female four-piece delighted with the slow-crawling Viper Fish whilst The Man’s woozy, psychedelic drawl captivated a growing crowd from start to finish. Weird, wonky yet utterly irresistible, Goat Girl have always been an enchanting prospect and their set managed to build on their debut record in epic fashion.

Back over in the Refectory, Brighton indie rock staples Black Honey delivered a beguiling set of back-to-back hits. Sweeping through tracks from the debut album, as well as some deeper cuts and new material, frontwoman Izzy B was as captivating as ever. Her no-nonsense approach to performing alongside her effortless style has made her an unlikely poster girl in a world desperate for female role models. Strutting across the stage for tracks I Only Hurt the Ones I Love, All My Pride, Corrine and the Royal Blood co-produced single Into the Nightmare, Izzy B was fearless in calling for female representation at the front of the gig. Watching the floods of female fans flock to the stage gleefully watching a master at work, it was impossible not to be impressed by the band’s set. From start to end, the likes of Spinning Wheel, Hello Today and Midnight were met with mosh pits and general enthusiasm, whilst early cut Teenager was a nice inclusion for early fans, before the set came to its finale with Somebody Better. A reliable source of entertainment, Black Honey reminded the crowd of how to put on a great performance, whilst providing the hits from beginning to end.

As the crowds built up in the venue for the headliner of the night, it was hard not to reflect on just what else was happening across the city. Whilst we were waiting in one packed room, there were thousands of music fans queuing to see other headliners of great status and that caliber of up-and-coming stars is what makes a festival like Live at Leeds just so good. Fans know that whatever venue they end up going to, there will be a band or musician of great talent waiting for them. We chose to end our night with Bedford singer-songwriter Tom Grennan who delighted the masses with a collection of hits from his debut record Lighting Matches. Opening up with the acoustic Sweet Hallelujah, fans were treated to Grennan’s iconic blend of raw emotion and swaggering attitude from the start. Sweeping from Royal Highness to Praying, memories of Grennan’s talent and back catalogue come flooding back, hitting me immediately as he rattled through the likes of Make ‘em Like You, Barbed Wire and Lucky Ones. Whilst Sober was sung back with passion, Found What I’ve Been Looking For was the catalyst to spark life into the already grateful crowd, whilst All Goes Wrong and Something in the Water were further highlights. Visibly emotional at the thought of releasing new music, this was a statesmanlike performance from the singer-songwriter, showing the large crowd what they’d been missing and warming the hopes and expectations for the coming year.

Reflecting back on the event, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the diverse array of talent on offer. Such was the quality of the bill that you really had to plan who you were going to see, or the day would pass in a moment. It was very much a case of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ with many of the artists. Both Marsicans and Sports Team offered secret sets in the city, whilst the likes of Sundara Karma, Metronomy, Kate Tempest, Swim Deep, The Sherlocks, Drenge, Dream Wife, Mini Mansions and Lauran Aquilina all had hugely anticipated slots. Such was the talent on offer that it gave me a headache reading down the list of who was playing whilst Sam Fender was giving his masterful set. Rising stars beabadoobee, Lauran Hibberd, Redfaces, Malena Zavala, whenyoung, Cassia and Chappaqua Wrestling were all on between 6pm and 7pm.

If that wasn’t enough of a heartache missing those sets, the likes of Ed The Dog, altopalo, Orla Garland, Millie Turner, Indoor Pets, Another Sky, Swimming Girls, Inhaler, Fuzzy Sun, Everyone You Know, Team Picture, Gengahr, Confidence Man, APRE, Larkins, The Snuts, BLOXX, No Hot Ashes, SPINN, The Hubbards and Sports Team all had hotly anticipated sets which filled many of the venues from the get-go.

A frantic day filled to the brim with exciting new talent, Live at Leeds 2019 exceeded all possible expectations, and we can only hope for the same again next year.

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