Live at Constellations Festival 2010 on Saturday, 13th November 2010
With the nation's students encroaching in to areas that have been the reserve of rock and roll stars since time immemorial (heaving objects from high-rise building, inciting public disturbances, sticking it to the man), it seems only fit and proper that the professionals infiltrate a campus stronghold and show them just what organised disorder really looks like. This is the first ever Constellations; a new and unseasonal festival housed within the shelter of the University of Leeds' labyrinthine Student's Union building. The line-up is stellar indeed; some of the finest local talent is mixed with lashings of indie royalty from the UK and the US.
The last time I saw Liars they were supported by a fifteen-strong synchronised drumming squad and by the end of the gig a small number of Woodhouse Liberal Club regulars had wandered in to the back of the room to point and laugh. Although being subjected to continual derision seldom seems to benefit one's enjoyment of a cultural experience, it did at least help to fashion a sense of them-and-us sometimes lacking in today's climate of love, respect and acceptance.
My anxiety levels started to mount as I stood in the immediate vicinity of the stage right speakers and I watched as what seemed like every other member of the audience inserted their earplugs. As the band entered stage left, I looked around to see that Stylus was jam-packed and it's quickly apparent as Liars kick off that nowadays they put on a show. Concern fades to glee, glee to awe. This is the band that everyone talks about.
Singer Angus Andrew actually dances on stage. Alright so it's pretty awkward but that's hardly the point. There's a little less confrontation and a whole lot more enjoyment from all sides. Whisper it, but there are hints of a real presence in Andrew that suggest he may join fellow Australian icons like McLennan and Cave. Liars' progression from dance-punk also-rans through afro-beat and noise on to latest release Sisterworld is all touched upon during a set which history will record as an unadulterated triumph.
And so on to New York City's Les Savy Fav.
Les Savy Fav's reputation as a fearsome live act ensures that onlookers are stuffed in to Stylus's every nook and cranny. However what is probably less well recognised is how much the band developed musically between 2001's 'Go Forth' studio album and 2007's follow-up 'Let's Stay Friends'. In between, the visionary 2004 singles collection 'Inches' showed exactly how the gap was bridged.
Shy, retiring frontman Tim Harrington enters the stage in full graduation garb but, as experience has taught us to expect, Harrington's body quickly became insistent on bursting through not only his clothing but also the long forgotten fourth wall. As he sheds his gown and mortarboard and dives on to a sea of outstretched arms, for a moment I thought I saw a glimpse of weary resignation left behind on stage but maybe that was just my own projection.
Tonight, even after the release of latest album 'Root for Ruin', it's still the 'Let's Stay Friends' standout tracks like 'Patty Lee' that rock the building to its foundations. Harrington's shtick pinnacled when striding across the balcony high above the dancefloor then subjecting people that probably thought they were at "safe distance" to a variety of abuses. As will forever be the case, their show (read: Harrington) was frantic, unpredictable, joyous and memorable.
After an all-too-brief glimpse of Broken Social Scene's headline set in the Refectory (now with added Johnny Marr!), it's on to the altogether more personal surroundings of Mine for Brooklyn's girl/boy duo Sleigh Bells. They arrive freshly chastened from critical backlash of their recent support slot on M.I.A.'s troubled and soon-to-be abandoned UK tour.
On Sleigh Bells' debut record ('Treats'), singer Alison Krauss and guitarist/producer Derek Miller manage to locate the hitherto invisible overlap point between rock, hip-hop, pop and electro. However unlike MGMT for example, they resist the temptation to employ additional musicians on stage. Instead it is just Krauss with microphone, Miller on guitar, a backing track and enough Marshall amps to make both Aerosmith and Run DMC pack up and go home.
The stage is blacked out as they walk on, and remains so throughout aside from staccato bursts of strobe lighting and flashbulb exposures. They're at home in the darkness, their performance style being more suited to Mine's nightclub style atmosphere than say under the Academy's wide open space and harsh spotlights. They crash through album tracks back-to-back, including current single 'Infinity Guitars', as Krauss adeptly winds the crowd around her little finger.
They finish on 'Crown On The Ground'. As Miller hammers out the recurring riff, arms shoot up in to the air. Krauss sizzles and pops, leaning over the crowd, lapping up the attention and feeding off their energy. As the song dies out and they walk off via hugs and high fives, I spot Harrington funnelling out with the rest of the crowd. I don't expect that Sleigh Bells taught him anything he didn't know already but the satisfied grin etched on his face confirmed to me that this was one helluva day.