Live at Constellations Festival 2010 on Saturday, 13th November 2010
The inaugural Constellations festival here in Leeds kicked off early with a pre-party at the Brudenell Social Club featuring a stonking line-up of bands and sounds. Getting the ball rolling with their usual raucous style, Leeds' own Eagulls slammed through their 30 minute set without a care in the world. For one lady in front of me, it became too much and she left accordingly. They were chaotic and loud but put simply, I thought they were ace. Tails of substance abuse filled the brief pauses between songs which, as if it were planned, leads nicely into the second band of the night, D/R/U/G/S.
Two blokes armed with electronic sound-making tools and a fine appreciation of how to make a crowd dance was certainly something I wasn't expecting to follow on from Eagulls' guitar-based onslaught, however the contrast worked well and D/R/U/G/S were very impressive. It was a refreshing change to see a more electronic/dance focused act grace the Brudenell stage and manage to play a set rivalling some of the more established acts around these parts. There were subtle throwback influences of spacey house music found in the 90's which gave rise to half an hour of groovy and bass-thumping dance action.
In yet another contrast, Abe Vigoda, who needed a place to stay for the night and were later seen dancing away to Madonna in Nation of Shopkeepers during the early hours of Sunday morning, brought their once self-described-tropical-punk-now-synth-laden-pop to the stage. Their most recent album entitled, "Crush" saw the band take this new direction and whilst admittedly I feel that they weren't as good as the last time I saw them in Leeds, it's very hard to fault them at all. Perhaps I wasn't expecting their, "new sound" to dominate the performance so much but overall it was enjoyable.
BEAK> and their thought provoking music came to the stage at about 10.30pm, positioned in front of a rather eerie backdrop featuring the cover artwork from their single, "Wulfstan". Geoff Barrow of Portishead fame took to the drums and vocals and the band produced a set which was solid and sounded brilliant. The drums themselves came across perfectly clear and crisp which provided a firm underlay for the additional instruments to overlap. Overall - a strong performance by a clearly credible band.
Saturday saw the action take place within the depths of the Leeds University Student Union building; specifically in Mine, Stylus and the Refectory.
My first point of call was to the Refectory to catch Whiskas' more recent musical creation, Honour Before Glory, featuring a live band of many recognisable faces. Honour Before Glory as a band is still arguably in its infancy, yet it came as no surprise that with every song came moments which stood out. Opening a stage, and by default playing to a smaller than average crowd, is never an easy task, but Honour Before Glory nailed it, with, "Broken Bottles, Empty Hearts" standing prominent as a perfect atmosphere-creating pop track.
For I Like Trains who followed on the same stage, new songs such as, "A Father's Son" taken from the recent album, "He Who Saw the Deep" (released in October) moulded smoothly into their set prompting an impressive round of applause from the now very full Refectory floor. It's a shame I Like Trains only had a short set as I could have stayed for much longer, enjoying the moody yet uplifting songs this Leeds based quartet can produce. There were a few sound issues towards the end of the set but that didn't cause any major problems, and as a result, I Like Trains once again proved why they have earned their cult status amongst the masses.
I caught Wingman next and their super-rad 3-piece pop in the smaller venue - Mine. As always, they delivered their set in a true to form, solid way. Personally, I really like what they're doing at the moment and Harry Johns vocals coupled with his hardly drab sense of showmanship is the perfect recipe for an awesome set. They failed to let up and over the course of their allotted time, song after song echoed through the room, showcasing Wingman's ability to create an abundance of, dare I say it, hits. Songs referencing drinking and the Nintendo 64 are themes which are easily accessible to many and as a formula for good pop song writing, Wingman seem to have hit the proverbial nail on the head.
Liars were a perfect addition to Constellations festival and packed out the Stylus venue to the brim. I had trouble getting down the stairs to the middle of the room but I eventually made it through, only to be blinded by the frequent use of the strobe light. In short, Liars played a bloody good set making an hour fly by. The sound in Stylus seemed to be making Angus Andrews' weird vocal effects sound even weirder, with the lower end of the scale becoming a very deep and low resonating bass hum which fired from the PA and into the baying audience. Highlights from the set are hard to choose but their cover of Bauhaus', "In the Flat Field" and their very own, "Plaster Casts of Everything" are two moments which have stuck in my mind.
On the same stage a short while later, the notoriously crazy Les Savy Fav brought their brand of in-your-face rock and roll to Leeds. Earlier in the evening I saw front man Tim Harrington walking around the winding corridors of Leeds University with a suitcase in tow looking pretty lost. On stage however, he turns into a machine. Opening their set in a graduation gown and mortar board, Harrington led his fellow members of Les Savy Fav through a set featuring a wealth from their substantial back catalogue. It wasn't long before the graduation attire was off and a silver space-age suit was on. Those with instruments in the band were firmly fixed to the stage but for front man Harrington, the Stylus venue was his own personal playground and we were all very much invited along for the ride. No one was safe, and no area of the room was off limits for the eventually near-naked human cannonball Tim Harrington. The crowd loved it but the tech guys must have hated it. During one poignant moment, the microphone lead was thrown over the lightning rig and was in turn used as a swing over the heads of the audience, ultimately rendering the microphone useless, stretched and broken. I was laughing all the way through and was impressed none the less with the band. May the memory of Tim Harrington crowd surfing from the sound desk at the back of the room to the front of the stage to the song, "What Wolves Would Do" remain firmly imprinted on everyone's mind.
An expensive beer later and it was time for me to catch Brew Record's Chickenhawk - a band who have made a solid name for themselves in and around Leeds recently. Speaking to Paul Astick (vocals) later in the night, he explained how everyone was feeling knackered after touring with Alexisonfire but from what I could tell, that hardly came across on stage. Chickenhawk did what they do best and whilst the smaller Mine venue was ideal for them, I can't help but wonder how long it will be until they make the jump to a bigger stage. The set consisted of tunes from the recent record, "Modern Bodies" such as, "I Hate This, Do You Like It?" with its now infamous zombie-apocalypse-in-Hyde-Park video and, "Scorpieau" which is ever growing on me. Top marks for a regrettably short set.
I watched Four Tet from the balcony and as I looked down early on in the set, there were a lot of confused faces from the audience. In a live setting, I find it difficult to connect with Four Tet. At Leeds Festival this year he was on unfortunately during the daytime and at Constellations, perhaps it was due to the nature of bands I had seen earlier on in the day, but again, I felt that something was missing. Four Tet is however an amazing artist and it was great to see him play to a live audience again, but for me I was slightly disappointed with what I ended up catching.
Broken Social Scene however were pulling every trick in the book to make their headline performance at Constellations worth every penny of the entry ticket cost. I joined them as a certain surprise guest, Johnny Marr, joined them onstage for, "Cause = Time", causing the crowd in the Refectory to gasp and tweet the news accordingly. Broken Social Scene produced a truly inspiring set (although Kevin Drew's head attire was less than inspiring to say the least) and easily drew the largest crowd of the day. In the closing moments, Drew urged the audience to release every last wave of energy from their body for the final time of the day during, "Meet Me In The Basement" and the crowd more than happily obliged, giving Broken Social Scene the send-off they rightly deserved.
There was so much going on at Constellations, it was a shame I couldn't see any more. Amongst the stages, there was Poster Roast - a display of poster artwork from some of the best (including Drew Millward whose fascinating poster work you can often find adorning the walls of the Brudenell Social Club, amongst other places) and in Mine, an installation by RCA Deutsche Bank Prize winner Chris Paul Daniels provided seizure-inducing images through the day on a number of televisions. In addition, there was clearly something for everyone with all three stages busy for the best part of the day and with the Leeds scene thoroughly represented throughout the event, I can only hope (and I'm sure that I'm not alone in thinking this) that Constellations will make a welcome return next year.
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