Live at Live At Leeds 2013 on Saturday, 4th May 2013
Live at Leeds as ever presented a multitude of possible routes but part of me wishes I'd followed my instincts and simply flitted between the two rooms in The Cockpit. Instead we opted for a less sedentary path and took in four of the city's best venues - squeezing in dinner in one of them - and were rewarded with an eclectic musical mix for our efforts. Lazy as the idea of taking root in The Cockpit sounds - and no doubt with less in the way of gastronomic delights - it would at least have ensured I got to see the band I was most excited about, Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Alas, it wasn't to be. As stage time approached and after considerable time spent in a painfully slow-moving queue we took the difficult decision to call it a night and head home after an otherwise brilliant day.
First up was Charlie Straw in Cockpit 3. I'm a sucker for one-man-and-his-guitar stuff but there's a very fine line between artists that simply do it and those that do it well. Charlie is firmly both feet in the latter camp and despite struggling with a sore throat (the man had honey and lemon mixed in a flask - who said rock 'n roll was dead?) he delivered a very solid set. Moving seamlessly between the folksy side of indie, blues 'n roots Americana and finishing with a fine Black Keys cover, Charlie held the attention of a near-full room throughout, inspiring some good ole foot-stomping along the way. I set out to see musicians I'd never heard of before this weekend and after hearing how good Charlie is when supported by Lemsip (normally a flautist but she's gone a travellin') I'll be looking to catch him again later in the yee-ha!
We wandered up to The O2 Academy to meet our friend - serial Pigeon Detectives gig attendee Lou - and were met with a fast-moving queue. In little over five minutes we were inside and in the thick of it, elbow room at a premium and doing our best to face the right way, adopting stances we thought would mean we enjoyed more of our drinks than was spilt on the floor. Gigs aside I don't go out in town that often but I do drink in nice boozers all over the place and I'm sorry but little change from £11 for a bottle of water and two pints of lager (Tuborg!?!) is excessive.
My curmudgeonly anti-corporate grumbles aside, I wasn't sure what to expect from The Pigeon Detectives. I've always been aware of them and know fans rave about their gigs but musically they're not really my bag. So to say I was pleasantly surprised would be a lie: they were really rather excellent and gave Live at Leeds a lively, local wake-up call. The place was rammed with excited fans and the crowd was bouncing as one from start to finish. I only know a couple of songs but was already grinning ear to ear even before they played them. As entertainer / egotist / great rock-vocalists go, Matt Bowman definitely puts a bold tick in all three boxes. As entertaining as the music was, his repeated tossing of microphone high into the air, jumping off kick-drum into the same pose and mouth-to-crowd sharing of bottled water left me wishing a moment of Schadenfreude on him for embodying just about every front-man cliché there is. That said, I'm not a fan but plenty of people in there were and they were going nuts for them no matter what he did so what do I know?
We left that place and arrived at The Wardrobe just in time to hear a lot of buzz about the act we'd just missed - Jacob Banks. To fill the time before the next band I got out my "where do we head next if we're here at this time" version of the LAL schedule. (Basically a schedule like any other but customised with a confused series of inter-connected circles, lines, bolder circles, dotted lines and lines with arrows). It turned out we had time for a couple of bands and then a bite to eat before we walked up to Holy Trinity Church and so with that we grabbed a table.
First up were The Glass Caves who were mightily impressive. After a couple of songs I was loving their varied sound and finding it hard to pin down their influences to anything specific. There were points where I was thinking of Alberta Cross, then Pearl Earring, then dashes of something more theatrical, Muse perhaps. I wouldn't like to say they look or sound like anyone other than themselves though - these guys have benefited from support slots with the likes of Dry The River and Metronomy and are clearly passionate about making the best sound they can and it's clearly one from the heart. The only downside to their sound - and this is purely subjective - is some of the synths. I don't really like synths. I do like plenty of piano, keys and rhodes but generally their synths didn't do it for me. Not enough to turn me off the songs - I just prefer guitars.
Hunting Bears were our pre-dinner serving of folky loveliness. Their set was perfectly filled with beautifully layered melodies and some damn fine playing. The place started to fill up throughout their set though and sitting quite far back as we were it was getting harder to appreciate their sound as the general hubbub picked up towards the end. There was another kind of background rumbling on our table too which we took as our cue to go upstairs and order some food as soon as they finished. I know, eating's cheating, but I'm not getting any younger and by this point we were starting to flag and only food could keep us going. I don't do food reviews - not on here at least - but it was rather ace grub and better still we got 20% discount all because of our wristbands! We didn't know that when we ordered so it was a nice surprise when the bill arrived.
With fully loaded tums, off we waddled to Holy Trinity Church. I was worried we'd miss the start of Dancing Years or face a long queue to get inside. Luckily for us there was no queue, plenty of space inside and King Krule (I think that's right) had overrun. One quick trip to the bar later and there we were, watching David Henshaw and pals sound-checking and tuning-up ahead of a typically stunning and emotive performance. I've seen these guys several times over the last couple of years and they get better every time. The sound balance let them down a bit on this occasion, no doubt the limited time they had to prepare didn't help, but it didn't detract from the quality of their music nor how fitting a venue Holy Trinity - and the crowd the place seems to attract - is for them.
We left in high spirits and crossed Boar Lane to make our way to The Cockpit but we didn't get as near as we hoped before meeting the tail-end of a very long line of excited folk. A lot of the talk in the queue was about Unknown Mortal Orchestra which made me happy but my heart started to sink as time ticked on and I realised how paltry a distance we'd moved in almost an hour. Being old and slightly grumpy anyway, the cold was starting to further dampen my spirits and the penny of acceptance that we were now very unlikely to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra finally dropped. We were in two minds to go back to church - not something I say every day - and wait for The Staves but then the idea of one last drink (Brewery Tap - lovely!) and getting home at a respectable time got the better of us and so off we went. Disappointed, yes, but still happy that we'd got around and seen some quality stuff and had a tip-top day regardless. My "Cockpit for the day" plan will just have to wait until next year.
Folky six piece from Leeds