Festival Review: Live at Leeds 2018 | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Festival Review: Live at Leeds 2018

Josh Parker heads north to check out the best in metropolitan music festivals, this year boasting indie darlings The Vaccines and Pale Waves as well as a host of fresh talent

On May 5th, the city of Leeds once again played host to one of the country’s leading metropolitan music festivals, Live at Leeds. This was the festival’s eleventh successive year and brought a hoard of indie fans to the city centre in the hopes of seeing big names such as The Vaccines and Circa Waves, as well as a vast collection of emerging talent. One of the great things about having such a wide and varied metropolitan festival is the fact that everyone has their own personal experience, with it very unlikely that many would share the exact same schedule of bands. Whilst this is brilliant in one respect, it does however pose a challenge when attempting to write a general review of what is such an individual experience. Therefore, this review will have a ‘day in the life’ feel to it, in order to properly communicate the experience of Live at Leeds and hopefully do it justice in showing what a fantastically unique festival it truly is.

First up for me at midday were local indie-pop newcomers Heir, who kicked off proceedings with an electric half-hour set at the surprisingly busy Leeds Beckett Union second stage. Singles ‘Need You the Most’ and ‘I’ll Pick You Up’ went down a treat with the crowd, although it was arguably in their unreleased songs that they found their strength, displaying a refreshing flexibility in their sound. In-between songs, frontman Tom Hammond told the crowd how excited he was to not only be playing the festival, but also to spend the rest of the day ‘getting pissed and seeing some top bands’ – I’m not sure I could have put it better myself.

Heeding Hammond’s advice, from there I went to the Leeds Festival Stage at the O2 Academy to catch Brummie indie heroes Peace’s set, via a failed attempt to see KAWALA in an overcrowded Nation of Shopkeepers. Fresh from the release of their third album Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll the previous day, the band were on top form, opening with lead single ‘Power’ to the evident delight of the crowd. From here, Peace went from strength to strength, playing an array of their biggest hits such as ‘Wraith’ and ‘1998 (Delicious)’, but it was perhaps in their more tender moments such as ‘California Daze’ or ‘From Under Liquid Glass’ that they were at their finest. A bizarre, drum machine-featuring rendition of ‘Perfect Skin’ aside, which did not quite work as much as the crowd and the band seemingly willed it to, the set was a display of a band full of confidence and a was a perfect warm up for their upcoming album tour.

After that, it was back to the Leeds Beckett Union where I saw one of the surprise highlights of my day, FLING, whose performance was musical and theatrical in equal measure. Lead singer Charles McSorley strutted around the stage looking somewhere between a mime artist and circus ring leader, with a top hat and cane arguably the subtlest aspect of his outfit. Their songs were equally as bizarre, a brilliant mish-mash of pop, psychedelia, and glam rock. They opened with latest single ‘Banjo Billy’, a song which is lyrically closer to a nursery rhyme than a pop song, yet with an infuriatingly catchy chorus. From there they performed a handful of their singles each more eccentrically than the last, before ending the set on a high with the synth-tinged ‘That’s Nice’ and ‘Annie’. I imagine FLING to be quite a love-or-hate band, especially seeing as the first time I saw them play a support slot I was firmly of the latter opinion, but today they were exceptional.

A lengthy line had formed outside the venue for Brighton’s The Magic Gang, a band that have enjoyed a lot of support in Leeds during their relatively short existence

Back once again to the O2 Academy, a lengthy line had formed outside the venue for Brighton’s The Magic Gang, a band that have enjoyed a lot of support in Leeds during their relatively short existence. Showing some signs of road-weariness, with vocalists Jack Kaye and Kristian Smith both complaining of sore throats, they still played a solid (if slightly short) set. Having released their self-titled debut album earlier this year, the band drew heavily from this, setting the pace with driving opener ‘Oh, Saki’ before treating the crowd to a number of singles, such as ‘All This Way’ and ‘Getting Along’. They were at their best, however, playing songs from their debut EP, with crowd-favourite ‘Jasmine’ and set-closer ‘All That I Want is You’ both enjoying a great reception. Though not completely on top form, the band still showcased their great potential in a venue the size of which they will likely be playing again sooner rather than later.

Finally, it was the turn of this year’s headliners, The Vaccines, who took to the stage to great applause before rattling off hits ‘Nightclub’, ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’ and ‘Teenage Icon’, barely giving themselves or the audience chance to breathe. Newly recruited drummer, Yoann Intonti (also of Spector), seems to be a new driving force behind the band which is evident not only in these particularly intense moments here, but on their brilliant latest album Combat Sports as a whole. The band played a set that spanned their entire career, though with a heavy focus upon their debut and newest album, seemingly without putting a foot wrong. Old favourites ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘Nørgaard’ got the best reception of the day, although an honourable mention goes out to ‘Surfing in the Sky’ which was sublime. Unfortunately, due to the festival’s hectic scheduling, I had to leave towards the end of their set in order to catch the last two bands of the day, making my exit after a rousing rendition of ‘A Lack of Understanding’.

A quick taxi ride took me to the Brudenell Social Club, the most remote of the festival’s venues being situated in Hyde Park, but it was well worth the journey. As in typical Live at Leeds fashion, it was one of the smaller bands that ended up being my highlight of the day and this year it was the turn of Anteros. Their genre is perhaps best described as Blondie-esque indie-pop, yet the band draw from a wide musical background to produce their unique sound. Singles ‘Love’ and ‘Cherry Drop’ see vocalist Laura Hayden at her scintillating best, and, despite being a relatively new face on the indie scene, she is firmly at home in a venue of this size. She introduces recent single ‘Bonnie’ with a short speech explaining that she wrote the song in celebration of women, before inviting female members of the audience on stage with the band for the song’s performance. They finished the set with the self-titled ‘Anteros’, a truly euphoric piece of music with an irresistible climax, that saw Hayden make an early exit, leaving her bandmates to soak up the evident adoration that this small Leeds crowd had for them.

Closing Live at Leeds 2018 were Pale Waves, the musical protégés of The 1975 and arguably the most hotly-tipped band to appear at the festival this year. They treated the audience to the entirety of their discography so far, with a handful of unreleased songs sprinkled in for good measure. The sickly-sweet ‘Television Romance’ kicked off their set, before the band delved into material from their recent EP, All the Things I Never Said. Throughout the performance, lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie looked as though she was being controlled by some invisible puppeteer due to her peculiar on-stage movement; possibly paying homage to the video to latest single ‘Heavenly’ where she was more literally on strings. Unreleased songs ‘18’ and ‘Kiss’ were also very promising, the former based heavily on driving synths, although the latter’s guitar riff sounded suspiciously similar to that of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’. They closed their performance, and the festival, with debut single ‘There’s a Honey’ which first drew me and many others in the room to the band, providing perhaps the best singalong moment of their set. With their debut album out later this year, it is pretty obvious that Pale Waves won’t be playing to venues of the Brudenell’s size for much longer, given their seemingly limitless upward trajectory, so I’m very glad I managed to catch such an intimate performance.

That’s one of the brilliant things about Live at Leeds as opposed to other festivals, the sense of togetherness between fans and artists alike

Leaving the Brudenell Social Club was like walking through an indie hall of fame, spotting The Magic Gang, Blaenavon (who I unfortunately missed seeing today because of schedule clashes) and even Two Door Cinema Club lead singer Alex Trimble mingling with festival-goers as I exited the venue and its surroundings. That’s one of the brilliant things about Live at Leeds as opposed to other festivals, the sense of togetherness between fans and artists alike to share in ‘getting pissed and seeing some top bands’. And top bands they truly were this year, with Anteros, The Vaccines and FLING stealing the show for me. This year was my fourth time at the festival and, upon arriving back in Birmingham, I have already bought my ticket for next year, because ultimately if you are a fan of indie music, there is no better place in the world to be than in Leeds on the May Bank Holiday weekend.

Early Bird tickets for Live at Leeds 2019 are on sale now.

2nd year BA History student at Birmingham. (@joshparker38)


16th May 2018 at 9:00 am

Images from

Sarah Louise Bennett / Dork