Carling Festival Weekend (Leeds Festival) - Full Review

THURSDAY - 23.8.07

Grammatics have the arty rock of Franz Ferdinand, the neo classical pretentiousness of Arcade Fire and the electro vibe of Sparks. The lead singer takes his inspiration from Marc Almond and My Life Story's Jake Shillingford with his theatrical nuances. Although their experimental sound is to be applauded, it does mean their avant garde stylings fail to produce truly memorable songs. Grammatics aren't particularly concerned with melody either, although the ballad "New Franchise" is a step into the right direction. For the first band of the festival, they've attracted a large crowd, their biggest to date in fact.

Much more crowd pleasing and reassuringly traditional are The Wallbirds, a band stripped down to the bare bones. A raw angry rock'n'roll template with a not to the punk spirit of the Pogues, this semi-acoustic outfit have the bluesy significance of The White Stripes and on occasion recall the rootsy, rock fuelled folk of the Waterboys. Their no frills delivery can come across as over eager buskers at times, but its hard to deny their passion and determination. "Valentine", the new single may mirror the Americana scene but its northern no nonsense sentiment puts it in a class of its own. So if you want to get drunk, dance like a loon and let yourself go then the Wallbirds provide the perfect soundtrack.

FRIDAY - 24.8.07

The enviously talented Late Of The Pier have influences coming out of every pore. Designer Magazine can hear this young band have being inspired by the nu-rave scene, The Automatic, Muse, Gary Numan, calvin Harris and even prog rock. Yet it all manages to sound fresh and vibrant. Andrew Faley plays slap bass like a true funkateer and even slip in a touch of disco and 70s rock riffs to startling effect. The instrumentals sound futuristically cinematic and the camaraderie between this musicians is natural and sweet. Never once taking themselves too seriously, Late of the Pier treat us to their new single "Bathroom Gurgle" which fanciful frontman Sam Eastgate comes into his own, an indie Prince in waiting.

Hadouken are a much more bombastic, confrontational and laddish than you'd imagine in the live environment. The ferocious rapping of James Smith hits you like a snipers bullet. "Superstar" is grindie gold, welding the beats of The Prodigy to the metal of Rage Against The Machine. There's even a bit of old school rave of The Shamen on their single "That Boy That Girl". The tent is alive with bodies wrestling for space, the adventurous few battling the security guards trying to invade the stage. The grime of "Declaration of War" is more of a mission statement than song but the point and clarity of the lyrics is made crystal clear..

Amanda Wilkinson is the leader of Operator Please, a brazenly confident woman who has a similar bluesy holler to Gossip's Beth Ditto. If you like a mix of rustic rockabilly, folk, blues and rock then these five characters who only formed in early 2005 will surely not disappoint. In fact Operator Please have something for everyone from admirers of contemporary country, to jazz tinged ballads, but before you think they're an act more suitable for the Womad Festival they unleash a song so ridiculously catchy with more hooks than a fisherman's warehouse that everyone is elated to witness their performance of "Its A Song About Ping Pong" which is one of the contenders for single of the year.

Designer Magazine wait patiently for a good 10 minutes for Maps to come on. Our perseverance is rewarded by an epic sweeping soundscape from a five piece led by James Chapman, While the vocals are very low in the mix it feels right in the context of the mellow, atmospheric, synth driven ambience. Maps are the kind of band you can just stand still and watch as it's hard not to be enthralled and bewildered. With three EPs to their name and an album on the way, a little less than thirty minutes is all the time the band have. Maps may be a little too willing to lapse into prog rock but like a much more humble Spiritualised, their vision and performance is one to totally lose yourself in.

For someone so young to be playing safe middle aged music for bland AOR fans is surprising considering Charlotte Hatherley was such a vital ingredient when she first joined Ash. The crowd are motionless, her ballads are weary and her excursions into country rock veer far too close to Sheryl Crow. Charlotte's backing band look twice her age and lack energy and spark. surprisingly the last two songs breathe new life into the set with the first a witty riposte to a spurned lover, a pop packed gem with a magnificent guitar solo. Closing with former singer "Siberia" Hatherleys choice of song although great mirrors the frosty reception from the crowd.

Who'd have thought that a skinny pasty looking ginger bloke called Frank would be the saviour of metal? Certainly not Designer Magazine but as the driving force of watfords Gallows his dedication, drive and magnetic stage presence is testament to the bands success. The crowd adore him as the tattooed frontman has at least 75% of the audience singing back at him. The mosh pit is like a scene out of Saving Private Ryan except there are no fatalities despite bodies been thrown around like Rag Dolls. Frank Carter violently simulates masturbating, smashes his mic stand and during "Nervous Breakdown" he jumps from the amps into the crowd to a deafening roar from the clearly elated fans.

Turbonegro appear to have raided the dress up box from a serial killers basement. The frontman's wearing scary clown make up with clothes emblazoned with the American flag despite the band are all from Norway. Other members resemble a sailor, one had a British colonial hat while more controversially a musician is quite clearly wearing a World war 2 Nazi cap. Welcome to the unhinged world of Turbonegro. Easily the most entertaining band on the lock up stage today their frontman is a colourful character to say the least with a magnificent beer gut proudly on display. They have a sound reminiscent of 80s Alice Cooper and well realized sense of humour far removed from the pantomime dame better known as Marilyn Manson. "All My Friends Are Dead" is heavy but packed full of melody while "Everybody Sell Your Body" is one of the most uplifting songs about prostitution ever. Its a shame these guys aren't headlining tonight as they're a damn site better then the underwhelming New Found Glory.

SATURDAY - 25.8.07

Despite being a band whose average age is probably around fourteen, Bombay Bicycle Club have a distinct 80s flavour to their twee indie sound. Jack Steadman sounds a little bit like Lloyd Cole while the gentle guitars recall the more mellower moments of The Wedding Present. Being the first band on when most festival punters will no doubt be nursing the most lethal hangovers, known to man as 11.30am, does not faze Bombay Bicycle Club one iota. The tent may not exactly be bursting at the seams but its an encouraging turn out. No doubt their debut EP "The Boy I Used To Be" released last year has something to do about the buzz this band has generated.

Endless chants of Yorkshire are heard throughout Little Man Tate's set. These stalwarts open as always with the marvellous "Man I Hate Your Band" with Jon Windle's hand gestures always a pleasure. Its the new songs that really generate interest though like broody ballad "Bay In The Anorak" and the celebratory "What Your Best Friend Did". Windle apologizes in advance if he forgets the words to the bands latest material but closes Little Man Tate's set with a live favourite "House Party At Boothys", an undeniably cheeky slice of indie guitar pop. Little Man Tate have come a long way in a short amount of time from last years Carling Stage to the main stage.

The Long Blondes foxy singer Kate Jackson is the undisputed Queen of indie cool glamour. Her husky vocals and star quality make this electro pop rock group something very special indeed. These literate musicians know their way around a catchy chorus with synths layered over the top and riffs that beg to be heard. With the same eye for detail as Pulp and an album "Someone To Drive You Home". The Long Blondes have no shortage of great tunes up their sleeves. "Once And Never Again" is enough to get even the most adamant curmudgeon up on their feet and joining in on the party atmosphere.

Ex Million Dead singer Frank Turner has successfully re-invented himself as a folk singer with his punk rock spirit never far behind. Singing about social issues without the worthy preaching, Turner has a few musicians with him on stage but is always the main focus. "Thatcher Fucked The Kids" has the most unlikely of sing a longs as he attacks his guitar. The bearded lanky singer gives a shout out to the now sadly departed My Code Name Is Milo and plugs his forthcoming tour and DVD release. "Fathers Day" off Franks album "Sleep Is For The Week" recalls a sad childhood full of trauma and torment while "Nashville Tennessee" explores humorously the cultural differences between American and Great Britain.

Alberta Cross are bands and not a woman as some people may think. Not many people have gathered to see these laid back, stoner rock, blues merchants who sound like 60s LA musicians jamming with Neil Young. Alberta Cross are not the most visual of bands compromising of scruffy lads with scraggy beards but there is joy to be found in the luscious harmonies and sun kissed Californian melodies. Tracks off their album "The Thief & The Heartbreaker" receive polite applause but little else. They're just happy and content enough to be playing live and hopefully converting some new fans in the process.

Get Cape Wear Cape Fly is the brainchild of one Sam Duckworth. This solo troubadour comes equipped with a full band compromising a small brass section. Whatever you call it, semi acoustic folk rock or jazzy folk, its excellent. When Sam is at his most impetuous his emotional vocal reaches the heights of James Dean Bradfield. Duckworth does a short solo spot for "The Lighthouse Keeper" and the political polemic that is "If I Could Build You A Tower". His easy going parsona and irresistible songs could win even the most cynical of souls. In fact during "War Of The Worlds" he needn't have bothered turning up at all as the fans nearly sing the entire song.

Enter Shikari aren't the first band to mesh frenetic dance beats to extreme metal. Pitchshifter got there first but this quartet from St Albans fronted by Rou Reynolds do it better to a much more extreme degree. The toy town techno and thrashing guitar is a winning formula. Who else but Enter Shikari would encourage the crowd to form six human pyramids while the strobes and laser beams parade the stage so prominently. The vocals roar and growl like a wild beast especially on "Return To Energizer" and "Sorry You're Not A Winner". The whole tent bounces to a bit of trance as ravers and moshers become the one entity. One of the best live acts around, Enter Shikari today have never been better.

It looks like The Subways singer Billy Lunn has spent many an hour in the gym. His naked upper half reveals muscles, washboard stomach, a six pack and a well toned body. After undergoing a serious throat operation he's now fighting fit again in body and mind. New songs emerge too like the heavy riff tastic 70s rock "Girls And Boys" with Charlotte Cooper's backing vocals sweet and sassy. Also on their soon to be released album is "Shake Shake" with its sinister sleazy bass line and vintage Ash-like singalong chorus. Fans of the more recognizable material leave happy with the singles "Oh Yeah" and an extra special long version of "Rock N Roll Queen" which marks their fourth consecutive Leeds Festival.

Love him or loathe him but you cant deny Razorlights Johnny Borrell lives, eats and breathes charisma. After playing arenas for their second self titled album it's a natural progression to headline a major festival. Razorlights bag of tricks is a succession of quality hit singles like "In The Morning" and "America" but interest wanes when album track after album track is churned out to an increasingly disinterested crowd. Designer Magazine cant be the only ones tiring of Johnny customary topless appearance with the usual tight clingy white jeans. The sets quite eye catching though with a elegant Vegas staircase lit up and the bands name up in lights over the band. For the first encore Razorlight arrive back with a string quartet on the classical new track "Funeral Blues", an unexpected bonus for a band who do tend to tread water occasionally. The gap between the second encore is so long that by the time Razorlight return at least half the crowd have given up and gone back to their tents. "Somewhere Else" plays to end their set but it feels a little bit of a waster opportunity since even the most die hard fans are beginning to feel bored. Still as the only British headliners of the entire Festival its always a pleasure to see Razorlight even if their self indulgent behaviour can sometimes get the better of them.

SUNDAY 26.8.07

Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal loves being the centre of attention. He's a born frontman. While EODM are a pretty ordinary bluesy rock band obsessed with girls, cars, liquor and the devil, his excitement is infectious. He flirts, blows kisses to the girls and praises the crowd for being so rock'n'roll. The material is sub standard Rolling Stones with obviously an American view point though Jesse loves British ladies so much he wrote a song all about them called "English Girl". Tracks off "Death By Sexy" dominate the set but if you take Eagles of Death Metal seriously then you're missing the point completely.

Mancunian rock band Nine Black Alps have their poppier moments but their main influence is grunge, particularly Nirvana. Frontman Sam Forrest sounds like he was born and bred in Seattle, but as a songwriter and performer he's improved considerably. New single "Burn Faster" should have put them on the musical map with it's Weezer pop onus but it wasn't to be. WHen 9BA slow things down they recall memories of 60s bands like the Byrds. A few choice cuts from their new album due out in October "Love / Hate" keeps the fans happy and if anything it's even better than their debut "Everything Is". These lads deserve success like nobody else.

Tom Delonge's new band isn't a patch on Blink 182. His former band may have been juvenile beyond belief but at least they had some top tunes in their repertoire. Angels and Airways have an impressive pedigree with members from the Offspring and The Distillers. This San Diego quartet are very earnest and worthy playing atmospheric rock with edge. The songs sound too ordinary to impact on the memory and in a more serious context the limitations on Tom's voice is all too apparent. "Everything's Magic" steals the bass line off The Cure's "Close To Me" while "The Gift" have riffs far too similar to U2. Only the heavy duty rock of "The War" is worth a second listen. Everything else they play sadly isn't

For a band as influential as Dinosaur Jr it's baffling to Designer Magazine that the tent is only half full. Singer JR Mascis remains an enigma, never once addressing the audience, his monotone vocal and dazzling guitar playing still as impressive as it was back in 1984. Lou Barlow on bass and Murph on drums complete the original line up after originally splitting up in 1997. A surprise buzz saw guitar version of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" and "Is It All Me?" are highlights and anybody who has a copy of the new album "Beyond" will be delighted to hear some of these tracks performed live. The only disturbing aspect to seeing Dinosaur Jnr is J Mascis growing resemblance to Lord Of The Rings Gandalff.

Canada's finest Arcade Fire unless you count Avril Lavigne, Celine Dion and Bryan Adams have the unenviable task of supporting RHCPs. Husband and wife Win Butler and Regine Chassagne lead an orchestra of brass, string and percussion in an intense performance. The vocals are lost in the mix, the intricate playing of the musicians can hardly be heard and the subtleties of the band is poorly monitored on the sound desk. Arcade Fire may be full of their own self importance, but tracks like "Life" and "No Cars Go" are rousing stirring and spectacular. The fans reciprocate their devotion by flying flags of every nation in the air. The lighting on stage is minimal and there isn't a dry eye in the house (well field) when "Rebellion (lies)" played to great acclaim.

Headlining the final night of the Carling Festival in Leeds are Red Hot Chili Peppers. Due on at 9pm but running late due to reasons best known to the band. RHCP come on without Anthony Kiedis and proceed to jam for far too long. Then the petite but perfectly formed singer makes his entrance. Apparently this is the final night of a very long tour and lethargy creeps into the set which makes for an adequately good performance rather than a career defining one. Like Razorlight the Chillis suffer from album trackitis and far too much time is taken up with guitar, bass and drum solos but when RHCP see sense and run through their back catalogue of singles we release what an amazingly diverse and eclectic bunch these guys are. "Dani California" from their double album "Stadium Arcadium" showcases the effortless brilliance of guitarist John frusciante. "Californication" and "Otherside" prove to be crowd pleasers. The band still seem to be on permanent autopilot though, content to just go through the motions rather than notch up a gear and really let rip with a performance.

"Give It Away" a rap funk classic from 1992 hasn't dated at all but the track we really want to hear, "Under The Bridge", for some unfathomable reason fail to play it. As this is the first time Red Hot Chili Peppers have played at the festival since 1999 it's good to herald them back even if these Californian musicians aren't at their best on the closing night of the Carling Weekend

Nicholas Paul Godkin

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