Another year, another Live at Leeds. I’ve covered this for a few years now and I’m finally getting better at pacing myself.
When I first started, the temptation was to try and see as much as possible; trudging the streets of Leeds back and forth, trying my best to mentally map the quickest route from one venue to the next; which ultimately resulted in a lot more stress and a lot less time actually listening to the acts. This year I got the app in advance, I did my research and actually thought about a plan before hitting the streets. It was to be a very different experience as a result.
I rather like Goat girl’s sound, recorded that is, as I’ve not witnessed them live previously. Their self titled album has had a few outings at home and it’s grown on me. With that in mind and somewhat of a buzz about their appearance at Live at Leeds, they made my shortlist.
I remember watching a Johnny Cash documentary and one of the lines I recall was ‘it sounds like a train’; Goat Girl have this momentum, that slightly off beat rhythmic flow which you can’t help but tap your feet to and for me ‘The Man’, which was released as a single in early 2018, is still their stand out track. However, standing out in this room wasn’t going to be that difficult.
I have to say that as a live performance I found them disappointedly lacking. I had originally thought they were an entirely female outfit and was surprised to see the token guy on stage manning the keyboards, although I’m not sure he’s a permanent feature in the band. However, the only energy came from the drummer as she added at least a little movement when intermittently standing up to hit the symbol. The only other form of personality came from the soft toy gorilla on the drum kit. Yes, I really am clutching at straws at this point.
Sadly, the remaining members of the band failed to engage in any way, little to nothing in terms of interaction with the audience, the whole bunch looking thoroughly miserable for the majority of the set and quite frankly, didn’t look like they wanted to even be there, which ultimately – in spite of their music – made me not want to be there either. As I started to wonder if my shortlist approach was the best idea I’ve had, I headed, somewhat disillusioned, to the next act on my list.
Izzy Baxter Phillips. With a name like that, she was destined to be a frontwoman of a band and what a frontwoman she’s turned out to be. Dressed in men’s cotton pyjamas with what I can only describe as a Dolly Parton wig and neon red dame Edna Everage shades on (look that up kids; actually don’t bother!) – when the UV lights came on she literally faded away, giving the appearance of floating specs.
It wasn’t only her incredible presence that made Izzy one of the best leads I’ve seen in a long time. Her raw energy that lifted the crowd to mosh pit levels produced a perfect balance of sassy and ballsy; coming down off the stage and into the crowd to generate that special, intimate connection. She was having fun, a lot of fun, and we couldn’t help but be taken on that ride with her. I must admit she took so much of my focus I paid very little attention to what the other band members were up to and although I hate band comparisons and they may hate me for saying this but ‘Transvision Vamp’ instantly sprung to mind.
They played both old tracks and new; during ‘Corrine’ she got all the guys in the crowd to make way and let all us girls to the front, where she came into the crowd for a good old sing along. During ‘Baby’ there was more audience participation as she encouraged ‘lights up’ as the masses obliged with phones raised in the air! An exceptional set throughout and a lesson in what performance actually is.
With the wrongs of earlier put well and truly right and my mind more at rest about the shortlist, I headed to what would be the final act for me of the evening.
I admire wordsmiths. I always have; those who can express themselves verbally and succinctly and hold the listener’s attention without the need for unnecessary fluff. There is little doubt Kate Tempest has this enviable quality.
Starting 10 minutes or so behind schedule, we were told, not as an excuse I hasten to add, that one of her good friends had just died, having taken his own life. Unlike one of the other headliners, Metronomy, who had earlier pulled out due to ‘venue issues’, Kate showed some spirit and decided to bat on. In an emotional moment, she asked the crowd to use their energy in his memory and to help all those lost and anxious with life. She also asked for us to connect with her and not to engage with phones as a distraction; all of this added to what was already a very tense feeling in the room. This clearly wasn’t going to be your average happy go lucky night of musical entertainment.
This was only the second time she had performed her latest work ‘The book of traps and lessons’. The accompanying beats and electronics were produced by Dan Carey, and there was some complexity in their nature, which provided the perfect backbone to Kate’s words as they poured seamlessly.
The atmosphere was incredibly dense. That is the only way I can describe it. I can fully understand why this isn’t everyone’s bag; for many a good night out doesn’t consist of insecurities, injustices and disorders. For me, I get it – I like to be reminded of the other not so fun side of life, to be challenged and redress the balance, and I think Kate helps with this brilliantly.
At the same time, as her performance continued, I couldn’t help but worry about her, that she has created an act based almost entirely on angst and by doing so interprets everything in an overly serious, anti-everything way. Is that even sustainable? What would a more joyful Kate Tempest act even look like?
In what turned out to be a not so cunning plan, I had intended to finish things up at the Brudenell where Dr Martens two-stage takeover promised to make the effort worthwhile. However, it seemed as if anyone and everyone with a wristband had the exact same idea.
When I reached the venue, not even the press access would save me now, it’s strictly one in, one out and not many people are leaving. Blan B was quickly put into place, turning right into the bar to join the masses for beverages and tales of the day. It also tuned out to be another opportunity to see Izzy again, still out there and still in those PJs.
Thank you, Live at Leeds for another, albeit different but no less interesting experience. See you next year.
Feature photograph by Mark Wheelwright.