Live At Leeds, 1/5/2010

A review of last month’s Live At Leeds festival, written for a university project.

Just like the build-up to Christmas, the festival season seems to start earlier every year. And with the weather as unpredictable as it has been lately, the first day of May seems a little premature to be thinking about spending a weekend in a field vomiting into your wellies. 

Fortunately, Live At Leeds eases its audience into the festival routine a little more gently.  The event engulfs 17 of the city’s best venues, cramming 170 bands into the Saturday all-dayer. Which is good news for camping-sceptics and discerning indie consumers alike. 

After meeting up with Yonderboy for a chat at the Brudenell Social Club (see below), Fused scurries into the city centre to catch the cacophonous closing bars of Sheffield’s Rolo Tomassi.  Latecomers struggle to squeeze into the tiny Cockpit backroom, but the sheer force of the band’s feral hardcore sound could set off nosebleeds in Headingley. 

Vessels, who follow, seem relaxed by contrast. But that is not to ignore the complex framework on which they hang their ideas. Their opening track is a slow-builder, which develops layers of melody into eventually a pulsating post-rock colossus.  The track’s progression feels compellingly organic, though as their set progresses, their imagination seems to stagnate, and the structure of their songs begins to meander rather than captivate. 

The slack is confidently picked up by Yonderboy,  whose songs articulate a distinctive character, enthusiasm and energy that underpins them. The band must perspire hooks, because their set is full of them, and they are all tightly woven together within tight parameters that define them as recognisably their own. This resolute focus suggests a band of few insecurities, whose performance struts from quiet concentration to frantic irreverence. 

Over at Leeds University Stylus, Lightspeed Champion (a.k.a. Dev Hynes) is showing similar confidence – though with him it feels misplaced. Opening his set with The Beatles’ ‘It Won’t Be Long’, Hynes sets the standard of songwriting a little too high too early. His jangly pop tunes are sweet enough, and on a technical level, their composition and performance show skill. Unfortunately, in trying to match up to the great songwriters of the past, Hynes is too backwardly referential. In a sense his ambition should be applauded, but his talent is lost in the whitewash of nostalgia. Ultimately, his set loses relevance, as he shows he has yet to write anything as timeless as John, Paul or George (sorry Ringo). 

Next door at the Refectory, The Bronx offer a welcome respite from the chronically self-aware indie bands that dominate the festival. Their loud-as-fuck hardcore punk prompts and promotes a string of wildly reckless circle pits, which in its own warped way makes it energising to see a band who can invoke absolute anarchy for an hour. Admittedly there is little in their music to set them apart from a host of other bands (fans of early Thrice, for example, will feel at home), The Bronx are special in the way they deliver their songs. Few other bands perform with this kind of unreserved fury, which attaches importance not to what The Bronx play, but how they play it. 

‘Furious’ would not be a word to describe The Crookes, who played at Mine in the Leeds Students’ Union.  Back in Sheffield where the quartet met at University, praise has been coming their way for a while, and it would be unfair to suggest that their set feels like a half hour that could have been better spent. But it has to be said that The Crookes are a band who play very safe. Their upbeat twee Vampire Weekend-esque balladry is likeable, but is unlikely to inspire a musical revolution. Jerking around the stage, the band put a lot of energy into their performance, but the songs themselves are too anonymous to get overly excited about. Similarly, casting themselves as privately educated fops in their teddy boy shirt sleeves seems like more of a gimmick than an honest subversion of contemporary trends. 

Back upstairs at the Refectory and Blood Red Shoes prove bigger isn’t better, as Laura-Mary Carter on guitar and Steve Ansell on drums fuse ferocity with eloquence. Fitting somewhere in between Bikini Kill and Death From Above 1979, their grungy set is tight and leaves a lasting impression, creating a spectacle of its raw simplicity. They do lose some of their edge in a room this size, but Blood Red Shoes just manage to assert their paradoxically huge sound. 

Sky Larkin close the festival back at The Well in the town centre. After a few secret shows earlier in the year, this is the Leeds trio’s first proper headline show for some time. In it, they showcase material from their forthcoming second album, sees them exploring the spaces in between the sound they established on The Golden Spike. At times they are faster and punkier than ever before, while at others they shrug off the three-minute pop song strait jacket, in favour of more ambitious motifs and highly developed melodies. 

These new tracks, combined with imaginatively wild renditions of singles ‘Beeline’ and ‘Molten’, set Sky Larkin on a promising path towards revitalising their sound without losing their character. This set confirms them, much as it confirms Live At Leeds in general, as one of Yorkshire’s most interesting, exciting and inspiring projects.

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Yonderboi - Love Hides


A feature on Yonderboy, written for a university project.

It’s good to know that the old virtues still matter in music. Which is good news for Yonderboy, who since their formation 18 months ago have been making the lives of promoters all over Leeds a little easier. “We’re quite reliable. We turn up on time and bring a drum kit,” says frontman Zand Murphy.

But even if manners are the secret to Yonderboy’s popularity with promoters, they wouldn’t be worth writing about were it not for their erratic blend of new wave lucidity and alt-rock enthusiasm. 

What they aim for, they say, is a sound that fuses Talking Heads with The Smiths and Radiohead, and true enough they share the intricate accessibility of all three. But there is far more going on in their music than memorable hooks and danceable choruses. Yonderboy construct melodies that weave and collide, building to perceptively poignant climaxes. Their performances are animated, with an emotional clarity that avoids over-sentimentality but still connects deeply with their audiences. 

The seeds of Yonderboy’s sound were sown in Zand’s solo demos. But these days the direction of their music is just as much dictated by guitarist Curragh Treanor, bassist Bruce Woods and drummer Sammy Thompson. 

“We’ve all got a fairly similar taste in music but it’s a fairly wide one,” says Zand. “But with the band we want to do something very specific which is why we say we want to sound like this band and this one and this one.

“It’s a good thing when people have lots of ideas but I would rather not have many ideas.”

Curragh: “Yeah, and just develop them.”

Yonderboy’s focus on defining and refining their music has made them tentative about over-exposing themselves prematurely. Only now that they have a clear vision for the band are they talking about touring outside Leeds to and promoting a new single. “I think we want to take our time and make sure the songs are right and not rushed” explains Sammy.

Their achievements so far are not to be sniffed at though. Their first gig was supporting the acclaimed Frightened Rabbit at the iconic Brudenell Social Club, and since then they have opened for the likes of Titus Andronicus, The Twilight Sad and The Antlers.

“You get quite a lot of people coming through Leeds so we have had quite a lot of good supports,” says Zand, though opening slots can be a grey area, as Curragh points out. “That will go both ways and you will play a gig where people get you and you will play others that are really badly matched,” he says.

In the same way they worry about being mismatched, Yonderboy also worry about being misrepresented, having met at Leeds College of Music. “When you think of bands who met at music college like The Kooks,” says Sammy, “we don’t want to be lumped in with that.”

Bruce: “It didn’t contribute to any of our success.”

Curragh: “I think we’re quite keen to distance ourselves from it. My degree was the pinnacle of intellectualising music and I want to move away from that to something more raw.”

And as long as they continue writing innovative alt-rock they’ll have no problem settling into a more suitable environment – even if they’re not entirely sure what that might be. “I want to get to the point where we are playing and we’ve got a big screen of chicken wire in front of us,” jokes Curragh.

Wherever they end up, they’ll be playing music – not least because Zand isn’t sure what else he could do with his life. “You’re like an idiot savant,” Curragh tells him. “You’re only good at one thing and you’re not even very good at that.”

Actually, I’m not sure he’s right.

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Pilinszky János: Egyenes labirintus

Milyen lesz az a visszaröpülés,
amiről csak hasonlatok beszélnek,
olyanfélék, hogy oltár, szentély,
kézfogás, visszatérés, ölelés,
fűben, fák alatt megterített asztal,
hol nincs első és nincs utolsó vendég,
végül is milyen lesz, milyen lesz
e nyitott szárnyú emelkedő zuhanás,
visszahullás a fókusz lángoló
közös fészkébe? - nem tudom,
és mégis, hogyha valamit tudok,
hát ezt tudom, e forró folyosót,
e nyílegyenes labirintust, melyben
mind tömöttebb és mind tömöttebb
és egyre szabadabb a tény, hogy röpülünk.


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Frightened Rabbit @ Leadmill, Sheffield, 13/3/2010

A recent live review, published in Forge Press’ Fuse supplement on March 18th. Here it is unedited.

Having united critics in praise of 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight, Frightened Rabbit must be a little hesitant about hitting the road to promote its follow-up, The Winter Of Mixed Drinks.

They have another half hour or so to prepare though, as Leeds-based quartet Yonderboy are up first. Their wonky indiepop is overflowing with enthusiasm that connects intimately to their tightly-woven, slightly erratic motifs. They are accessible, but they’re smart about it, like an In Rainbows-era Radiohead. There’s no need for them to string a self-indulgent gimmick from their melodic intricacy. Though one or two tracks seem destined for indie dancefloors, the bulk of the set is more introspective. Frontman Zand complements this with a tense, yet tender delivery that manages to avoid maudlin triteness.

Frightened Rabbit then, were given a tough act to follow – and it doesn’t start well. ‘Keep The Youth’ makes for a cluttered opening. Amateurish drumming is pushed way too high in the mix, emphasizing the band’s sloppy attempts to keep time. All of this overshadows the textural richness and castrates the bruising crescendo that makes the album version so emotionally battering. Next track, ‘The Modern Leper’, is only saved by it being the most urgent, most gripping love song this writer has ever heard.

But a few songs in, and Frightened Rabbit are wide awake. Their new-found focus delivers a wall of sound that is cemented with passionate choruses and imaginative folk-tinged hooks. Their songs’ quirks resonate through, so that ‘The Twist’ jerks from a choral progression into a boundless landscape punctuated by fluid rhythms.

Equally, haunting renditions of ‘My Backwards Walk’ and ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ express an honesty rarely articulated in a live show. By contrast, ‘Nothing Like You’ is already sounding like an indie-rock anthem, proving that Frightened Rabbit’s ambition still sends them into untested waters.

The fact is that there are few (if any) bands at the moment that connect as universally to their audience as Frightened Rabbit do. That they do this without cliché or pretension makes their audience one that’s worth being a part of.

See photos from the gig here.

Read my review of The Winter Of Mixed Drinks here.

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Yonderboi - Were You Thinking Of Me?