Bramham Park, Saturday 25 August 2012
Having vowed never to the return to the Leeds Festival after being beset by mediocre line-ups and poor facilities, and having kept that promise for 10 years, the draw of The Cure is too tempting to maintain my self-imposed exile. Thankfully, the festival has moved from a city park to a compact site on the grounds of a country hall in the sticks, and the weather just manages to keep a step away from deluging us.
Saturday's line-up/The Cure's support is mostly dominated on the main stage by dull emo behemoths from abroad and their UK wannabes, a familiar problem which has dogged the Leeds/Reading double-header for years. Thankfully, however, there's still some decent acts to view.
Having arrived too late to see Future of The Left relive their McLusky heyday or the excellent O'Brother (who thankfully in no way resemble the now defunct Britpop-lite Brother), it's Palma Violets that first delight our ears. Treading a fine line between Glasvegas, The Vaccines and The Stranglers, they play the kind of rousing anthems with often simple lyrics, such as on 'Best of Friends', that the NME readily salivates over. The highlight is 'Fourteen', taking inspiration more from Flying-Nun stalwarts The Clean, an organ-heavy number where the pace is taken down a notch. A promising start from a band that's not as saccharine as their name suggests and who should go a lot further.
The hotly-tipped Friends, on the Second Stage, sadly fail to maintain the momentum, with rhythms which fail to go anywhere and vocals that seem lost in the mix. Unhelped by a sparse, uninterested audience, they attempt to bridge the gap left by the absence of New Young Pony Club, but end up coming across as underwhelming CSS-lite. A pity.
Thankfully, Savages, an all-women four-piece from London, next on the smaller stage, are a revelation. Propelled by robotic, tight drumming, pulsing bass and bludgeoning shards of guitar they deliver a ferocious set at a breakneck speed with the temperament of Electrelane. Singer Jehnny Beth's yelped vocal, a cross between Ian Curtis, Siouxsie Sioux and Sue Tompkins from Life Without Buildings, is a perfect accompaniment to the abrasive backing, especially on the excellent 'Husbands'. Blank and emotionless, but focussed in stance and kindred in spirit to the nihilistic Factory Floor, the exhilarating Savages are a Factory Records dream of a band and a live prospect you must see soon.
Onto the miniscule BBC Introducing stage, where Fish Tank greet us. Taking time to get going, they start by taking a bland emo route similar to much of the main stage acts mixed with the horror of The Wombats; a truly hideous concoction. Thankfully, patience is rewarded as the set becomes more interesting, with regular changes in tempo and structure, similar to long-lost Stoke band The Wow or Youthmovies, especially on the sublime 'Capybara'. Despite playing to a tiny audience, the band are clearly enjoying themselves and should be rewarded with bigger crowds soon.
Word of mouth has certainly got round about Alt-J, who have a huge, enthralled audience rammed into a small, heaving tent. With a guitarist who barely looks out of school wearing a knitted jumper any grandma would be proud of, the band produce an interesting, Talking Heads-influenced set, possessing elements of Bombay Bicycle Club, Everything Everything and The xx. It isn't an original sound and is something which perhaps Metronomy does better live, but with Joe Newman's strong vocals and a tight backing, Alt-J are decent, with 'Tesselate' standing out. If only the audience would not make triangles out of their fingers!
Guitar maestro Graham Coxon is up next on the Second Stage, though with a fairly safe set, without as much angular or wayward guitars as expected. He often appears pissed off by the light and rather motionless audience, but fails to translate the anger into something explosive. A good but uneventful performance.
The moment has come at last for headliners The Cure and they deliver with a mammoth 32 song, almost 'greatest hits' set, including a seven song encore, covering the majority of their career. From 'Open' right through to 'Boy's Don't Cry', they play at an unrelenting pace, making little room for idle chat, with Simon Gallup looking strangely younger than ever on his low-strung bass, drummer Jason doing his best Boris Williams impression, Roger O'Donnell on keys, the consummate professional, barely shifting in facial emotions, and Robert Smith up front looking the same as he always did.
It takes a little while for the sound to gel, with the bass-drum too loud at first, sadly affecting early numbers 'Lovesong' and 'In Between Days', but the set truly gets going with a blistering 'Just Like Heaven' and a beautiful reading of 'Lullaby'. Sadly, the predominantly young audience are often rather unappreciative of the performance, hardly surprising with a fairly weak festival line-up, and many vacate after the jangly 'Friday I'm in Love', but the remainder of us are left with an excellent second half to the set.
Live favourite 'One Hundred Years', with its "Waiting for the death blow" line, is broody and menacing, while the dark and epic 'From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea' is classic Cure and a delight to hear live, both played with impeccable timing as the night draws down and drizzle sets in. The encore, including 'Lovecats', 'Let's Go To Bed' and 'Why Can't I Be You', is delivered with aplomb, showcasing the lighter side of The Cure, perfectly complimenting their darker numbers. A great end to a wonderful performance, and well worth ending my self-imposed Leeds Festival exile for.