Leeds Festival 2018 – Saturday Review

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After a rather excellent first day that saw chaotic sets the likes of Hollywood Undead, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Billy Talent and Lowlives bring a much-needed dose of rock to proceedings, the second day of this summer’s Leeds Festival looked set to be a bit more of a relaxed affair, with a Main Stage headline performance from pop-punk-heroes-turned-chart-botherers Fall Out Boy, and acts including The Xcerts, Royal Republic and The Used taking up residence in The Lock Up for rock fans to flock to, as well as not-so-subtle rumours of a secret set from one of the biggest names in modern heavy music set to take place in the early afternoon.

First on today’s agenda, we’re able to briefly catch a few moments of The Regrettes (7) taking on the Main Stage and smashing the early-comers around the face with a high-energy set of spirited punk rock that definitely seems to deserve the rather sparse crowd it’s met with. 17 year old Lydia Night quickly establishes herself to be a highly capable frontwoman, and the band’s diverse garage-punk tone, rounded out with some strong harmonies from bassist Violet Mayugba and guitarist Genessa Gariano, and powerful drumming from Drew Thomsen mean the band are met with a surprisingly strong reaction for a performance so early in the day.

Next up, we return to find pop-punks Waterparks (7) attempting to lay claim to being the most outright fun band on today’s billing. Packing more jokes than a stand-up comedian into their set, and throwing out songs with arguably more colossal pop hooks than some of the genuine pop stars set to appear across the weekend, the Texan trio put on a near-pitch-perfect display of modern pop-punk – the likes of Crave acting as wonderfully rousing rally calls to a small section of crowd clearly dedicated to the music Awsten Knight and his bandmates.

Heading over to the BBC Radio 1 Stage, we then take our place for arguably the worst-kept secret of the weekend, as Sheffield titans Bring Me The Horizon (8) turn up for an unannounced set, just days after revealing their new single Mantra from upcoming album amo. Much has been made of the band’s transformation over the last few years from oft-derided deathhore upstarts, to arena-metal superstars on Sempiternal, to slightly more commercial leanings on That’s The Spirit, so expectations from the fully packed-out are high to say the least. Eventually charging out, with frontman Oil Sykes clad in what’s probably the only Cannibal Corpse shirt to make an appearance on most of the stages here all weekend, the band launch straight into Mantra and send the whole place suitably wild. Throne and Can You Feel My Heart follow with equal amounts of gusto, thanks to lashings of electronics from Jordan Fish in amongst the riffs, before a rallying cry of “Show me a proper fucking Yorkshire mosh pit” from Sykes heralds the arrival of Happy Song and the instantaneous sight of his crowd happily obliging. That’s not to say the band have entirely stepped away from straight-up metal though, as evidenced by the response to certified pit-starters like Shadow Moses and the vitriolic Antivist (the latter even spawning a wall of death). Capping things off with a titanic rendition of Drown, the Sheffield band the step away, leaving an entire tent’s worth of people desperate for more, and some wondering how long it’ll be before they’re potentially even headlining here. On the basis of today’s performance, it certainly looks to be a safe bet.

After all of that, we make our way back over towards what’s now The Lock Up tent rather than The Pit for the first time today just as The Xcerts (9) are getting set up. The Aberdeen three-piece have been gathering steam for a while now, particularly off of the back of this year’s brilliant album Hold On To Your Heart, and whilst it’s immediately somewhat depressing to see the tent packing what looks like 30 people at absolute most (all apparent diehard fans judging by their response), those few who are present are able to see what’s arguably a contender for set of the weekend, as one of the UK’s current best rock bands put on a spellbinding display of heart-wrenching songcraft. Mixing both punchy Bruce Springsteen-esque heartland rock bangers like Feels Like Falling In Love with tender ballads like Show Me Beautiful, the trio of frontman/guitarist Murray Macleod, bassist Jordan Smith and drummer Tom Heron are simply head and shoulders above so many of the acts they share a billing with this weekend, and given their performance today, it’ll be a travesty if The Xcerts aren’t a Main Stage-worthy band next time they come around.

Things only continue to trend downwards after that as, following on from a distinctly unremarkable set from San Francisco’s I The Mighty (6), it falls to Trophy Eyes (4) to take the stage for what can only be described as a total damp squib of a performance. Suddenly facing a capacity crowd in their tent thanks to a well-timed torrential downpour, the Aussie quintet’s alt-punk showcase unfortunately simply fails to really do anything on this occasion, thanks to a horrendous sound mix that leaves drummer Blake Caruso as pretty much the only properly audible factor in the band’s show. This washout of a sound, combined with an impressively grating vocal performance from frontman John Floreani, means that the band’s 8 song set, three-quarters of which is drawn from their three-week-old third album The American Dream drags on and on for what feels like years; having started off slightly bland, and eventually feeling as dreary as the weather outside the tent by the time You Can Count On Me brings things to a welcome conclusion.

Luckily, that feeling of disappointment doesn’t linger too long, as Sweden’s Royal Republic (9) arrive on the scene to cheer everyone back up again. Sporting matching gold sequinned tuxedos and backed by huge lightning bolt-shaped lighting rigs atop their amps, the Malmö four-piece are clearly all-in on being as overtly daft as possible, and that ends up translating into on the of the most fun sets of the day, if not the whole weekend. Packing out the tent within moments of opening their set, the band’s supremely campy synchronised posturing and almost Electric Six-esque over-ridiculousness is stark contrast to most of the uber-serious acts they’re sharing the stage with, and it’s a welcome break. Nearly every moment, from the tongue-in-cheek sleaze of the ludicrously-titled Make Love Not War (If You Have to Make War – Make Sure to Make Time to Make Love in Between), to the non-stop bounce of Tommy-Gun, all the way to the juddering stomp of closer Full Steam Spacemachine has bags of character, and proves with ease that you don’t necessarily have to be serious to be a great band.

Following on from that with something altogether more frantic are La Dispute (7), whose mixture of both jagged and chaotic, and quiet and considered post-hardcore doesn’t quite have the sheer levels of non-stop excitement that preceded it, but more than makes up for that fact through sheer emotion. Vocalist Jordan Dreyer spends much of his time in the middle of the audience, lending the more tender moments a thought provoking feel quite unlike anything else on the stage today, whilst his frequently-cracking-with-emotion vocal performance proves itself affecting, if not always perfect. A mid-show speech about depression, thanking fellow performers Petrol Girls for their set earlier in the day, only adds more emotional weight to the set, and Dreyer’s cathartic performance on songs like HUDSONVILLE, MI 1956 is both heartbreakingly powerful and darkly incredible to watch, ensuring La Dispute’s place as one of the day’s success stories.

If you were to look at today’s bill overall and try to decide which of the bands on The Lock-Up were dead-certs for a strong performance, then it’s likely that most people would pinpoint The Used (8) as that act. With a career now spanning some 17 years, and a canon of albums beloved by emo kids of the early 00’s everywhere, the Utah four-piece have what would seem to be a fairly easy task on their hands today, and proceed to play what can only be described as a homage to the glory days of emo, thanks to a set reaching only from their 2001 self-titled debut, to as far as 2009’s Artwork – ensuring a distinctly classic feel to their time on stage. Punctuating hit after hit with esoteric and oddly-rambling Shakespearean soliloquies, frontman Bert McCracken expertly demonstrates his abilities here, leading the masses through countless singalongs on the likes of Take It Away and the stomping Pretty Handsome Awkward, pausing only briefly at one point to inform the crowd they’re being filmed for a DVD – ramping up the chaos just that little bit more. As a throwback set harking back to their glory days, The Used’s performance today succeeds on just about every level – firmly reminding us of the legacy of the band, whilst reaffirming just how potent they remain as performers to this day.

Moving quickly over to the Main Stage once more, we find the staging for tonight’s headliners Fall Out Boy (3) being set up. Comprising of a giant ramp screen holding the drum riser in addition to the usual setup, it’s clear that the band have got the stage set for a headline performance good to go, but do they have the performance to match? Short answer – ….no, not really. Despite opening with all the possible bells and whistles across their catalogue, including Pete Wentz’s flamethrower bass guitar on The Phoenix, fireworks accompanying Irresistible, and a variety of ever-changing video packages that include Big Hero 6 clips for Immortals and a Kill Bill montage during Uma Thurman, it’s quickly apparent that whilst the band undoubtedly have the stage-show part of their set locked down, on this occasion, it’s their actual performance that’s lacking. Easily one of the most glaring things noted throughout the performance, is simply the fact that half of the band look bored to tears for what feels like virtually the entire show. Whilst Wentz and frontman/guitarist Patrick Stump carry the show with apparent enthusiasm, the same can’t appear to be said for Andy Hurley and Joe Trohman, who seem to spend much of the set looking visibly a bit bored and going through the motions. The latter part of the set also suffers a handful of sound problems for the band too, leading the likes of classics such as This Ain’t A Scene.. and newer cuts like Centuries sounding incredibly lacking in power and sheen compared to their recorded counterparts, despite the ramping up of stage show bringing pyro to the former. Couple these issues with a few particularly cringeworthy moments, such as the visual montage of middle fingers accompanying I Don’t Care, or the egregiously bandwagon-hopping that sees classic track Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy set to a montage of footage from popular video game of the moment Fortnite. Eventually leaving the stage in preparation for an inevitable final encore, Fall Out Boy then proceed to come back and compound every issue they’ve faced tonight into one compact moment, breaking out into the song that announced their return from hiatus back in 2012, My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light ‘Em Up), in a rendition that’s marred with huge technical issues to say the least. Despite packing as much pyro as they can into the track’s duration, as well as bringing back Pete’s flamethrower bass, more strange intermittent cut-offs in the microphones render Stump’s vocals once again difficult to listen to and arguably rob the song of its intended impact. That the band finally closing off the set, as always, with Saturday (featuring both fireworks, confetti cannons, and Wentz pandering to the locals by wearing a Leeds United football shirt) then ends up feeling like a sigh of relief that it’s over rather than a final jubilant celebration is perhaps the most damning thing that can be said about Fall Out Boy’s performance tonight. We can only hope that this is a one-off, rather than a sign of what’s to come.

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