Let’s be honest, Leeds 2008, as good as it was musically, weather-wise was a complete washout. After so many years of glorious sun and more importantly, dry camping, the streak was ended with horrible downpours that inevitably saw me on my arse covered in mud. Surely 2009 couldn’t be any worse? Armed with a good pair of wellies, dozens of wet wipes and enough bin bags to clean up the bloody remains of the goriest slasher movie, I wasn’t taking any chances.
Arriving on site for an impressive 11am, Thursday was full of promise. With the sun out, and the skies blue-ish, after an afternoon spent getting into the festival spirit – via slightly warm beers and good company, Bear Hands provided a gentle ease into the weekend’s festivities with their set on the BBC Introducing Stage. Granted, the sound wasn’t brilliant, with the vocals lost in the gathering wind, but a decent outing regardless.
After a tiny downfall late Thursday night, thankfully Friday was once again dry. Opening the main stage The Bronx’s alter ego Mariachi El Bronx got proceedings off to a great start; with their surprisingly authentic mariachi themed set. After Polar Bear Club delivered an enjoyable outing in the Lock Up tent; overcoming unfortunate bass difficulties early on, across the park in the NME tent, Brody Dalle made a welcome return to the festival with her new band Spinnerette. They might not have the same raw energy that drove The Distillers but she’s still by far the sexiest woman in rock. Sets from A Wilhelm Scream, The Chapman Family, Enter Shikari and 65 Days Of Static all did enough to keep the afternoon momentum going, before Rival Schools and Thursday enjoyed flawless outings in the Lock Up. However, the night belonged to the main stage with truly memorable offerings from The Prodigy and headliners Arctic Monkeys; the former who drew one of the biggest and loudest crowds ever witnessed at Leeds, the latter who superbly juxtaposed the mass singalongs of ‘…Dancefloor’ and ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’, with the more tender beauty of ‘Only Ones Who Know’ and ‘Cornerstone’. The only complaint? Since when did Alex Turner start wearing $300 sunglasses and lose his Yorkshire accent?!
With easily the strongest bill of the three days, Saturday was always going to be just a little bit special. Granted, it may have started with the reliably average Kids In Glass Houses, but it wasn’t long before Noah and the Whale kicked started the fun, fantastically snubbing ‘5 Years Time’, instead favouring a more sombre set, including superb new single ‘Blue Skies’. Lethal Bizzle; a man I know absolutely nothing about and who somehow manages to ‘big up’ himself in every song at least a dozen times, put in a well received set in the NME tent, before Frank Turner equally wowed, albeit in his more traditional singer songwriter fashion. Back on the Main Stage, Brand New’s heavier and grungier new direction failed to win over the masses. Some of us with more than a five second attention span did enjoy the intense outing though, whilst others were more interested in the blow up dolls and funny masks in the crowd – how very original. Crystal Castles gave the weekend’s most terrifying performance; frontwoman Alice Glass relentless in her banshee like screams and energetic leaping across the stage, before The Gaslight Anthem showed just why they have risen to notoriety so quickly since their performance in the Lock Up last year. Along with the usual outings from current release The ‘59 Sound, older material including ‘We Came To Dance’ and ‘Angry Johnny And The Radio’; the latter with an added chorus of The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’, proved to be a real treat. However, once again it was the main stage that proved triumphant by the end of the day. First, Bloc Party played an angry and frustrated set that suited their always upbeat tempo; after playing the main stage three years in a row you can’t blame them for wondering just when they’ll get to headline. They even managed to fit in a swipe at the recently troubled Oasis, providing their set’s lightest moment. Radiohead then showed just why they are still one of this country’s greatest exports. Focusing highly on last release In Rainbows, whilst their set may not have seemed that festival friendly to some; with the likes of “Creep”, “No Surprises” and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” all sadly missing, classics such as “The National Anthem”, “Idioteque”, “Paranoid Android” and “Just” all got late airings. A mesmerising performance accompanied with easily the best light show of the weekend. A trip to Rockaoke in the Gaymers Cider Bar then provided the perfect end to a perfect day.
With the weekend rapidly drawing to a close Manchester Orchestra got Sunday off to a suitably melachonic start with their set in the NME tent. Playing only material from latest effort Mean Everything To Nothing will have no doubt disappointed some, but on typically ground-shaking form they can be forgiven. The long treck back to Main Stage brought the first of two sets from Alexisonfire. Whilst the afternoon set concentrated on the hits “Boiled Frogs”, “This Could Be Anywhere In The World” and “Young Cardinals”, their later set in the more fitting Lock Up also saw airings for older material, including “No Transitory”, “Happiness By The Kilowatt” and the rarely performed “Waterwings”. Back on the main stage, and New Found Glory delivered a delightfully upbeat half hour of their much loved blend of pop punk. Very much in the same vein, after a quick duck in the NME for a taster of Little Boots’ disco pop, on the festival republic stage Jack’s Mannequin carried on the good vibe, drawing a dedicated crowd for their breezy piano led melodies. Missing bassist Chi Cheng; who’s currently in a coma after a car accident in late 2008, Deftones came up a little short on the main stage, understandably not at their usual best and feeling quite unfocused, as rather fittingly the sky went a bit grey and rainy. Fortunately a few hours spent back in the Lock Up, first for punk legends Bouncing Souls, and then the aforementioned superb second Alexisonfire set, provided a much-needed last day boost. Catching Jamie T mid-set proved to be a surprise highlight, just before the masses poured out of the NME tent for Kings Of Leon. With the hipsters gone, Faith No More delivered what can only be described as a phenomenal return. With eccentric frontman Mike Patton joking “Hello Leeds. It’s been 10 years. So how you been? Anything to tell?”, the seminal 90s act pulled out the classics from early on including “From Out Of No Where”, “Epic”, “Midlife Crisis”, “Easy”, and yes, bizarrely, the Eastenders theme tune “Any Fool Can Fall In Love”. I don’t care how cool KOL were, for my money Sunday night belonged to Patton and co.
So with Leeds once again over, even though I seem to reach the same conclusion every year, it REALLY was better this year. With perhaps one if its strongest line-ups in the now seven years I’ve been, and considerably less mud, Leeds 2010 will have to aim high to top this. But for now, Leeds 2009 we bid you a very fond farewell. Thanks for the memories.