For so long the bearer of bad timings and an even worse reputation, Leeds and its southern sister festival in Reading haven't exactly enjoyed the most positive of critical reactions in recent years. Whether it be riots or other outbreaks of anti-social behaviour to headline slots unbefitting of such a prestige event, it's fair to say that despite its commercial appeal to certain younger demographic, there's been very little to shout about from a musical perspective, Radiohead's blistering performance in 2009 being an exception rather than the norm.
This year could have been subtitled "The Reunion", as the number of recently reformed acts on this year's bill threatened to hit double figures; Guns'n'Roses, Blink 182, Limp Bizkit, and The Libertines all notable incumbents. Of course it wouldn't be Leeds if it wasn't shrouded in controversy and the "will they, won't they play" saga of Axl Rose and co. after Friday's heavily criticised late show at Reading proved something of a talking point throughout the entire weekend and beyond.
Thankfully, there were a fair few less celebrated but equally worthy artists on display here, and in what was - Sunday morning apart - also one of the driest Leeds Festivals in memory, many of those performed as though their very lives depended on it. One of those were NYC's The Walkmen, faced with the ungainly task of opening the main stage on Friday while many punters queued along the A1(M). Nevertheless, their angelic cathedral of sound proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend, mixing new songs off forthcoming long player 'Lisbon' with more familiar material such as signature tune 'The Rat'. That they weren't higher up the bill is a travesty.
Manchester's Everything Everything may be one of this year's most hyped properties, yet their heavily eighties influenced musical wallpaper induced little more than the occasional shoulder shrug throughout. File under "Style over Substance". The sweat drenched Rotating Leslie and East Midlands quintet Love Ends Disaster! Both flew the flag for unsigned bands in frantic fashion on the BBC Introducing Stage, the former's yin-like anthemic guitar pop leading the way for the latter's obtuse new wave bombast.
"Who the fuck are Arcade Fire?" shout a group of teenagers at the end of The Libertines competent but largely forgettable comeback set. Seventy-five minutes later, it's blatantly obvious who Arcade Fire are; the best live band on planet earth at this present moment in time. Quite simply there aren't enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe their astonishing performance at the close of the first night, but let's just say Leeds hasn't seen a more incendiary headline show in the past and is highly unlikely to in the future. Newer songs like 'Ready To Start' and 'Empty Room' resonate with a buoyant energy while the more familiar likes of 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' and 'Rebellion (Lies)' jostle for attention like old friends on a reunion night out. By the time 'Wake Up' closes proceedings, the whole field in front of the main stage has turned into one all-singing, all-dancing carnival. Incredible, majestic, out of this world. Frankly, everything afterwards on the main stage becomes an insignificant aside compared to this.
Strange choice of billing part one: Whoever decided to book LA noise outfit HEALTH on the Dance Stage obviously doesn't quite understand the concept of either genre. 'Death+' and 'Severin' take the decibel count to new heights, adding a raw intensity and holocaustic shrouds of white noise to what many unsuspecting punters probably expected to be a beat-laden spectacle. 'USA Boys' and 'Die Slow' offer a more subtle (by their standards) approach culminating in HEALTH winning over a largely bedazzled audience against all the odds.
Canadian experimentalists Holy Fuck meanwhile take on a more looped form of electronica, choosing to engage in a more Germanic rather than disco-orientated set. Indeed whereas parts of this year's 'Latin' perhaps lose their edge on record, the likes of 'SHT MTN' and 'Lucky' rise to the fore in a live setting. Local foursome and current Mercury nominees Wild Beasts also prove their status as the UK's most consistent live band is fully justified, adding Leeds Festival to the plethora of storming live sets they've churned out over the past twelve months.
Some people would have you believe that the 'retro' inclusion of bands like Cypress Hill and Weezer is merely paying dues to the old masters, a sort of rock retirement home where fans can come to remember how good they once were. This could be true of Guns N Roses, but both the former acts have come to show the crowd they are still going as strong as ever, and in the case of Weezer, at the top of their crowd-pleasing game. The 'Hill showcase all their favourites: 'I Ain't Going Out Like That,' 'Insane in the Brain' and of course 'Rock Star' to a crowd which was pretty hilarious in its attempts to 'black up'. Cue some pretty deformed and wonderful gang signs. All good fun, no mistake, but the mind-blowing, hilarious and altogether deranged performance from Rivers Cuomo left an imprint that is unlikely to be forgotten by anyone.
Weezer take to the stage against a huge gold backdrop. Like 'Beverly Hills,' perhaps this is a tongue-in-cheek brag about how rich they now are? We expected 'Say it Ain't So,' 'Buddy Holly' and 'The Sweater Song' of course, but what we didn't expect was Rivers riding on a huge stadium light a la Katy Perry, or to come back on wearing a blond wig and do a medley of 'Pokerface' and MGMT's 'Kids.' He climbs up fences to sing to both sides, he high fives everyone in the front row, and for a final coup de grace, at the end of 'Buddy Holly' he shoots out of the stage right exit, causing a 200 people-strong stampede, eventually forcing him back in for fear of his life. The fact is Weezer have never been afraid to send themselves up, but this performance is more than funny: it's just magical, a joyous evidence of their continued devotion to the fans. The whole crowd feels included in Cuomo's class clown act, and as a result this is truly one of the most memorable performances in the history of Leeds Festival. We hardly see them over here, so it's great that they made this one count.
Two weeks ago at Leicester's Summer Sundae, Daniel Snaith and Caribou's ambient electronica proved captivating, if a little out of place. This weekend, their dance-infused repertoire is nothing short of exceptional; combining the shoegaze trajectories of M83 and Maps with a more rave-orientated vibe culminating in recent long player 'Swim' highlights 'Sun' and 'Kaili' sounding masterful and pulsating in the extreme. For many artists, going head-to-head with Blink 182, Klaxons and British Sea Power would be a daunting prospect. For Roots Manuva however, he simply takes it all in his stride, delivering one of the most passionate performances of Leeds 2010. 'Witness (One Hope)' and 'Dreamy Days' both pose the question "Why isn't he more famously renowned than his current status suggests?" while 'Dub Styles' and 'Buff Nuff' bring the bass levels to a floor shaking low.
As the rain bounces incessantly off the Festival Republic tent, one can't help but feel sorry for Gaggle having to take to the stage at this ungodly hour of 1130 on a Sunday morning. Reduced in numbers here with just fourteen of their usual twenty-plus strong ensemble (several of their throng were seen over-indulging themselves in the guest bar literally hours ago so we'll say no more.), their short set provides something of a wake-up call ending in the delightful 'Bang On The Drum', surely a hit single in waiting if there is any justice in the world.
Elsewhere, Surfer Blood's lo-fi indie rock and Girls' melancholic pop both win over the half-full Radio One Stage, the latter 's set coming to life in its closing stages courtesy of 'Morning Light's ethereal fury while the Florida five-piece offer a more celebratory insight into their make-up, possibly down to being confirmed as main support on Interpol's European tour later this year by debuting a vibrant new song that sounds like Guided By Voices covering 'Geraldine' by Glasvegas before dedicating closer 'Swim' to Frankie & The Heartstrings.
Two Door Cinema Club on the other hand fail to excite, playing far too long despite attracting one of the weekend's biggest indoor stage crowds while suggesting they're one-trick ponies as far as songwriting goes in the process. Similarly, The Big Pink fail to deliver for the second time in a month at a major UK festival, their languid set following Latitude's forgettable show into the Meh-ly Telegraph.
California's Avi Buffalo, essentially the project of Elliott Smith devotee Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg are something of an unusual proposition for Leeds in that their gently strummed lo-fi is more akin to ATP or End Of The Road rather than here. 'Summer Cum' and 'What's In It For?' bring Isenberg's sensitive side to the fore and when the line "I've never written a love song but I will for you" brings 'Remember Last Time' and the set to a close, you can't help but feel touched, if a little bewildered what he's doing at such an event amidst the Axls and Dursts of this world.
LA's Warpaint may have been born with the odd silver spoon or two, having spent their formative years among the Hollywood elite but here they're a revelation. Mixing new wave riffs that regale memories of early Cure records or late lamented combos Delta 5 or the Au Pairs combined with an experimental edge not too dissimilar to Brighton's Esben & The Witch, the all-girl four-piece mesmerise and captivate in equal measures. 'Undertow' and 'Bees' off forthcoming album 'The Fool' are simply immense in their execution while the on-stage chemistry between all four band members, particularly the rhythm section of bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgawa is a joy to behold. Every year festival season throws up an undiscovered gem and this year it's the turn of Warpaint. Simply unmissable.
So, with Leeds 2010 drawing to a close and the Guns N Roses saga still rife, its left to Axl Rose and his band of assorted session musicians to finally bring the curtain down on this year's event and this he does in controversial style. Arriving onstage thirty-five minutes later than scheduled, the opening gambit of 'Chinese Democracy', 'Welcome To The Jungle' and 'Its So Easy' actually sound remarkably flawless. Inbetween times however there's a party going on in the Radio One Stage, LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy once again showing why he and his band are possibly the most revered dance act in the world right now. 'Get Innocuous!' is simply breathtaking while the exhilarating couplet of 'Tribulations' and 'All My Friends' are nothing short of exquisite, both delivered with a panache that literally turns the packed tent into a heaving rave. By the time a rousing 'Yeah Yeah' brings his set to a close, the sounds of Guns'n'Roses 'Night Train' off the multi-platinum 'Appetite For Destruction' reverberates around the whole field. With curfew time having elapsed over a quarter of an hour ago, Axl and friends are still here, and still winding up the authorities in the process, introducing final song 'Paradise City' with the immortal words "The promoters have tried to fuck us up the ass but this war ain't over yet!" and ending it with the message "Have a safe journey home except the promoters and the police - FUCK YOU!"
As another year of the Leeds Festival comes to an end relatively incident free, it's quite ironic that its biggest rabble-rouser just happened to be the main headliners! Nevertheless the organisers can look back on 2010 as being one of Leeds' most successful years to date, safe in the knowledge that this year's event has gone some way to restoring the previously tarnished reputation of their festival. Bring on 2011.
Dom Gourlay & Natalie Kaye