Leeds Festival headliners

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LeedsThis year’s Reading and Leeds headliners could be considered just about the strongest of any festival this year. Featuring relatively new, home-grown talent, some seasoned veterans and a returning headliner who still surprises wherever he’s announced, there was a lot to talk about. Not least because the headlining spots at this year’s festivals meant something very different for each concerned. Biffy Clyro were the only headliners who seemed to have something to prove: this being only their second and certainly most notable headlining spot at a UK festival after having spent years slowly climbing up the bill and releasing six albums (including the new double release, Opposites).

It was easy to see the effort put into at least looking like a headlining band with an enormous tree resembling the new album cover sitting centre-stage complete with raised platform for singer Simon Neil to perform from. During the second song, “That Golden Rule”, pyrotechnics were let loose for the explosive finale. Confetti cannons were unleashed for “Many of Horror” and lasers were abundant during Opposites track “Modern Magic Formula”. While most of the visual elements fell into place rather well it often seemed shoehorned in such as during “Who’s Got a Match?” where Neil stood holding a lit flare over his head. A cool idea but rather odd to look at.

The setlist was heavy on latter-period material with only two-and-a-half songs from the band’s first three albums appearing: “57” from their debut, “Blackened Sky”, stood out as a high point in the evening; “Glitter and Trauma” from “Infinity Land” has very much been a live staple since its release and a teaser of “Questions and Answers” during a solo acoustic portion of the evening almost appeased any hardcore fans pining for rarities.

The band seemed extremely comfortable and confident considering the occasion and, despite a short period of technical difficulties early in the set, had no problem with whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Neil’s presence and verbal delivery when addressing the crowd had a seductive, menacing quality to it. Through the light rain they powered through the night and hardly seemed to drop the ball at all. It’s as though Biffy Clyro have evolved specifically to please festival crowds with many of their most recent tracks seemingly designed exactly for this (“That Golden Rule”, “Biblical”, “Mountains”). All shortcomings considered (there weren’t many anyway) there are few UK bands who have been as well-prepared for a headlining slot as this band. I wish for nothing but to see this band continue to succeed and make more, possibly more refined festival appearances.

The rock theme continued over onto Saturday night. For Green Day these Reading and Leeds performances would serve as the final nail in the coffin of their recent year from hell following lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s pills-and-alcohol-fuelled meltdown leading to the poor sales of their new albums,” ¡Uno!”,” ¡Dos!” and “ ¡Tré!”. Nearly a year on from the incident the band seem keen to appease those in doubt of their abilities following the ordeal and perform the whole of their smash album, “Dookie”, front to back in anticipation of its 20th anniversary next year.

What material still remains in the setlist from last year’s trilogy is tried and tested. New barnstormer “Stay the Night” deserves a spot in setlists for years to come while “Let Yourself Go” is the closest to the Ramones that Green Day have ever come. The opening eight songs’ well-engineered crowd-pleasing abilities prove what slick and powerful performers the group still are. Fan favourite “Letterbomb” serves as a platform for an empowered rant from Armstrong about living in the moment and turning a blind eye to the ever-accelerating pace and embedding of technology in our culture. The biggest shock of the night comes in the form of a cover of The Who’s “A Quick One, While He’s Away”, a nod to their seminal live album, Live at Leeds”.  Seemingly unrehearsed, the performance was sloppy in places but a treat for fans and a nice sentiment.

The hits remain as exciting as ever: “Minority” has the masses bouncing; “American Idiot”, arguably the most recognisable tune here, has everyone riled up; “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” inspires the biggest sing-along of the night. The tradition of pulling fans onstage is carried on at two points throughout the night, first during “Know Your Enemy” where a boy sings the wordless chant during the bridge before stage-diving. The second instance occurs during “Longview” where this writer was invited to sing the final verse and chorus as well as the first two of the following song, “Welcome to Paradise”.

Armstrong explained the gig was the band’s last for “a really long time”. If this means the end of any promotion for the trilogy, it’s a wonderful close to perhaps the darkest chapter of Green Day’s career.

The headliner on Sunday could have suffered greatly if another rock band had been billed. Luckily, a very welcome  palette refresher was lined up in the form of the iconic Marshall Mathers. Eminem’s performance was a rare live UK appearance signalling the beginning of a new album cycle. It certainly put his cancelled appearances in 2000 out of mind and his unusually punctual onstage arrival is certainly worth noting. However, in spite of opening with new single, “Survival”, this was very much a greatest hits show. The setlist was virtually unchanged from recent years’ in promotion of 2010’s “Recovery”, yet the featured songs, such as “Love the Way You Lie” and “Not Afraid” come just as expectedly as “Lose Yourself” and are mostly just as well received. The likes of “Airplanes, Pt. II” and “Like Toy Soldiers” bring the sing-alongs while “Kill You” and “White America” put Eminem’s murderous early-career persona on full display, delighting all watching. Eminem himself seemed less than present a lot of the time with hype man Mr. Porter doing much of the talking in between songs. The songs seemed to speak on behalf of the man himself.

Visually the show is a treat with an enormous letter E lying on its side as the backline, paired with towering screens overhead showing various gruesome and hilarious scenarios lining up with the subject matter of each track: at one point a first-person perspective of a bound victim being dragged along a dark corridor leaving a thick trail of blood; later on during the Slim Shady portion of the evening, various images of a young Eminem are splashed across the stage with their mouths moving to the lyrics.

The predictable setlist didn’t mean a lack of surprises though. Midway through, Royce da 5’9″, the other half of Bad Meets Evil, appears to run through two songs from their EP, “Hell: The Sequel”. And for the many seemingly unfamiliar with this work, Dido graces the stage for the chorus of “Stan”, receiving one of the biggest audience reactions of the night. With the generally indie and rock heavy line-up of 2013, Eminem brought a breath of fresh air in at the close while also assembling the biggest audience the main stage had all weekend. A strong start to the return of a giant.