Leeds is better than Sheffield for music because they organise ridiculous day-long festivals (Constellations Festival) in a single labyrinthian venue (Leeds University Union) and stuff the line-up with an unbelievable number of awesome bands (Stephen Malkmus, BRAIDS, Islet, Eagulls, Vondelpark, The Antlers, Yuck,...you get the picture) meaning you struggle to try and see everyone you want before having to catch the train home as you live in Sheffield and nobody there arranges anything anywhere near as amazing.
I met up with my bro Andy (who runs this cool blog - www.crackintheroad.com) in Sheffield and we caught the fast train to Leeds. While chatting away about the festival some old dude overheard us talking about "Riley Smith" (the name of one of the venues at the festival) which seemed to set him off on a nostalgia trip about a 1950s dancehall in Tadcaster with the same name. We then started talking about music again and he fell asleep. I guess chatting away about the recently announced Primavera Sound line-up isn't that interesting to retired train conductors.
Upon arriving in Leeds, and waking up the old guy sitting next to me so I could get off the train, we headed over to the Leeds Uni campus. On the way some drunk dude hanging out next to a pub showing the England game saw Andy and remarked "you dress like i want to" which was weird. We finally found Leeds University Union, got our wristbands and chilled out in the bar waiting for Islet to start. There was a weird film showing in there that involved a long lingering overhead shot of a fat guy taking a piss while lying in a bath-tub. I didn't really understand.
Five pm rolled around, Andy went off to go see twee-buzzband Summer Camp while I headed towards the aforementioned "Riley Smith" hall for Islet. I cannot emphasise enough how stoked I was to see these guys again. The Cardiff quartet were by far the highlight of Tramlines Festival a few months back and I've been listening to the mindblowing 'This Fortune', the first single from their upcoming debut album, pretty much non-stop over the last week. The Riley Smith hall kinda had a school assembly hall vibe going on although the festival had clearly tried to contemporise the room by hanging a bunch of Ikea lampshades from the lighting rigs on stage. Islet took to the stage 15 minutes or so late and kicked things off with an intense new song that went on for well over 10 minutes. They followed this up with a rendition of 'This Fortune' which sounded just as good live as it had during repeated plays on my mp3 player. It was during this song that the band members started their typical off-stage excursions, wandering through the crowd shouting and shaking tamborines at confused audience members. Their moustached guitarist/bassist jumped off an amp mid song, a drum was knocked over and fell off it's stand from the intense pounding it was receiving while impromptu instrument swapping meant that they spent half a song playing a keyboard before noticing it wasn't plugged in, fixing the problem and adding another awesome layer to another new song. Apart from 'Iris', every song they played was new and sounded fantastic. Based on this energetic performance, their upcoming album 'Illuminated People', is going to be astonishingly good. Islet deserve to be huge; there isn't a band around at the moment that put on a better live performance.
After being blown away by Islet we headed down into the main room and awaited indie-rock demigod Stephen Malkmus (and the Jicks). He kicked things off with the rocking track 'Senator' and afterwards enaged the crowd with some typically slack stage chatter while pulling out his phone to check his messages on stage. I guess I can cut him some slack on that given that the guy is responsible for some of the greatest indie rock albums ever released.
After a few more songs (that unfortunately didn't include a cover of 'Song 2' which he apparently blasted out in Manchester a few nights beforehand) I headed off to go see BRAIDS. The Canadian natives were having trouble setting-up and sound checking however upon witnessing the stage floor covered with masses of wires and FX pedals it became immediately clear why. Following on from shouting at the sound guy about monitor levels, the Montreal residents launched straight into their first number - a new song built around a simple delayed 3 bar chord progression. Unfortunately the rushed sound check meant that they lost a lot of the subtlety that punctuates their amazing debut album 'Native Speaker', and i'm not sure that their keyboard player Katie's microphone was even plugged in. Braids were forced off stage by an irate organiser after a brief three song set that never really hit the heights they reached when I saw them headlining their own show in London earlier in the week. It was a shame given how obviously talented and musically tight they were, but bands reliant on complex stage ups and delicate sonic arrangements never really work that well when shoe-horned into a brief festival timeslot. Hopefully the majority of the impressively large crowd they drew realised this rather than dismissing them altogether.
Braids overrunning meant that I only caught the last two songs from local punk-rockers Eagulls. The room was completely packed for the Leeds five-piece but sadly I arrived too late and missed their best two songs; 'Possessed' and 'Council Flat Blues'. I can't really say all that much about their performance at Constellations, having witnessed only a fraction of it from the rear of an over-crowded room, but I think the size of the crowd that had shown up says a lot about a band who up to now have only released a two track 7" and a split single with Mazes. They killed it when I saw them a few weeks earlier supporting Fucked Up but it was a little disappointing to see them dressed normally this time round, rather than all dressed in drag on stage for Halloween like they were the last time round. Eagulls write simple, catchy but huge sounding rock songs and it's definitely worth giving them a listen.
We trotted back over to Mine where Vondelpark were setting up. Fortunately their stage set up was much simpler than their predecessors Braids' and they managed to start their performance only a few minutes late. The young London trio treated the crowd to a set of slick, laid back jams epitomised by their stage lighting - a simple desk lamp sat on a table gloomily illuminating their singer as he voiced his indifferent vocals into the mic. Vondelpark's minimal hazy grooves were a highlight of the day with the incredibly cool 'california analogue dream' being a particular high point.
Just as Vondelpark were forced off stage by the same draconian organiser that curtailed Braids set, Andy and I had to rush off back to the station. On our way out we walked past Yuck blasting out 'Rubber', the final track from their new album. I kinda wished I could have hung around to check them out and The Antlers who were due on stage after them but sadly public transport schedules meant we had to cut our trip to Constellations Festival short. The day was a musical triumph and you could barely move without stumbling across a rad band playing somewhere in the building. I can only hope that some Sheffield promoters are inspired to arrange a similarly amazing day of awesome bands (or is that just greedy given that we already have Tramlines in the city?!).