Leeds festival review – top marks for Red Hot Chili Peppers at post-GCSE blowout

Bramham Park, Leeds
The headliners’ two-hour set inspires multi-generational singalongs while Fall Out Boy and Eagles of Death Metal deliver David Bowie tributes

No longer exclusively a rock festival, Leeds and Reading has become the annual post-GCSE celebration/commiseration blowout. “It’s not really about the music, it’s the memories,” says one optimistic overheard teen, pinpointing the reason why young people flock to the dual-site event - which this year offers plenty of high fives and hugs to random strangers.

Generic tattooed rock bands still abound, but this year’s eclectic lineup reflects the fragmented listening habits of a generation. After last year’s criticism regarding the lack of female acts on the bill, there is some improvement, at least in the tents, where the monochrome-clad Savages deliver a masterclass in darkly controlled tension.

The dance tent is packed all weekend and Disclosure illuminate the main stage with a stunning lightshow, although the duo don’t quite have enough tunes to pull off their “co-headline” status. North London collective Boy Better Know head a sizable grime contingent and drew a larger main stage crowd than many of the rock acts.

Although rap fans are left disappointed and angry by several late withdrawals (Fetty Wap, A$AP Rocky and Travis Scott), Brooklyn’s Nas turns in a storming set and has the crowd chanting, while pop is best represented by recent sensations the 1975 (a slap bass-tickling Duran Duran for modern teens) and Stockport’s Blossoms. Both acts pack the NME tent to bursting point, the latter’s low spot on the Sunday bill surely booked long before their recent No 1 album.

Pop-punks Fall Out Boy and glam-metal group Eagles of Death Metal both bring showmanship and David Bowie tributes. The former features female dancers with flaming torches and a large image of the late performer, while the latter deliver a heartfelt version of Moonage Daydream that sails happily over the crowd’s heads.

EODM – who performed at the Bataclan the night of the Paris terror attack – seem to be enjoying getting back to rocking out. It’s not all about the bigger names, though, and two of the best sets come from relative unknowns. Blistering Dublin garage punks Otherkin play a half-empty tent as if it is Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, the wonderfully disreputable Manchester band Cabbage invite hero worship and parental disapproval for their riotous psychobilly/Sex Pistols rumble, songs such as Death to Donald Trump, and a fondness for baring chests and dropping trousers.

Savages perform at Leeds festival.
A masterclass in tension ... Savages perform at Leeds festival. Photograph: Richard Isaac/Rex Shutterstock

Torrential rain dampens the atmosphere, although the monsoon curiously benefits Foals’ intense, moody co-headline set, which sees Yannis Philippakis leap into the audience, prompting celebrations resembling a rain dance. Sunday’s site is a quagmire, although veteran Californicators the Red Hot Chili Peppers bring older additions to the crowd and finally fill the field. Their two-hour set reaches from 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magick to their new album, The Getaway; bassist Flea inexplicably walks on his hands and declares himself a Yorkshireman. Under the Bridge and By the Way prompt multi-generational singalongs and provides, at last, the communal experience the weekend has been waiting for.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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