The Prodigy knocked the Arctic Monkeys from their headline tree at the opening night of Leeds Festival 2009, in what surely must go down as one of the most misplaced billings in the festival's history.
On paper modern indie saviours Arctic Monkeys seem like obvious headliners, with an armful of classics that beg to be danced to. But then they had new album ‘Humbug’ to show off, and in front of a drunk festival crowd still unfamiliar with its brooding soundscapes was not the place – the intimidating ‘Potion Approaching’ sees people walking miserably towards the toilets or bar before the next hit starts.
For true fans, this was an admirable performance from a band who’ve come of age, with long rock star manes and a suave, effortlessly cool stage presence. But for those still on a high for their initial hits, it seems the stage tonight belonged to The Prodigy whose dazzling brilliance outshone them all too well.
As the arena starts to swell with the excited and giddy it’s clear that The Prodigy have a reputation to uphold. When their splintered guitar grooves and scattershot beats finally shoot off amidst an apocalyptic light storm it seemed the entire festival, including a few burger van girls, goes absolutely apeshit. Only co-vocalist Maxim’s presence tarnished an otherwise flawless performance “If you aren’t here, you’re fucking nowhere”, being one of a few of Maxim’s choice nonsensical quotes that make his presence as pointless as ever. To have them obliterate the stage before Arctic Monkeys almost seems cruel.
Earlier on, as the older Indie aficionados make their way to the front for The Courteneers, it’s clear their transition from Next Big Thing to actual Big Thing may be closer than first thought. While Liam Fray’s voice may not cut through with the panache of their Northern peers, ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ still has the crowd jumping about manically, serving as a perfect precursor to the Godfather of Mancunian Indie Ian Brown.
Only the stark, cold vulture silhouette staring ominously from the kick drum bore a hint at the rock star supergroup Those Crooked Vultures that was to emerge from the rain-soaked NME tent, but as soon as Messer’s Grohl and Homme take to the stage the eyes of the crowd light up with pure adulation. Joined by Zeppelin bassist / keyboardist John Paul Jones and QOTSA guitarist Alain Johannes they launch into a pure adrenalized rock hybrid, Grohl literally smashing his kit behind a flurry of truly monstrous riffs. Jones’ keyboards half way through adds a menacing tenure to a sound that throttles you until you’re headbanging along, unable to contain your amazement at how these rock titans have created something so invigorating and new.
Swaggering onto the main stage to a hero’s welcome, not even the encroaching rain could deter his faithful throng from basking in his God-like glow. Fleshing out his songs with strings, trumpets and an impressively moustachioed chap on Percussion, these are songs made for soaring over a festival crowd. Especially the older members, needing no encouragement for ‘Fools Gold’ to pretend they’re shell-suited teens again and dance like it’s 1989.
Maximo Park’s sophisticated art-pop provided a needed jolt of energy to the woozy cider-swilling crowd, as vocalist Paul Smith prowled the stage with a feverish tenacity it seems his most natural environment. But despite the choice addition of a brass band for a storming version of ‘The Kids Are Sick Again’, whether they’ve got the staying power to make it further up the bill remains to be seen.
"Ladies and gentlemen, your sex is almost on fire!" The Gossip's Beth Ditto is as hot as her new red hairdo as she swaggered across the NME stage.
Whether it's her glass-shattering vocals on '4 Letter Word', flashing her bra, or deliberately smashing her mic on the floor, Ditto is Diva with a capital D.Even a keyboard malfunction couldn't phase them in this too short but never too sweet headline set.
Meanwhile, on the Festival Republic Stage, The Blackout seemed a little confused about what day it was, telling the Leeds crowd that, "when we asked Reading this question, they went fucking nuts!" However a couple of Slipknot-baiting crouch-down, jump-up moves and the crowd was theirs.
Scottish buzz-poppers Glasvegas sadly couldn't compare to the tremendous light and sound show of The Prodigy, and even 'Geraldine' couldn't stop the tent feeling empty, after the squash for The Maccabees. Think pits, think crowd-surfers, think crowd-surfers in a plastic boat for the indie superstars, despite the fact the band remained impassive and listless compared to the crowd.
Not a problem for You Me At Six, the energetic pop rockers arriving fashionably late for a storming set that included snippets of Lady GaGa and Rage Against The Machine.
Over on The Lockup Rival Schools kicked off the evening action, the reformed post-hardcore rockers showcasing new tunes '69 Guns' and 'Eyes Wide Open' alongside first album classics like 'Used For Glue'. Mad Caddies meanwhile kicked off their set in a mellow mood, the crowd only really moving for earlier punk classics such as 'Days Away' and the riotous brass of 'Monkeys'.
Compared to their side project, The Bronx nab a much smaller crowd for their dayjob, but things soon pick up when Matt Caughthren climbs into the crowd to somersault from the central pillar of the tent for ‘White Tar’. But it's when the stocky frontman volunteers to relive his security guard days in the pit during 'Strangler' that the photo pit becomes flooded – proof positive that Doormanship's loss is definitely our gain.
Anglophile progressive post-hardcore mob Thursday roll out the brutal classic 'Jet Black New Year' for their large ecstatic cult following, while Geoff Rickley spins his mic around his head like a slingshot – as if a guest appearance from Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath on ‘Resuscitation Of a Deadman’ wasn’t enough of a treat. Headliners Rise Against may be celebrating their first ever UK festival headline show, but they've got a job to do first – proving that going to the majors didn't make them soft.
Packing out the tent for their raucous punk, most of which Tim McIlrath dedicates to the other Lockup bands, it's almost a fait accompli but with his empassioned vocals and the adrenalin rush of 'Prayer Of The Refugee', they're making damn sure, they deserve it. As a grinning McIlrath leads the whole tent in the celebratory chorus of 'Give It All', you know there could have been few better choices of Lockup headliner tonight.