ONE WEEK ON; We look back at the UK’s Biggest Music Festival.
Panic! At The Disco – Main Stage
Despite being the act directly before Kendrick Lamar, Sunday’s headliner and to many the pinnacle of the festival, Panic! gave one of the best performances – for me personally, they surpassed Kendrick. The primary member and frontman Brendan Urie pushed his voice and showmanship to the limit, giving the audience something that will stay with them for a lifetime.
Their setlist was almost perfect. Beginning with tracks like Silver Lining and Hey Look Ma, I Made it, it was clear that Panic! wanted people to dance and enjoy themselves, but also that they wanted to showcase their new material. Being a band that has changed so much over time, they clearly wanted their performance to represent their latest sound, which unfortunately meant some of their less prestige but still, significant tracks were removed. Songs like High Hopes, Hallelujah and Emperor’s New Clothes were enthusiastically received, but it would have been nice to hear some more of their older material. Vegas Lights and Ready to Go were two fan favourites that would have fit the arena sound perfectly. However, considering that Panic! released the Music Video for High Hopes on the 27th August, the day after their performance at Leeds, it’s obvious this was they wanted to draw attention to their latest material.
Rather than sticking purely to their own material, Panic! took a different, but brilliant route and covered Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Not only did this get the whole audience involved, both fans and non-fans alike, but it also gave Brendan an unchallenged chance to show off his vocal range. Reaching over 4 octaves, Brendan hit every note perfectly. His falsetto vocals were impeccable and everyone in that audience agreed he was pushing himself to offer the best. These vocals were not only featured in the cover, he also experimented with high sections in most major tracks, even older ones like I Write Sins Not Tragedies.
Credit needs to be given to his assemble and bandmates. Although none of them are permanent band members, the performance they offered was brilliant. The main three: bass player Nicole Row, guitarist Kenneth Harris and drummer Dan Pawlovich put in an amazing performance. Their energy and flare really added to the overall performance. Praise must also be extended to the several strings and brass musicians who, despite being overshadowed by the main band and visuals, really offered a brilliant backing sound and a new dimension to the primarily band-oriented performances.
Here are some shots of the set that I took!
Kendrick Lamar – Main Stage
Perhaps the most prestigious of the headliners this weekend, all eyes were on Kendrick to bring a performance to be remembered.
Interlaced with small skits and anime-inspired backdrops, the Pulitzer Prize-winning artist really did deliver a historic Main Stage show at Reading & Leeds. Having woken up to the news that Kendrick had absolutely dominated the Reading Festival grounds the night before, we were absolutely buzzing with excitement to see what the HUMBLE Rapper may bring to the North. That anticipation seemed to be felt by everyone around the campsite. As we walked to get water and food in the morning, we heard a number of portable speakers blasting some of Kendrick’s greatest hits. His set comprised of a few hits from HUMBLE as well as smatterings of his earlier discography. Each song was met with screams of delight from the Northern crowd.
As we walked to his set, we heard some people debating whether Kendrick Lamar was something of a God or not. If to prove those deniers wrong, the weather immediately cleared from heavy rain to a gentle mist, which coupled with the lights of the Main Stage to create an orange/red glow, which made his set all the more beautiful.
The only downside to the performance laid in external forces. The sound seemed a bit oddly-mixed where we stood, which resulted in the crowd often being way too loud, as we could hear their screams through Kendrick’s mic. Furthermore, we saw a few young men get a bit too carried away and seemed to be getting aggressive with those around them. Shame, as everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves before.
Although I went into the festival not knowing many Kendrick Lamar songs, I left that day determined to find more. His performance was very close to being perfect. Stopping between a number of songs to thank the crowd, Kendrick remained HUMBLE.
BROCKHAMPTON – BBC Radio 1 Stage
The breakout stars of the festival, BROCKHAMPTON concluded their first ever European and UK tour by headlining Reading & Leeds.
The UK crowd absolutely adored the All-American Trash artists, a feeling that seemed to be reciprocated by the group themselves. With several members tweeting about their absolute love of the UK and Europe, capped by the leader/frontman Kevin Abstract tweeting “i don’t know if I would have been able to write another record if we didn’t come to europe – thanks for all the positive love man it was surreal this year has been one long ass dream. The band announced that their next studio album, Iridescence, would be recorded at London’s very own Abbey Road Studios.
As a major BROCKHAMPTON fan myself, I wasn’t sure which songs I should expect to hear as they headlined the BBC Radio 1 Stage. Out of their extensive discography, three albums (SATURATION I, II, and III) were all released within 2017 – that’s over 40 songs.
They performed some fan favourites such as BOOGIE, SWEET, and 1997 Diana, which saw the crowd jump in unison from side to side.
The group’s showmanship stood out above all – their energy and interaction with the crowd really demonstrated their passion for their music and their appreciation for the audience. At times it felt deeply intimate and I found myself excited for what BROCKHAMPTON have ahead of them.
Sum 41 – Main Stage
Many could agree that Sum 41’s golden years have passed, and they are somewhat a legacy band. As frontman Deryck Whibley said himself at Leeds, the band had not played the festival in over 10 years. This is just one of many signs (like their drummer Steve Jocz recently leaving to become a realtor …) that shows their dwindling process. However, their performance at Leeds would not suggest such a regression. With the return of the long-lost member Dave ‘Brownsound’ Baksh and their surprise feature of Linkin Parks Mike Shinoda, Sum 41 seem to be making quite the comeback.
Their old, pop/skate punk sound, was a breath of fresh air among the modern realms of other recent artists. Not to discredit these artists, but hearing tracks like Still Waiting, Fat Lip and In Too Deep really does draw a certain nostalgia. With Dave ‘Brownsound’ back on the guitar for each solo and Deryck with his usual punk vocal tone, it almost felt like Sum 41 were giving us a vision of the early 2000s. Their energy filled rendition of Fat Lip and In Too Deep felt completely fresh, almost as if they had not played it to perfection for the past decade and a half. For both fans and non-fans alike, it really felt like we had been drawn back into the days when blink-182 and Britney Spears would feature on MTV.
Sum 41 brought in some major new elements. I do not think anyone was expecting a cover of Queen’s We Will Rock You. Although well received, its placement between Walking Disaster and In Too Deep and its addition at all, was quite odd. It made sense for Panic! At The Disco to do Bohemian Rhapsody because it matches frontman Brendan Urie’s vocal range and the artist’s general sound. However, for Sum 41, a very 90s skate punk sounding band, to cover such a classic rock anthem, it was a difficult but well-received sell.
That was not the end of Sum 41’s surprises, however, as just as Fat Lip was drawing towards its bridge section, Linkin Park’s own Mike Shinoda burst onto the stage. The crowd undoubtedly went wild, and looking back at the sound tower behind myself, even the sound technicians looked in awe. They suddenly erupted into a cover of Faint, with Mike playing the central vocal and guitar part. Similarly, to their Queen cover, Sum 41’s style did not exactly link. Deryck’s shrill voice blared through the track rather violently, as Linkin Parks style was carefully constructed around the late Chester Bennington’s vocals. Regardless, it was still an amazing spectacle to witness.
Overall, their performance was dramatic, nostalgic and surprising. They brought back an atmosphere unseen at the festival for over a decade and gave an awesome performance. Nevertheless, one does have to question what two covers in a nine-song setlist says about an artist.
Trash Boat – Main Stage
Having a set at 12 o’clock noon, on the last day of a festival, was always going to be a struggle for any band. Trash Boat were the exception. Being one of the fastest rising bands in the punk/hardcore scene, with the release of their latest album Crown Shyness reaching No. 2 Billboard’s Top Heatseekers Album Chart, Trash Boat still managed to draw out an impressive crowd for their time slot. They pulled off a stellar performance, one that totally made it clear why they were performing on the Main Stage and they convinced me, among others in the audience, to start following them.
They started strong with a mix of old and new, playing Inside Out and fan favourite Tring Quarry. Their set provided the audience with a good amount of moshing, but also enough they could sing as well. The energy they had when playing was incomparable. They moved with, if not more, than the lively audience and kept the stakes high despite the miserable weather. In terms of sound, they did not miss a single note. The difference in quality between their recorded and their live tracks was indistinguishable. They played completely on their own, no backing tracks and no support, purely playing their own instruments, something which is becoming increasingly rare these days.
Despite the questionable time slot, their performance was still spectacular. So much so that myself and several other new fans went straight to the merchandise stand and bought their clothing. Seeing their heavy sound grace the stage so early in the morning not only gave me a physical wake call, but it also gave me a mental one. This band, whom I knew because one song, far down on my playlist, suddenly burst into my Top 10. If they can do that in a noon performance, in the rain, on the last day of the festival, then they must be special.
Sunday at Leeds was full of bangers. Like on Saturday, we ran from stage to stage with no breaks in-between to catch some of our favourite bands. Unfortunately, this meant that we couldn’t catch entire sets. Here are some special mentions for bands and artists that performed exceptionally well.
Blood Youth – The Pit
Blood Youth had a mixed performance but still deserve recognition regardless. Playing mainly as a promotion for their debut album Beyond Repair, the band focused mainly on this newer material. However, in moments kept true to their roots and played tracks like Failure and Closure to draw fans in.
Unfortunately, it seems that many of their fans were elsewhere as the audience did seem to lack enthusiasm, and this evidently drew on Blood Youth’s confidence. There was a large open space for a mosh pit and the majority was, sadly, empty. For any metal band, this must be demoralising, especially for them as Leeds was, as frontman Kaya Tarsus said, practically their home festival. Some brave individuals tried to fill the ever-growing gap within but often failed to build the energy required.
Blood Youth still held on however and made the best of their slot. With the rain becoming increasingly heavy outside, many people arrived and eventually, the audience grew far enough that the tent was filled. The mosh pit remained sparse, but their music continued to grow in tone and weight, becoming heavier and more brutal as the set went on. By their final track, Reason to Stay, Blood Youth had the audience primed for the climax and they did not disappoint. The energy and flair brought to the final song almost outweighed the entire set and deserved them a mention.
Sigrid – BBC Radio 1 Stage
Norwegian-based popstar Sigrid has had an exciting year with the release of her debut EP Raw, which propelled her to superstardom and landed her a space on the BBC Radio 1 Stage.
Performing her signature bops High Five, Strangers, and Schedules before excitedly announcing her upcoming album, she took the time to introduce her band and express her excitement at being in the UK for the first time. The crowd were in the palm of her hands.
Wearing a hoodie and trackies, Sigrid’s stage presence took me by surprise. I’ve been a fan of hers since she released High Five EP earlier in the year, but I wasn’t expecting her to sound exactly as she does on the album. However, the thing that surprised me the most of all was how thick her Norwegian accent was when she spoke normally.
Hats off to her though, she performed a fantastic set that the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Hopefully, we’ll see her on a UK tour sometime soon!
Pale Waves – Festival Republic Stage
With the excitement of their upcoming debut album My Mind Makes Noises, the Manchester-based indie group had all eyes on them as they produced what I’m sure was the busiest set that the Festival Republic Stage saw all weekend.
One of the biggest draws for Pale Waves, as I’m sure anyone who has seen them will know, is frontwoman Heather Baron Gracie’s unique gothic style. I was wondering how this look might fair in the wet, Northern field when Heather burst to the stage in skintight leather trousers, leather shirt, and topped by a leather jacket.
Wasting no time before bursting into Television Romance, the band stirred the audience into a frenzy. Heather’s intimacy with the audience as she contorted her body in dance was deeper than I had initially considered. Throughout the set, she thanked the audience profusely for coming to their show, and it was evident that she was having the time of her life.
The band, which rocketed to the limelight with the backing of The 1975 frontman Matty Healy, owned the Festival Republic Stage, with the audience stretching well out of the borders of the tent. Perhaps one of the most entertaining indie sets of the weekend, Pale Waves quite literally stole the show as they contested with big names such as Dua Lipa.
The Magic Gang- Festival Republic Stage
Ending the festival, The Magic Gang had a tough slot to fill, however, fill it they did! With the Festival Republic stage packed, this four-piece finished the festival on a complete high.
Not only did they play many of their most well-known songs such as How Can I Compete and All This Way, they also played Take Care which they dedicated to those in the audience who had picked up their album. The friendly and inviting atmosphere this band created made everyone feel welcome and was coupled wonderfully with their flawless musicianship and catchy, chilled songs.
Leeds 2018 was magical. My first festival experience went off without a hitch, and I had the time of my life. I’m already buzzing for next year – you can already get your tickets here!
Thanks for taking the time to read our reviews. We hope they conveyed even a small amount of how brilliant each act was live. Here’s to next year!
Will Wilkins, Jess Daubney, and George Knight.
Dedicated to Clare and Giles Daubney.