Seven o clock, Thursday august 23rd, Seamie (my cohort for the illicit weekend) and I arrive at the festival site. Our journey so far is best described as blurry. Later my camera (the one that worked) reminds me of drinking sessions with various people, Australians, French, English‚?¶ basically anyone who would pass the time for two drunken Irish fools on their way to one of the best festivals Europe has to offer. For the last few years, The Carling Leeds And Reading Festivals have offered excellent line-ups, and this year, Seamie and I decided to pack our tent and a sleeping bag, a few beers, a spoon, a straw, and any other completely useless things we could grab at the last minute and set off. The festival not staring until Friday, we arrived Thursday and settled in with a group of 16-18 year olds from nearby Bradford that were camping next to us. Fact is, about 90% of campers arrived on Thursday, seemingly festival tip number 1! For our early arrival we were rewarded with working toilets, little or no smell, and a little fireworks display. The vibes were good, and expectations were high.
Ugh, Friday was a hard day to face. After the opening festivities of Thursday, the morning came too soon, and, heads heavy, Seamie and I set off to sample the music. That's why we're here right? Well, after seeing Boy Hits Car on the main stage, we weren't so sure. With a singer that looked a dead ringer for Robert Plant, a sound stood dead center between The Grateful Dead and Tool, and songs that accordingly seemed to go on for days, we were a bit concerned about our choice of festivals! Things brightened up a bit (figuratively, it was pissing rain) when the singer climbed the speakers. "Cool, we're in for a bit of Slipknot/Jesus Lizard type craziness" Seamie guessed. Things took a turn for the Terence Trent Darby unfortunately when the singer took the opportunity to deliver the first "you're all beautiful individuals" type speech of the weekend. Time for breakfast we decided and off we went to spend ¬£2.50 on cold burgers. On our return he was down off the speakers, but seemingly still singing the same song‚?¶
Hed (PE) followed and faired not much better. Pretty energetic and slightly entertaining, but the only thing that could capture our attention for more than a few seconds was the boundless energy of their DJ, who would not be out of place at a slipknot family reunion (though by the look of him, he'd be more of an uncle than a cousin).
Luckily, about half way through their set, it was time for 100 Reasons in the Evening Session Tent. Expectations were high and 100 Reasons lived up to the challenge, despite sound troubles (of the disappearing guitar sound variety), and in their own words, being "f**king wrecked". Ripping through most of the tracks from their One and EP2 EPs, as well as several new songs, 100 Reasons marked themselves as ones to watch.
Back over to the main stage we trudged to more disappointment in the form of Fear Factory. They banged out a set made of all the favourites from each album (nothing from soul of a new machine though), but unfortunately, they were lost on the big stage, and altogether failed to move any more than the first two rows in the crowd.
Saddened, we headed off to the Comedy tent to catch the last of JoJo Smith's set. She seemed to be having a bit of a chat with a front row punter about her sex life, and, as was becoming the norm, failed to impress. After a few minutes compere Adam Crow took over and things took a turn for the better. A short few minutes focusing on his experiences playing gigs in the English midlands (think inbreeding jokes and a hilarious skit about cart theft) and he introduced Brendan Burns who slayed the crowd from the out with material about people who are intolerant to nuts and an excellent (and un repeatable) heckler retort. Unfortunately, we could not stay for all of his set, as System Of A Down (or System Of A Motherf**ker as they informed us they prefer to be called) were taking the stage. First on stage was guitarist (and genuine nutcase) Daron who played a solo, unnamed ditty that went along the lines of "We're on drugs". As the other members took the stage, they launched into "War" and the crowd went into a frenzy. All around us, everyone knew the words, singing and dancing as if this was the last band of the weekend. The reception was not lost on SOAD, who treated us to several songs from the forthcoming Toxicity, including an excellent song with a chorus of "Pull the tapeworm out of your ass" (before which singer Serge urged us to look to the sky and see the invisible UFO's watching us all. Hmmm), the excellent "Prison", and current single "Suicide". Between songs, Daron amused all by shouting abuse, telling us "We're not here so you will like us, we're here so you will hate us", and then proceeding to dance like a loon during old favorites such as "Know", "Sugar", "Suggestions", and the closing "Suite Pee".
After such a truly inspiring set, there was only one thing to do. Recharge. Burgers were ate, cans were drank, chat was engaged in with our Bradford pals, and we returned for Queens Of The Stone Age, who, despite a naked bass player, seemed to just bash through a standard set. Unimpressed, we retired to the nearby comedy tent for the award winning Men In Coats. Men in coats are two performers (in coats) and one or more helpers hidden behind a black curtain. The act has to be seen to be believed, all sorts of feats are achieved, such as the removal of limbs, the illusion of flying, and an absolutely hilarious sketch in which one of the performers is made to look like mini-me from Austin Powers. Words cannot describe the mixture of hilarity and wonder the act inspires, but suffice to say, comedy highlight of the weekend, see or die!
Back to the main stage, Papa Roach put on a mostly strong set. Normally mild mannered singer Coby Dick (poor lad) surprised us by screaming like Ozzy on speed, ordering us to "Get the f**k up motherf**kers and dance!" They tore through a reasonably strong set, with Coby running down to the barrier to cover up the weak numbers. "Sing along if you know this one" requested Coby before launching into "Angels". "Broken home" ended with Coby alone onstage, staring at the crowd with a sample playing of a couple shouting abuse at each other. Throughout the set, the singer smacked himself repeatedly on the head with his microphone, going so far as to cut his forehead open by about the third song. Closer "last Resort" was the highlight, and the stage was vacated for the entrance of several large crosses and various platforms, lights and pseudo-religious paraphernalia. The millions of mascara covered teens disappeared from our place on the hill and it was obvious what was to come. Lights dimmed, strange intro music blared, a number of figures arrived on stage, and, with a puff of smoke, Marilyn Manson appeared. Launching straight into a ferocious rendition of "Angel With Scabbed Wings", Manson impressed all, with a number of costume changes and a very strong set. Current single "Nobodies" was accompanied by the Satanic Priest himself dressed as the Pope on seven-foot stilts, surrounded by the aforementioned twenty-foot crosses. Other theatrical highlights included a pew with Manson and the band dressed as members of the SS, a dress from which Manson rose to a dizzying height above the stage, and a number of onstage fireworks. But the real highlights were the songs, running through all the favorites (though leaving out Tourniquet sadly), as well as the standard cover of Patti Smith's "Rock And Roll Nigger", the theatrics were second to the bands performance. Closing with "Beautiful People", both Seamie and I were surprised to have actually enjoyed the set!
Half an hour later, D12 and Eminem arrived, but, with so many of them onstage, and the lights being less illuminating than one could have hoped, there was some confusion as to which one was Eminem. The man himself soon rectified this, and launched into a strong musical set, but a disappointing live set. Following on from Manson and Papa Roach, Eminem couldn't have hoped to match their energy, and had only controversy to fall back on. Needless to mention, a disappointing hour and a half followed. Closing with Purple Pills, many were heard to comment, "Bit crap, wasn't he". In my opinion, not crap, just out of place.
Having enjoyed the Friday night campsite festivities to the full, Saturday morning came too soon. Crackout were on too early for my liking, in that their indie rock was not appreciated at such an ungodly hour. As it was, they were disappointing, singer Steven's voice also obviously feeling the strain. Moldy Peaches on the other hand were a very welcome antidote to the early morning blues. Running through all the favorites, such as "Who's Got The Crack" and "Steak For Chicken", and onstage costumes that would leave even slipknot baffled, MP could be easily summed up into one word. However, "fucking brilliant" does them much more justice.
After spending a good five minutes winding our way into the Evening Session tent for the most expected band of the weekend, and waiting another five minutes for them to come on, Cosmic Rough Riders arrived to much confusion. As they launched into a typical indie guitar sob fest, we bounded out of the tent, to find what we were looking for. At the main stage we found it. The Strokes walked on to thunderous applause, obviously awed by the reception and size of the crowd gathered to see them. Launching straight into their debut album's title track, "Is This It", The Strokes lived up to the hype by playing said album track for track. Not a word was said to the crowd, but none was needed, the music spoke volumes. Stand out songs such as "New York City Cops" and "Last Nite" sounded better than ever, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them headline the event next summer.
After The Strokes, a few quite hours, talent-wise, passed. King Adora's glammy rock stirred up the crowd but failed to hold our attention. Iggy Pop looked like a very old, very thin granddad. I thought it was just me, never having been much of an Iggy fan, but the occupants of the neighboring tent to Seamie and I, who came specifically to see Iggy, declared him pants. In the comedy tent Phil Kay played a very disjointed set and failed to win over the substantial crowd drawn presumably on the strength of his television work.
A quick (overpriced) burger later, and we retired to the Evening Session tent for Amen. Emo sod that he is, Seamie wasn't expecting much, but my hopes were high on the basis of the few tracks I had heard. Amen were one of the few bands I have ever seen that have totally surpassed my expectations with a set of songs I had never heard, but loved from note one. Singer Casey Chaos walked on, and, throwing crutches aside, paused to tell us that he was under doctors orders not to play due to a leg injury, launched into a ferocious set. The crowd lapped it up, as did Seamie and I, each song more intense than the last. Chaos covered the stage about six times a song, jumping from every thing more than two inches off the ground. Pausing occasionally to take requests and to inform us they were making nothing for the appearance ‚?? "This is just for you fuckers" ‚?? Amen gave it their all for their 45 minutes and left everyone satisfied. One of the highlights, and one to see whenever they return to our shores.
An hour of boredom was passed in the company of PJ Harvey (disappointing) and BS2000 (vaguely amusing). Off to the Main Stage for Green Day, who seemed to get the biggest crowd of the weekend, and knew it. With every song drawn out to allow for call and response sections and just about any other stadium rock clich√© you could think of, one was left with the feeling that, had they held back a bit, they could have played an extra five or six songs. That said, they did an excellent set, even drawing three punters from the crowd to form a band onstage and join them in their amusing rendition of Operation Ivy's Knowledge. After trashing the amps and setting the drums on fire, they all met stage front for a quick acoustic set, and soon disappeared. Excellent set all in all, but we could have done with less rock star antics.
At this point, Seamie and I said farewell, as I set off for Ash in one tent and Seamie for Arab Strap in another. Ash packed the tent to well above capacity, and, as should have been expected, several crushes ensued, with Ash stopping in the middle of no less than five songs to ask people to step back. Not quite on form, Ash pounded out the hits, along with a poor cover of Weezer's "Only In Dreams", but failed to live up to expectations. Arab Strap on the other hand, were excellent (or so Seamie would have me believe). Having only previously heard one song, Sham assures me they were excellent, with singer Aidan Moffett ad libbing all the way through and delivering a truly excellent performance. Seamie's verdict ‚?? Top.
Sunday was to be the big day for me, loads of ace punk bands. However, Kids Near Water got the day off to a shaky start, their Hot Water Music style post hardcore leaving a lot to be desired. Playing to a full Concrete Jungle Tent, KNW rocked away with no real high points to make them stick in ones head. Italy's Linea 77 followed, and were excellent from the get go. The two singers were fountains of energy, and you could tell they were genuinely excited to have made it over. Ones to watch. Next came Save Ferris who, while not particularly exciting in the musical department, got the crowd going in a big way. Singer Monique used her sex appeal to maximum affect, and, with a call and response section or two (not half as many as Green Day, but to similar effect), made sure the all present enjoyed and, most importantly, remembered Save Ferris. Shelter were up next, and for me, expectations were low, as their output since Mantra had gone consistently downhill. The absence of any original band member (with the exception of Ray Cappo naturally) also suggested a sinking ship. Surprisingly, opening with "Message Of The Bhagavat", Shelter put in an excellent performance, 90% of the songs culled from Mantra. Even Seamie was impressed!
Off to the main stage I went, hopes high for Trail Of Dead. Off to the second stage Seamie went, hopes high for Guided By Voices. Both of us ended up disappointed however, as TOD put in a very lackluster performance, and GBV played all their newer, more middle of the road rock songs. Back to the Jungle, Capdown rocked the living shit out of the whole tent. These four lads must be the UK punk scene's best kept secrets. Why they're not as well known outside the UK and Ireland is beyond me. A highly energetic set closed with "Ska Wars", with the whole crowd slamming and skanking at the appropriate times. Expect big things methinks.
Next up was The Dropkick Murphys. Having seen them before, and quite liked "Do Or Die", I was half looking forward to seeing them. But when they came on with a bloke on bagpipes, and another on tin whistle/banjo, and sang a song who's chorus included the line "We came to this country and made it our home", I was ready to kill. Granted, musically, they are an excellent band, but I really don't buy this cod Irish bollocks they're selling, and as soon as they pulled out "Wild Rover", I was gone. As I passed a middle aged American bloke on my exit, arms aloft, singing like they were all drinking pals, I thought, "Ignorance is bliss".
Frank Black over on the main stage played his usual set of solo songs interspersed with Pixies classics ("Gouge Away", "Monkey Gone To Heaven", closer "Where Is My Mind"), but the crowd seemed to be tolerating each of his own and waiting for each Pixies number. How long before a reunion‚?¶ As the crowd seemed to grow thick with crusties and Mohawks, it was obvious what time it was. About quarter to five. Rancid time! Opening with a long pro-independence speech from a drunken Lars, Rancid ripped into Radio, and proceeded to kick immeasurable amounts of arse for the next forty-five minutes. Drawing most of the set from "‚?¶And Out Come The Wolves", Rancid whipped the crowd into frenzy. "I see you know how to circle pit." Lars observed. "Whip one up for this next song." Cue 150-foot circle pit. Cue lint's amp breaking. Cue solo "The War's End" by Lars, all the while, the circle pit raging. Closing with Ruby Soho, Rancid proved themselves worthy of the acclaim they have received, and promised the crowd they would not be tempted by the draw of the Major Labels. Punk.
Legging it back to the Concrete Jungle stage, one felt sorry for Ignite who were playing for a mostly empty tent, but as it filled out again, they broke into a cover of U2s "Sunday Bloody Sunday", acknowledging that, as big as U2 have become, they still get behind causes. Ignite thrilled the crowd for the 15 minutes that there was a crowd, and ensured that the next time they visit, they won't be playing to as few as they did today.
A quick burger, a walk through Folk Implosion (not up to much) in the Evening Session Stage, a gaze at the riders on the vert ramp (Dave Allen and Mike Edwards particularly standing out) and back over to the jungle for Mad Caddies. Having never been much of a fan of their chirpy ska-punk stylings, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed their set. Running through a number of new songs, as well as all the songs from various compilations they've been involved in, the Caddies impressed the crowd greatly, and got an excellent reaction. Highlight for me was "Mary Melody", and sent me searching for Caddies CDs when I got home. Top.
Back to the ramp for the last show of the day, the boys on boards and bikes put on an excellent display as Snuff bashed away in the background. Snuff are always a bit of a dodgy prospect live, but having beefed up a bit with the addition of Paul on guitar and Eric on keyboards, they are now quite an act. Playing mostly very new songs, with the old favorites "Arsehole" (which sent me running stage front) and "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" thrown in, Snuff were actually much more entertaining than expected, but still retained the sameishness factor that dogged them before.
Next we caught the last few songs of My Vitriol's set, which left us wondering why they were so hyped. Ah well, not to worry, Good Riddance was up next. One of my favorite live bands, I was very excited to see them. It seems however I was the only one, as the crowd stared blankly at them for half an hour. No dancing, no crowd surfing, in fact, for the most part, no applause, one wondered what the hell was going on. Energy poured off the band as they made their debut on these shores with new drummer David, but the crowd was simply in interested. Chuck taunted and mocked the crowd, which didn't help matters, as they blasted through "Mother Superior", "Fertile Fields", "Shadows Of Defeat", "Heresy, Hypocrisy and Revenge", as well as a few new songs. An excellent set, as one would expect from Good Riddance. Hopefully next time round they will be playing for a crowd who actually appreciates their energetic hardcore.
After for a few cans and bit to eat, and a good bitch about the crowd for GR, it was time for the main acts. Mogwai played to an expectant capacity crowd in the Evening Session Tent, and burned the ears of all present with "Mogwai Fear Satan" and "Like Herod". Some seemed confused as to the lack of singing, but there was no doubting the sheer power of Mogwai. I on the other hand was at a crossroads. Rocket From The Crypt was in the Jungle, and a choice had to be made. Having not listened to anything other than "Scream Dracula Scream" and "The State Of Art Is On Fire" (but having had both on continued rotation for about three months each at separate times), I wasn't sure which way to turn. With the advice of my mate Ronan in mind ("Mogwai will play a gig, RFTC will do a show"), I legged it over to catch the start of their set. Nothing prepared me for what came next. Speedo looked a dead ringer for Elvis, hair slicked back, suit sparkling, cheesy smile a mile wide, and the band were every bit the Vegas backing band in the making. Launching into "Middle", my decision was all but made. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I was born in 69" heralded the arrival of, naturally, "Born In 69". Halfway through the song, my mind was set. I've seen a hell of a lot of gigs, but this was 100% show, and undoubtedly the best set I've ever seen. Speedo was Elvis re-incarnated, opening every song with a little speech, always starting with "Ladies and gentlemen, right now I'd like to‚?¶", closing every song with "Give it up for the band", and smiling like a man on his wedding day throughout. At one point, he actually got the crowd to face the back of the tent, and give the person in front of them a neck and shoulder rub (even the bouncers joined in) on the basis that, well, the great man didn't want us to pull a muscle while they got "kinky, ladies and gentlemen". When it as over, nobody moved, chanting for more until well after the drums were disassembled. Make no mistake, miss RFTC or die a death, ladies and gentlemen.
I legged it over hoping to catch the last Mogwai song, jumping over the sleeping bodies that littered the tent (!) to be greeted with a solid wall of noise that lasted about fifteen minutes, as guitarist John Cummings prowled the stage, turning every available knob and rubbing every stringed instrument from another.
With the music over, only one thing was left. Debauchery. But as revelers left the arena, they were met by large gangs of riot police. Eager to avoid the riots of last year, Sunday night security was stepped up. The presence if so many fully sited riot police only served to aggravate the crowd, and, predictably riots broke out. All the campsite toilets were burned to the ground, and a guard tower was even heaped on one burning mound. From our campfire on the hill by our tent, we could see one such blaze, which illuminated its surroundings to the point that we could see, perfectly, full riots take place. Riot police tried to keep rioters at bay, but were greatly outnumbered, and eventually retreated, leaving all present to spend their last night of Leeds 2001 toasting marshmallows over burning toilets. A seemingly fitting end.