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Live at Leeds is a feat of competitive music programming; local crowd pullers jostle with bankable national favourites and out-of-town gambles. Meanwhile, huddles of determined young souls traipse about the city’s music venues – large, small, corporate and otherwise – with military precision.

 

Villagers landed the job of warming up the eager hordes on Friday night and they were equal parts gentile and ferocious, bewitching with their songs of death and dismemberment.

 

Continuing the troubled troubadour vibe, albeit with a dose of The Boss in the mix, Marcus Foster played a humble set at Holy Trinity Church, clearly bewildered by the power of the event’s advertising budget.

 

At the Cockpit, Tall Ships were a three-man, multitasking wall of sound. Their bass lines rocked the bones of the committed throng, countered with a sweet falsetto. The boat was very nearly rocked by a brief fracas with laptop technology. They clawed it back though, with their ranging, spidery songs.

 

Disappointment and ambivalence reigned for James Blake’s set. Serene on a vast stage, he was overshadowed and outdone in volume by a vast and incompetently chatty audience; hampered by stubborn feedback. For brief moments, when everything aligned, the world was his cathedral. But apart from awakening the masses briefly (and somewhat inevitably) for ‘Limit to Your Love’, he never really engaged with his hefty congregation.

 

Luckily, Stalking Horse (new moniker for Wu of This et Al) not only engaged with his audience, he married them thrice over. Debuting his new material and bolstered by local talent, onlookers were enthralled by his piercing vocals and soaring tunes.

 

Pleasant Surprise of the Day Award goes to Fixers, who eliminated any trace of fatigue with their Fleetwood Mac via West Coast surf pop songs. Launching their set with some holy five part harmonies, they raised the party bar way out of reach of most bands on the schedule.

 

Frightened Rabbit were epic from the outset, playing to an adoring, if not quite venue-filing sect. “We know you have options and we’re glad you chose Frightened Rabbit” beams Scott Hutchison. And in a line-up heavily doused with boys-with-guitars-round-their-necks, they do well to stand out and impress.  ‘My Backwards Walk’ was majestic; a cocky show-stealer, full of bearded bombast and heart-string tugging gutsiness.  At the encore, Scott plays ‘Good Arms vs Bad Arms’, solo and has the world rapt before him.

 

Pulled Apart By Horses grabbed the baton of jubilance and ran with it. Walking onstage with arms aloft, they probably would have held the pose if they didn’t have instruments to contend with. With James Brown indulging in some speaker-stack mountaineering, the willing victims of the frenzied mosh-pit accepted their aural assault and carried singer Tom aloft from the venue, like some deity of noise. 

 

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