Leeds Festival: Day two – live review – Louder Than War

Leeds Festival: Day Two – live review
Leeds Festival (Day Two)
Bramham Park, Leeds
26th-28th August 2022
Paul Clarke and Trev Eales were onsite for a diverse bill on Day Two of Leeds Festival (see Day One here), including a brilliant set from Little Simz and witnessed Mercury Prize winner Dave becoming the youngest ever headliner.
Judging by the state of some of the people shuffling around the site it had been something of a long night so there was a more subdued vibe on day two of Leeds Festival.
The organisers had pledged to offer a more diverse bill this year, so day two featured sets from rapper Little Simz and Mercury Prize winner Dave as well as a star turn from US mega star Megan Thee Stallion. With tickets at around £300 a pop this is a predominantly white, middle class young crowd so having heavyweight Grime and rap artists offering their perspectives is something that needed to happen
My day started off with an unexpected treat as I headed off to the comedy tent as Brighton’s Black Honey opened Main Stage East, and their brand of rock and swap blues enticed me to stop as Izzy Baxter Philips caterwauled Out Of My Mind, and new song Corrinne. Imagine a more bluesy British version of Hole, with a bit of The Cramps thrown in, and you get the idea. Baxter Philips noted that they had been coming to this festival since they were 13, but although they have been going for nearly a decade this is their time, as they are a band with the right image and songs who are likely to be up the bill in future.
I finally made it to the Alternative Tent where they’ve booked stand ups to do sets, with many of them making the trip down from the Edinburgh Fringe to take part.  It was boiling hot outside so it was pleasant to loll in the shade and listen to a hilarious set by local lad Scott Bennett explaining why you should never ever take a baby on a plane, and the challenges of being a middle-aged family man. Later on, I saw Bristolian Jayde Adams, who was so brilliant in Alama’s Not Normal, do a slightly unfocused set, although her description of the Bristol earthquake was great fun. I wasn’t quite so keen on the comedy sets by Gbemi Oaldpio and Abigail Carter-Simpson who need to think a bit more about what they’re trying to say, and maybe add a few more gags.
Fresh from her arena tour supporting the mighty Dua Lipa, rising pop star Griff, all clad in white, was full of added confidence. It might have been her first time at Leeds Festival, but she’s learnt on that big tour how to work a crowd with catchy songs written at home during lockdown. Walk was an early hit before the pop perfection of Heads On Fire she co-wrote with Norway’s Sigrid. One Night morphed into a breezy cover of Whitney’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody as the crowd started bopping, and Shades Of Yellow sparked a singalong as Griff laid down a marker for a much higher slot.
Next up was the more mainstream laddish indie of four piece Circa Waves. There’s no pretence about what they do, but they are good at it. Move To San Francisco is indie-pop gold, as is Jaqueline. New song Hell on Earth suggested their formula isn’t changing that much, and with the afternoon sun blazing down they closed with the totally appropriate T-Shirt Weather.
In complete contrast, Londoner Little Simz was really doing something very different as she melded rap, reggae, and plain old fashioned quality song writing  declaring ‘I’m a Black woman, I’m a proud one’. Backed by a top-class band, she is a natural performer who produced the show of the day. Stalking the stage, Simz rapped about her experiences as a young black woman in modern Britain bringing the crowd with her all the way as she told them ‘I don’t care who I offend’, and her show full of deeply personal lyrics is all the better for it. She spat out the brutally honest words to I Love You, I Hate You as the band laid down a rock-solid groove, and closed with an intense Venom as the crowd swayed and sang along to an artist right at the top of her game.
Over on the west field Glass Animals were proving that intelligent geek rock had an audience with a big production appropriately based on being inside a video game. Imagine if The Big Bang Theory crew had formed a band that somehow got a number one US hit then you get some inklings of what Glass Animals are all about. Band leader Dan Bayley and his gang are a decent bunch who seemed at times shocked that thousands of people were singing along to Tangerine.  This was their last gig for some time as they head off to make a new record, so there was something incredibly touching watching the lively Bayley run around as computer graphics played on the big screen to lead a massive chorus to that US hit Heat Waves.  Glass Animals proved that intelligence is always sexy and fun.
Sexy was certainly the order of the day as Megan Thee Stallion strutted onto the West Stage in a tight leather corset and fishnets before almost immediately squatting down for a spot of twerking. There’s no doubt that the big-voiced Texan is a superstar, and you have to admire her unashamed confidence in her sexuality, but she’s something of a limited performer who seemed at times a bit confused about playing to a big field, plus the beats are pretty repetitive.
Her set did get cooking as the energetic backing dancers bounced round the plain set with a funky Freak Nasty and the audience went mad for a cover of Cardi B’s utterly filthy WAP.  Megan has dubbed her fans ‘hotties’, and the highlight of the set was when she invited an eclectic group of them onstage to really strut their stuff with plenty of twerking, which was both funny and torching as they all really went it for as they were exhorted to ‘fuck things up’ in a good way.  After a while the twerking and narcissism started to get a bit dull, it wasn’t just me as hundreds of people started streaming away to get a decent spot for Dave headlining East Stage.
The organisers had made a commitment to create a bill that was more diverse and representative of where UK music is at the moment so booking Dave was a masterstroke. The Streatham rapper dressed in a green vest top and shorts is only 24 so was setting a record as the youngest ever headliner, and he had clearly thought about what he wanted to say in this show as he told a jam-packed field: ‘It’s been a long road. I want to take you on a journey.’
The set was mainly from his number one album We’re All Alone In This Together. The minimalist We’re All Alone from that winning album invited the crowd to join in the rapping as Dave took a turn on the piano before he turned it up on number one single Funky Friday.
All great art takes people into worlds they have no experience of, and Dave’s honest words took people through the impact of violence, love, mental health, racism and his own brother’s incarceration on a life sentence.  His band were all housed in a flashing heart shape metal structure that looked like it’d been nicked from The Crystal Maze set
The tone of the set was laid out during an epic Heart Attack as Dave mused on the reality of Britain for young black people and systematic racism.  To his credit Dave stopped at one point because there were some crowd safety issues, but once they were sorted he was back to challenge his band to pick up where he left off, which they did.
You may remember that Dave famously brought somebody up from the audience at Glastonbury, and he did that here too as an eager young Scouser jumped up to go rap with his hero during a moving Thiago Silva before exiting to huge applause for his skill and sheer balls in getting up. It was a salient reminder that in midst of all the truth, Dave was laying down he is still a young man who understands the eternal power of communion with an audience. At the Reading version of this festival, grime overlord Stormzy had joined Dave for a version of their smash hit Crash – the superstar didn’t make an appearance here, but no matter as the crowd went off on one.
This was a ground-breaking performance that will become one of this festival’s legendary shows, full of intelligence and insight that showed British rap is as important as ever in these troubled times. It was also a chance for Dave to reach new people who are now more informed through the power of music about some of the issues that have blighted areas where many of the audience live.
Once upon a time this festival was a rest home for indie bands and shoegazers, but booking Dave to perform was a statement of intent that diversity, and the incredible creativity it brings to the music industry, is something to be celebrated in a world where many think closing our borders is the answer.
Words by Paul Clarke, you can see his author profile here
Dave, Meghan Thee Stallion, Little Simz and Black Honey photos supplied by Leeds Festival (Matt Eachus, Sam McMahon, Linda Borscika and Emily Marcovecchio)

All other photos by Trev Eales. More work by Trev on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s profile. His photography portfolio is here

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