Live Review: Constellations Festival @ Leeds University Union

Michelle Lloyd heads to Leeds to check out the second annual Constellations Festival, headlined by Wild Beasts.

Jayne Robinson

Date published: 17th Nov 2011

Date: November 12th

Words: Michelle Lloyd

Photos: Phil King

After last year's electrifying line-up (Les Savy Fav, Sleigh Bells, Liars) I was very much looking forward to a trip across the Pennines to see what Constellations 2011 had to offer.

For a festival in its infancy, with this only its second year, the line-up was impressive; perhaps a little more mellow than last year's but still crammed with local and international musical delights.

Having scrupulously studied the schedule, first band of the day were one I wasn't all that familiar with, Anglo-American duo Big Deal. I was expecting it to be a fairly dark, nonchalant, bitter, angsty affair but was met with a melodic, upbeat, enchanting little set full of charisma. Think the quirkiness of She and Him, the seductiveness of The Kills and apathetic coolness of Cat's Eyes. Their simple set up of acoustic guitar and electric guitar coupled with wanton, wistful bedroom penned lyrics made for an incredibly in vogue act.

Next up were Dutch Uncles, and being the away fans we saw fit to go and show our support - especially as they had the unenviable task of opening the main stage. We needn't have worried, as a plethora of merry mortals soon descended, all eagerly anticipating the jaunty, infectious, indie pop guitar sounds of the Mancunian five-piece. They've been off touring Europe with festival headliners Wild Beasts and they seem bigger, tighter and more competent than ever, oozing confidence. Favourites 'Fragrant' and 'The Ink' were played with added zeal and copious amounts of trademark shape-throwing from frontman Duncan Wallis. New material was aired in the form of 'Fester' (working title), equally as energetic and memorable as Cadenza's offerings, and providing an early taster of what we have to look forward to from the new album next year.

Summer Camp followed on the main stage, the act I was most looking forward to seeing having been rather taken with their debut 'Welcome to Condale' and its natty 80's inspired sounds. Sadly I was left feeling rather hard done by and found myself leaving early to beat the queue at the bar - something I always frown upon when I see other's doing it. So what was it that didn't 'do it' for me? The answer - Elizabeth Sankey. Admittedly it's a harsh statement but her overpowering, at times screechy vocals were all too much and didn't resonate as well in the live setting as they do on record. There's no denying she has a great voice with great range but sometimes less is more, and with the added over-dramatic gestures it all felt a little awkward and contrived. Thankfully for me, Elizabeth is only one half of Summer Camp, and Jeremy Warmsley managed to give me some positives as did the retro film projections. Jeremy’s stage presence is far more credible and he plays guitar with ease and flair. Generally, he's a lot more engaging and watchable.

Hotly tipped Brooklyn trio The Antlers were next on the agenda. Having been recently named The Fly’s album of the year, as predicted theirs was one of the most crowded sets of the day. The rich, peerless vocals of Laurie Anderson and spanning guitars on ‘I Don’t Want Love’ piercingly transcended the hall and created a spine chilling moment for all. The drawn out, highly emotive melodies resembled some of those heard on ‘Total Live Forever’ by Foals. Despite their sound being essentially quite cold, it definitely leaves you with a warm feeling inside.

Surprise of the day, for me, came from headliners Wild Beasts, I’ve always been a little unsure about them, but sure enough after the first track I was bowled over. Their unique blend of indie rock, dream pop and glorious velvety vocals provided the perfect culmination to the day. It’s no surprise that they are held in such great regard and celebrated as one the best live bands around, with the packed out venue also speaking for itself. The band took us through all three albums with highlights coming from ‘Reach A Bit Further’ and ‘Deeper’. Sadly for me I discovered their greatness all too late and missed out on tickets to their sell out shows at Manchester Cathedral this week. Lesson learnt.

Before hot-footing it back home I managed to sneak in the last bit of The Big Pink's set. 'OUCH' was how they described it on Twitter, and I'd say that was pretty accurate. Poor Robbie and Mylo were never going to win when they had Wild Beasts as opposition, but I'm guessing they had hoped they would draw more than 30 bodies. I personally quite enjoyed seeing them in such intimate surroundings, akin to a gig in your village hall, but felt dreadfully sorry for them.

They did their best to cover it up, Robbie as ferocious and seductive as ever on the guitar and Mylo bopping away with synths and keys at the back, but their faces inevitably showed a sense of disappointment. On the plus side, they sounded fresh and strong, and with a new female drummer the new material including 'Superman', sampling Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ sounds promising. Let's hope their new album and re-scheduled tour in the new year manages to generate a slightly better following and inflate their egos once more.

So that was Constellations 2011; an extremely pleasant day. Not only do they provide a great line-up of bands and artists but they provide a great atmosphere, all very friendly and unique. Final mention goes to the art director Xiiixiii who curated the exquisite art prints in the limited edition newspaper and provided the stage set designs for this year’s festival which kept us starry eyed from start to finish.

Here’s to next year.

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