Live Review: Leeds Festival 2023 – Highlights

Leeds Festival is one of the highlights of the British musical summer calendar, something of a coming of age event for many exam finishers, or those preparing to go to uni or travel the world. It’s a chance for those friends to get together and enjoy the freedom of camping out in Bramham Park to explore both headliners and emerging acts across the weekend.

With headliners including Billie Eilish, The 1975, Sam Fender and Leeds festival veterans The Killers, there was something for everyone on the 2 main stages. Alongside that, there were 4 other music stages that delivered some real highlights as over 150 acts performed across the weekend.

I spent most of my time at the smaller stages, and these were some of the stand out performances, away from the hype, pyro and confetti cannons of the Main Stage.

The Royston Club generated a tent-full of a crowd at the Festival Republic Stage, which wasn’t bad for early afternoon, and highlighted how far they’ve come recently. Regular chants of “Wrexham, Wrexham” from their home-town fans rang out in the tent, and Welsh dragon flags punctuated the crowd. People ran to the tent for Mr Narcissistic, with dozens of people on shoulders and phones capturing the joyride of a set. They did my home town proud, rocking a packed out tent early in the weekend.

Ethel Cain was enchanting, engaging an emotional crowd who revere the American artist with an almost religious fervour. As is her trademark, she comes off the stage, to get up close and personal with the crowd, and the love for her is as warm as the summer sunshine that kept the forecast rain at bay outside.

The warm Saturday sunshine brought people sleepily from their tents and many of them emerged to the sounds of the excellent Lauren Hibberd who woke up the crowd with bouncing and arm waving to songs about unexpected double dates, IBS and a great cover of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl. Hibberd is an instinctive performer with an infectious energy. It’s a shame a few more didn’t make it out of bed to see it.

The Murder Capital rather incongruously rocked the Dance Stage, sneering and defiant, partly due to being late on stage after an over-running previous act. It was South Wales’ turn on the Festival Republic stage as HIMALAYAS hit hard from the off with Leave This Place. By the time they wrapped up with From Hell to Here, there were circle pits bouncing and crashing around the arena.

The BBC Music Introducing Stage offered up some great performances, showcasing emerging artists and giving them the chance to win new armies of fans.

Manchester’s Antony Szmierek, favourably compared to The Streets, laying his lyrics over UKG beats, was one of the highlights on that stage right across the weekend. Breakout hits Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Fallacy and Rock and a Calm Place are works of art, delivered sharply but with a sense of humility too.

Over on the Festival Republic Stage, The Last Dinner Party showed why they’re absolutely flying at the moment. A beautifully crafted set, full of energy, personality and like nothing else we saw over the weekend. They’re a captivating band, fronted by Abigail Morris, who is as intriguing as she is energetic. Musically, they’re great too, complex arrangements and outstanding harmonies mean there’s a lot to enjoy and experience during their set. Make sure you catch them when they’re back from their US tour.

The crowd quickly expanded for Nieve Ella in the Radio 1 Dance Tent, as people ran for cover from a torrential downpour, and it was no more than she deserved. She gives vibes of Holly Humberstone, but with more grit and edge and those who came in just to shelter from the rain will be happy they did. Similarly for Hannah Grae, on the BBC Introducing Stage, a few extra gathered and were treated to a hugely energetic set full of songs of teenage angst taken from her first album Hell is a Teenage Girl.

I’ll declare an interest here, in that Pixey grew up in the same village that I did. That said, I can objectively say she’s a ray of sunshine on the BBC Introducing Stage on Sunday evening. Championed by Jack Saunders on Radio 1 on the regular, Pixey, hailing now from Liverpool, gave us a sunny set of upbeat pop bops, peaking with her latest offering Daisy Chain.

There was a serious change of pace in the Festival Republic stage with Graphic Nature. Exploding into their first song, they nearly took the roof of the tent and for some who sought shelter from the elements on a rainy Sunday afternoon, were instead subject to an elemental onslaught of metal.

The rain abated, but the crowds still flocked to see Caity Baser give a typically high octane performance, full of joyful, defiant songs that are her trademark. More than enough to bring some sunshine back to this corner of Leeds, Baser is a ball of energy, the same on and off stage, as she spent a good half hour after her set posing for selfies and talking with fans.

So, yes, there’s a lot to like on the Main Stages, but as always with these events, there’s so much more to enjoy further down the bill. I certainly found some new favourites to keep my eye on for the next few months.

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