Despite the pull of homegrown talent like the Futureheads and Razorlight riding high on the success of a revived U.K. music scene, American rockers Pixies, Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson and the Killers ruled England's end of summer event the Leeds Carling Weekend, pulling in crowds of 45,000 for sets heavy on production and packed with greatest hits.
Already a huge draw in the States, New Jersey's My Chemical Romance opened the three-day event on Friday, pulling in an impressive throng of revelers that -- thanks to hits "Helena" and "I'm Not OK (I Promise)" -- rivaled later-day crowds for the Stooges and Southern California's Incubus.
The latter was returning to the event two years after the band first played the main stage to muted effect. This time, however, Brandon Boyd and company were note perfect, as fans gave tunes from the group's five-album catalogue an enthusiastic reception -- before Marilyn Manson upped the ante with dramatically heavy songs, elaborate scenery and hanging instrumentation (e.g., a keyboard on a swing). Manson's antics went unrivaled, even by Friday headliners Iron Maiden.
In fact, Maiden found they couldn't compete with London rockers Bloc Party, who held court on the NME/Radio 1 Stage either as the masses fled the metal in the thousands. Frontman Kele Okereke, who earlier in the day had guested in indie newcomers the Rakes' set, led the four-piece through an electric performance, airing most of their debut album Silent Alarm as hundreds were forced to watch from outside the packed arena.
It was a similar scene Saturday as Artic Monkeys from Sheffield, England, took to the Carling stage for a mid-afternoon set. With just one limited-edition release, The Fake Tales From San Francisco EP, to their name and throngs of attention from the British press, the four-piece hammered out a substantive set somewhere between the Buzzcocks and Franz Ferdinand with a touch of the Libertines that seemed to justify the hype. Liverpool's Dead 60s, just back from a stint on Warped tour, also brought a crowd for their ska-aping, angular pop numbers.
Later, back on the main stage, Queens of the Stone Age put out the kind of thunderously heavy set Iron Maiden couldn't pull off the evening before -- despite frontman Josh Homme being in searing pain after refusing to take pain killers following knee surgery. Dark and weighty, the Southern California outfit stormed through an aggressive set full of guitar solos and hits like "Burn the Witch" and "No One Knows."
As if the antithesis to Homme, the Killers' Brandon Flowers' took over the main arena in the final U.K. performance of their Hot Fuss tour. In January, the group played to close to a thousand a night in the U.K., but at Leeds the Killers brought tens of thousands out to watch their feel-good, sunset performance. Hot on their heels, the Pixies took the stage for a banter-free set of bona fide indie classics. Two years after their return to the live stage, the Boston rockers proved that they still haven't worn out their reunion welcome, creating a stir with "Gouge Away" and "Gigantic."
On Leeds' final day, Johnny Borrell of Razorlight stunned by bringing a gospel choir to back his London outfit on songs like "Golden Touch" and several new, untitled numbers. Later, Babyshambles frontman Pete Doherty -- a current U.K. tabloid sweetheart for his drug addiction and on-and-off-again relationship with Kate Moss -- brought a rasta singer onstage for a number. Although he packed the NME/Radio 1 tent, the lanky singer gave a sloppy performance, at times hitting his head with the microphone and wandering the stage aimlessly.
Things were far less chaotic as the Foo Fighters made their Leeds festival headlining debut, complete with lasers. Announcing that he loved the North of England because patrons "get a little more fucked up, up here," frontman Dave Grohl filled the event's final two hours with classics like "All My Life," "Times Like These" and "Monkey Wrench," eventually winding things down by dedicating "My Hero" to Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden.
Leeds festival closed on a high, with thousands counting the 364 days left until next year's installment.