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Brandon Flowers of the Killers
By Paul Glynn
Entertainment reporter at Leeds Festival

Leeds Festival closed on Sunday with a heady mix of rock, rap and pop from the Killers, Central Cee and the 1975.

The Killers concluded their set with two consecutive different renditions of their eternal anthem Mr Brightside – the first a surprising synth reworking – prompting mass hysteria.

Earlier, Central Cee thrilled UK rap fans with a short but sweet version of his chart-busting Dave collab Sprinter.

Co-headliners The 1975 gave a big out shout out to the absent Lewis Capaldi.

Matty Healy’s band, who stepped in a few months back after the Scottish singer cancelled his tour dates to adjust to the impact of Tourette syndrome, used the occasion to play their eponymous debut album in full, 10 years on from its release.

The last time Killers frontman Brandon Flowers appeared before UK audiences was as a surprise guest of Sir Elton John during his farewell Glastonbury set, shocking fans with his polished, tanned new look.

And he looks equally dapper on Sunday, his sparkly dark suit jacket having been protected, presumably, from the lunchtime downpour.

Flowers is a performer of great polish. One who has clearly studied every frontman in the rock ‘n’ roll handbook, from Morrissey to Bowie to Mercury via Springsteen; stolen all of their best moves – the foot on the monitor, fist in the air etc – and added a bit of his own Las Vegas preacher-style charm. His stage patter is as well rehearsed as his songs.

“If you came here tonight looking for rock ‘n’ roll you came to the right place,” he declares, “Can I get an amen?”

Fans are informed they are lucky to bare witness to “Dr Ronnie ‘Unstoppable’ Vannucci Jr on drums tonight”. His bandmate responds by hitting the kick drum so hard it almost bursts.

Speaking of drummers, performances of their track For Reasons Unknown usually come complete with a fan being beckoned up from the crowd to bang the skins, like at Reading the previous night, but anyone who had practised the song in anticipation would be left disappointed.

The setlist draws heavily on their near perfect 2004 debut album Hot Fuss, which arrived fully formed when they were young. But the performance is one that only a band with decades of festival headlining under its belt could provide.

Smile Like You Mean It sounds as good as ever before Somebody Told Me gets the party started.

We are treated to a brand new song, Your Side of Town, which, with its autotuned vocal, sounds a bit like Daft Punk singing the Pet Shop Boys.

The set ends with Flowers confidently leaving the crowd to start the refrain of “I’ve Got Soul But I’m Not a Soldier” on All These Things That I Have Done on their own, before adding his own powerful vocal.

The encore brings a mass singalong, first for Human – started comically with a distorted alien voice by Flowers – and then Mr Brightside; a song so ubiquitously played – like Wonderwall or Sweet Child O’ Mine – that it’s impossible at this point to have any objective thoughts about it. It clearly must have been a great song at one point but now it simply is. It’s out there, in the ether.

So seeing the 2004 indie guitar classic performed at an increased voltage to a new audience who are probably hearing it live for the first time, has a galvanising effect.

Flowers recently said he was proud that Mr Brightside had “stood the test of time”, like some of his own favourite songs by the likes of Depeche Mode or U2. “I never get bored of singing it,” he said, and it shows tonight. “Those songs belong to everyone.”

It especially belongs to his band’s drummer tonight though, who milks the ending, drawing endless cheers out of the crowd, long after the extended wig out is over, and his singer is off into the night.

Central Cee

Before the sun sets, West London drill star Central Cee, one of the hottest rappers in the world right now, is rolling deep for his set, backed by a collection of artists rapping along off mic.

“Have we got any UK rap fans?” he asked the large early evening crowd, to loud cheers.

LA Leakers is a set highlight, originally a freestyle rap, which breaks down British street slang for US listeners.

“This is one of the lit-est shows,” he says, using one such example, while pausing to take a picture of the audience with his phone.

“I don’t wanna see anyone standing still,” he adds. “I have put work in for years for this and this ain’t no coincidence.”

Commitment Issues goes down a treat, with one woman in the crowd holding up a sign saying she is working to fix similar issues of her own. The star calls for more ladies on shoulders.

In recent years, rap music has enjoyed an ever-increasingly large presence at the festival, reflecting listening habits in the digital age.

Earlier this month, Central Cee’s track Sprinter, which sees him and last year’s Leeds headliner Dave opening up about the problems of partying with too many girls, set a new record for the longest-running UK rap number one single – nine weeks.

There was no appearance from Dave tonight though and the track was strangely condensed to just a few verses, rolling into another shortened version of his other big hit Doja – complete with its Eve sample.

The line: “How can I be homophobic? / My [girl] is gay,” draws the best one-line rap-a-long of the afternoon, booming back at the star from around the main stage field.

The 1975’s Matty Healy

After Central Cee, the 1975 – introduced by Healy as being “from Wilmslow” but “exiled from Manchester” – takes Leeds 2023 back to 2013 with a fun-sounding, nostalgic set of old tracks including Chocolate and Heart Out.

The pop-rock singer looks in relaxed mood, swigging from a hip flask, and stops the free-flowing set only briefly to deliver one important announcement.

“Let’s have the biggest cheer of the night so far for Mr Lewis Capaldi, who couldn’t be with us this evening,” he say, adding: “Love you bro.”

Perhaps wisely, there is no on stage mention of their now legally sensitive recent controversy at a festival in Malaysia, which was cancelled after Healy attacked the country’s anti-LGBT laws.

Festival Republic boss Melvin Benn told the BBC the band, who also stepped in as late headliners last year replacing Rage Against the Machine, wanted to “go in his shoes and play their part in making sure the Lewis position wasn’t left”.

He called them “the perfect Reading and Leeds band” as well as the “voice of a generation”.

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