All Points East
Victoria Park, London
Saturday 25th May 2019
They’re back! People are going to see The Strokes in their old Strokes T-shirts, or dressed like The Strokes even though The Strokes don’t dress like The Strokes any more, according to Keith Goldhanger who comes away none the wiser by the look of it.
Observing some of the bands we’ve known from an early age taking a leg up onto the larger playing areas in the world of popular music has always been something of interest. However much it’s analysed and commented on doesn’t ever really tell the complete story but will always be part of one. The Strokes have been at it for a longer period of time than when they were ‘slumming it’ down the Camden Barfly now, so we arrive looking forward to a greatest hits indie disco that we’ve not experienced for a while. A chance to have a little sing along and to dance around in a field like Steve Lamacq.
The six or seven hours leading up to the main attraction look pretty neat too: the weather man is on our side today but we know we’re at a big gig with loads of people, many of them drinking a lot and getting slightly agitated as the day goes on. We know there’ll be loads of people chatting away whilst we’re trying to listen to Courtney Barnett but events like this used to be much much worse, believe me. We’ll take whatever comes our way on the chin, the highlights usually outnumber any lowlights, we’d suggest; it’ll be a long day but it’ll make a change from sitting in the corner of The Shacklewell Arms listening to Crass and reading a book one of your mates from twenty five years ago has written.
So were The Strokes really fucking terrible tonight or we were standing in the wrong place? Is it as simple as this or are other factors to blame? Were The Strokes actually really fucking brilliant tonight even though we couldn’t see a thing, or are The Strokes just so average now because we’ve been so used to them being The Strokes for a couple of decades now we’d forgotten about ordinariness since taking on more challenging music like Bulgarian flute choirs, Norwegian art rock guitar bands and dumb hardcore cartoon punk rock acts from Australia like Amyl and The Sniffers?
But first :
PREGOBLIN(above) were last seen ten days ago on the big stage of The Forum in North London supporting Fat White Family, who are standing nearby and lending out their sunglasses to the duo. Ten days ago on a big stage in a less than half full room, the stage was standing room only. Today in the small crowded JägerHaus shed the band are down to just a duo and a laptop. It works very well like this too, therefore next time we see their name on a poster we’ll go not knowing what to expect even though we believe these are possibly the same songs that are lead by dual vocals that are strong, sweet and as sincere as you can get when singing about subjects such as Tunbridge Wells. Today, Jessica Winter and Alex Sebley (who was once part of Fat White Family) are being just as entertaining and joyous as we’ve seen before. Before the end the well dressed duo are rolling around the floor, singing with their backs to us or facing one another eye to eye or cheek to cheek like Olivier Newton John and John Travolta. It’s a very enjoyable, professional and accomplished half an hour to kick start the day.
Around the corner DREAM WIFE are up on the biggest stage some of us would have seen them on to date with the sun in their eyes and doing what they’re great at in front of an audience of hundreds. As a transformation into this uncharted territory for them, its a shaky one. Very similar to when Babes in Toyland and Hole suddenly arrived onto the main stage at Reading all those years ago and sounded as though they were suddenly playing to us from another country. Dream Wife are a terrific band with some fabulous catchy pop tunes that anyone hearing for the first time today will have been impressed by for sure. There’ll be even more appearances in these surroundings that will in time eradicate any memory we have left of today’s show. What’s important is that they’d have a gained a lot more interest from people after today, but some of us have got too used to cramming into tiny room to see this four-piece and miss the environment we’ve seen them in previously. A band that have recently set the standard of their own performance at a very high level.
The first time we saw FAT WHITE FAMILY on a big stage was the day were knew for sure that this band were going to eventually conquer any misgivings anyone ever had of them. Today’s performance, seeing six of the band evenly spread out along the front of the wide stage, all involved in the vocals and displaying a restrained yet compelling performance is another one of the bands great moments. Lias does his now customary bit from the front of the crash barrier, at one time covering the whole front row with the spoils of a can of Ireland’s favourite black liquid, but it’s a generally a much more comfortable gig to watch today that allows the music the band are making to take precedence. Looks Good With The Money to end all this is a fabulous moment and one that will be seen and heard many times over for as many of the years the band can stand up for. It’s already an anthem of 2019 and a tune that’ll have folk singing along as the band continue to lead the pack in current bands that we have continued to produce in this country and will eventually be labelled seminal.
ANNA CALVI is at the stage of her life now where any combination of her current collection of songs could be performed and still sound as exciting and fresh as the ones she’s chosen to play us today today. At times she’s a one woman Led Zeppelin who glides across the stage brutally thrashing her guitar and at various moments falling to her knees and taking charge of the big field we’re in for the best part of an hour. Of course it’s not all Anna Calvi as alongside her Alex Thomas and Mally Harpaz on additional percussion and keyboards are as compelling to watch as the front woman herself.
It’s not even six o’clock yet and we’re reminded yet again that this All Points East event (as it is on the other days spread over two weekends) really has a strong line up when you consider the sizes of the venues these acts have already appeared in around London this year. Elsewhere across the park Parquet Courts are thrilling the thousands in preparation for Johnny Marr. Courtney Barnett, Yak or Psychedelic Porn Crumpets are all on offer elsewhere but there’s only one way we’re heading after Anna Calvi and that’s for a bit of shade, a big tent and a huge gathering for those of us who want to see what the 1990’s Britpop hero Jarvis Cocker is up to nowadays.
Jarvis Cocker will always be Jarvis Cocker and today fronting his new outfit simply called JARV IS plays us a mostly unfamiliar selection of songs whilst he crowd surfs, interviews the audience (he cured a man today of his fear of corduroy) and ends with a finale of C***nts Are Still Running The World. None of that Common People stuff today, even though we suspect the audience would have loved this this to happen. What we get is the sight of an older Jarvis Cocker, still the showman, commanding the stage with dignity and grace, not trying to recreate his past and now singing about losing your drugs in the long grass, phoning up your ex wife after a heavy stint in the local pub, listening to house music at home and teaching us all how to dance like only Jarvis can. Does the 2019 version of Jarvis Cocker ever get to jump around like he does today at any other time of his life any more we wonder? He’ll still be knocking out fabulous new tunes and be just as entertaining in his 80s we reckon, but surely his back and knees will go soon?
THE RACONTEURS are an essential band to embrace if the world of rock music was ever going to be in danger of becoming extinct. There’s nothing going on here that’s groundbreaking except a set of songs that those fortunate enough to have been drip fed for the last few years can’t help but sing along to. They’re great of course, everyone has already made up their mind about this before a note was even played, but we’re observing this whilst slowly working our way over to the other side of the site to catch New Yorks’ finest post punk Joy Division-influenced four piece who we haven’t seen for a while.
INTERPOL still sound like what we’d expect late 70s London punk rock rock band the Art Attacks to have sounded like had they have stayed together long enough for the birth of goth music a few years later. A times they’re sounding like the The Psychedelic Furs, and we get to hear Slow Hands and Evil for the first time in ages and are reminded of how great this lot are, even though at times the sound of discontent overrides the occasion as people around the arena are beginning to get restless. Having exhausted all the conversations they have been having with each other all day, those around us are now moaning so loud about the sound its tempting to ask them one by one to keep their own voices down a little so those of us keen on soaking in what we can hear are able to lose ourselves a bit in the occasion. We move, it’s OK but depends on how close you are to standing next to people moaning.
Back to the main stage and finally after some rest in order to look after our ears that have been subject to a bit of a bashing all day THE STROKES finally arrive to an intro tape that we’re simply waiting to burst into life and get us back onto the giddy heights the day has managed to achieve over the previous few hours. Depending on who you talk to The Strokes are either awful today or brilliant. For those of us at the front it is debatable whether the speakers have been switched on. So bloody terrible that some of us walk after half a dozen songs, only to realise at the back of the field that all is fine and dandy and the revellers we thought were there looking for a fast getaway at the end are quite a way along the road recreating their indie disco days of their youth and not looking like leaving.
So the sound is better at the back where it isn’t being drowned out by the crowd singing along to the tunes they are also claiming they can’t hear then? Well yes and no really. It’s certainly a bit of an audio disaster for some, but what we also witness from the front is a band looking awkward and uncomfortable. What we hear from Julian Casablancas in between tunes seems like embarrassed half thought out nervous quips that don’t help with the situation for anyone struggling to work out what the heck is going on.
The Strokes have always been an ordinary band making ordinary music for ordinary people such as ourselves and that’s what has always won us over from the start. It’s a couple of decades now since they arrived in Camden one wet and windy Wednesday night, and the band’s first gig in the UK for four years leaves many either drowning out what could be heard by singing along really loudly (and badly) or drowning out what we should be hearing by shouting out orders to turn it up during every song break (as if this would solve the situation). Something goes wrong tonight for sure but the beauty of standing in a field and being allowed to wander around means that we can listen from the back where the band at times sound as strong as ever. OK, we’ve all had a drink or two, some of us are a bit tired but we’ve experienced worse than this. Our own displeasure of the headline bands’ show lasts twenty minutes before bailing out and realising that we don’t really need to be looking at the frontman’s awful mullet or hearing whatever it is he seems embarrassed about talking about in between tracks.
Not everyone came specifically to see (and hear) The Strokes. We are far too enriched and satisfied with the day long before the main attraction appeared. Yes, there’s an issue with the sound but that comes with the territory. Big gigs are more vulnerable to being like this as is the unfortunate occasion when you end up three rows from the front of an Anna Calvi show whilst someone is relaying the long story of his new car that not even the immediate listener seems interested in.
We enjoy it. More than many of the other events attended in the past. It hasn’t rained this time but the post-gig comments from those who came specifically for the headline band may go on for a while yet, one fears.