Greg Wetherall was on hand in London to catch New York indie giants the Strokes and plenty more in action.
Date published: 28th May 2019
Image: The Strokes
It has been opined often that guitar music is ailing to the point where recovery appears unlikely - almost as though it might as well have a DNR sign hanging by its bed as it lies prostrate in music’s equivalent of an ICU. And yet, the only date of the 2019’s eclectic batch of All Points East festival dates to sell out in advance was the one where guitar reigns as king in a lineup that included both returning heroes and emerging talent alike. It certainly gave a rosier overall picture than common impression might indicate. Maybe there is life in the old dog yet.
On a technical level, however, it was all a little more problematic. Poor sound during the Strokes in particular created a chorus of boos and chants of ‘TURN IT UP’ filling the between song pauses. It got a bit hairy. More of that later though.
Earlier in the day, Sweden’s Viagra Boys took to the main stage like a band possessed. Their roughly-hewn, muscular chops confronting sun-drenched, beer-swigging punters and mildly interested liggers with an evangelist’s intent. With a well-received debut record to their name, Sweet Worms, the likes of the propulsive ‘Shrimp Shack’ gains purchase through its sheer relentless charge. What isn’t there to love when you have slightly wild-eyed lead singer Sebastian Murphy writhing, twisting and contorting his body to half-sung, half-spoken lyrics filled with absurdist humour? It all seems a bit unhinged but also rather vital too.
Armed with a canon of songs that have been responsible for defining the teenage years of many fledgling indie acolytes, Johnny Marr, struts the space with a louche swagger befitting a man who knows that his solo output has been a fine addition to an already enviable catalogue.
Opening with ‘The Tracers’, he sprinkles his set with classics from his Smiths past – ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ and ‘How Soon Is Now?’ – and even Electronic too in the form of ‘Getting Away With It’ and ‘Get The Message’. It is a short, concise and spry collection that not only summons the first true communal festival sing-along of the day, but also signs off with an infectious one-two volley in the form of ‘Easy Money’ and ‘There Is a Light that Never Goes Out’. As he leaves, he does so to the cry of ‘Marr, Marr, Johnny F***ing Marr!’. Job done then.
The Raconteurs’ second billing to the Strokes and therefore ensuring that Interpol are forced onto the second stage is a slightly weird one. After all, Jack White and his troupe only have two (admittedly rather good) LPs to their name and aside from a handful of strong new songs, they perhaps don’t have enough festival-friendly bangers to satisfy a crowd as the sun sets and the yearning is for something to unify the masses.
The closing ‘Steady As She Goes’ does that, of course, but the preceding set is mixed bag. Funnily enough, and promisingly, the best stuff tends to be the latest tasters from the upcoming album including ‘Now That You’re Gone’ and ‘Sunday Driver’. The future looks bright if this group can stick around for a bit longer than last time and their talisman doesn’t get itchy feet.
Now we have problems. A sound band facing sound problems. The main draw of the day for many, and deserved headliners, the Strokes, have always been an adept and exceptional live band.
Unfortunately, not many of the gathered can hear them. Fleeting thoughts think it could be the proximity of residential housing in the surrounding area to Victoria Park (Field Day, which used to have its base here also seemed to suffer from low sound emission), but this tonight is something altogether different. This is next level quiet. (To be fair, festival organisers issued an explanation to attendees the following day – though it fell short of an outright apology, it must be said).
The disgruntlement in the crowd grows between each song. And yet, the impression that can be gleaned from the wimpy whisper emitting from the speakers is that the band are in excellent fettle and showing no signs of ring-rust. ‘Heart in a Cage’ gives way to ‘You Only Live Once’ and the frustration over not being able to hear them only grows more infuriating. Things improve about midway through the set. In relative terms, the volume is addressed.
Much of the momentum is lost for the audience though by this point and it is only as things wrap up with a pre-encore ‘Someday’ and the encore ‘Is This Is’, ‘Juicebox’ and ‘Last Nite’ that any justice is done to their innate brilliance. It constitutes a partial salvage, but it might have been too little too late. They were not let down by the band, but they were thoroughly let down by the equipment.
Sadly, this ended up as an unforgettable London festival date for all the wrong reasons. No doubt All Points East’s organisers will move heaven and earth to ensure there is no repeat. It is a young festival. Don’t write it off yet. That won’t appease the attendees from this evening, however, and that’s understandable. As disappointed festival goers will no doubt testify and assert to you, music can be an utterly life-affirming force... but for that to happen, you must be able to hear it. All Points East must, and will, learn and grow from this.