Review: All Points East Festival 2019 – The Strokes
All Points East Festival
Saturday 25 May
Victoria Park, London
Nearly 20 years on from their game-changing debut album Is This It, The Strokes‘ vast popularity this side of the Atlantic endures despite an album catalogue that offered diminishing returns with each subsequent release. Hence Victoria Park is sold out and packed to its East London rafters for the New York band’s first UK appearance in four years at All Points East Festival.
Julian Casablancas’ charges never relied on pyrotechnics or on-stage theatrics. Theirs has always been an effortlessly cool, almost nonchalant brand of musicality. And to watch them saunter on stage and launch into the spiralling Heart In A Cage tonight you could be at either of their unforgettable Reading Festval shows in 2001 and 2002 – or the equally stellar British Summer Time performance at Hyde Park in 2015. That is, if you discount the sound.
So bad is the mix in Victoria Park tonight that Casablancas’ usually scratchy distorted vocals are rendered inaudible for large swathes of the audience – only coming into focus way back behind the mixing desk. All Points East were prompted to release a statement saying they were “disappointed to learn that there was a sound issue in some areas of the site” It was regrettably a huge understatement.
It’s a terrible shame, as the New Yorkers are on vintage form as they tear through a set stocked generously with songs from Is This It and 2003’s under-appreciated Room On Fire. A rollicking Modern Age sees Nick Valensi execute a note-perfect solo, and the crowd belt out the riff to Hard To Explain every bit as enthusiastically as the vocal.
The audience are very much onside, but the breaks between songs are dominated by boos and vain shouts of “Turn it up”. Casablancas, nonchalantly charismatic in an unbuttoned black silk shirt, manages to shrug off the farcical scenes and the band react with good humour, but the set is to all intents and purposes ruined by the woeful quality of the sound.
Reptillia, the outstanding single from Room On Fire and New York City Cops are as tight, lean and thrilling tonight as when the band wrote them, but the the vocal is missing from the mix almost entirely and overall volume levels strikingly low for a major festival headline show.
The opening song of the encore – Is This It – represents the nadir, a bemused Casablancas left pacing around the stage with neither his microphone nor a replacement working at all, before being consoled by Albert Hammond Jr. They close with their most universally adored single, Last Nite, but by then a large stream of people is already snaking its way out of the exits and towards Bethnal Green and Mile End tube stations.
The Strokes’ New York peers Interpol are similarly blighted by sound issues over on the smaller East Stage, albeit not as chronically. Again, the overall volume is surprisingly low, and Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks’ guitars are disappointingly absent from a bass-heavy mix. It doesn’t stop their shadowy, gothic splendour being met with delight by a devotional throng at the front of a large, twilight crowd, though. PDA‘s scintillating, dynamic breakdown and build is the high point of the set and one of the outstanding moments of the whole day.
There are no such sound problems earlier on a bill that’s an unashamed celebration of guitar music at a time when the format finds itself in the shadows. Fat White Family are a glorious, sweaty mess on the East Stage, reminding everyone why Serfs Up! will undoubtedly be garlanded as one of the albums of 2019 and welcoming on Baxter Dury for the closing Tastes Good With The Money.
Anna Calvi is iconic in PVC and blood red lipstick, her virtuosic performance a collision of gender neutral synth-pop and outrageous guitar heroics. Susanne And I witnesses a breathtaking display of fretboard mastery, and Alpha sees some dizzying slide guitar playing, while Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy from last year’s Hunter album is interrupted by a towering operatic howl from Calvi that defies belief.
A cruel tea-time clash sees Johnny Marr overlapping with Courtney Barnett and Jarvis Cocker. Marr’s North Stage set is packed with Smiths and Electronic songs, How Soon Is Now‘s unmistakable tremolo unfurling mesmerically through the warm spring air before This Charming Man and There Is A Light That Never Goes Out provide the chance for a huge Morrissey-free Smiths singalong that doesn’t leave you with a sadly dirty feeling.
Wolverhampton’s Yak are one of the surprise highlights of the day, hitting their straps from the first seconds of a wanton refreshingly loud blast through 2016 album The Pursuit Of Momentary Happiness on the X Stage.
The Raconteurs are similarly focused in their pursuit of analogue destruction. Brendan Benson and Jack White share vocal duties and trade deliciously filthy blues riff throughout a set that showcases a handful of songs from forthcoming album Help Us Stranger and gives equal billing to both men’s extraordinary songwriting talents.
The closing salvo of Salute Your Solution and Steady As She Goes are brilliantly uninhibited slices of rock ‘n’ roll and in truth steal the show from the sonic shambles that follows on the same stage. On a night when The Strokes, The Raconteurs and Interpol wound back the clock to a time when US guitar music ruled the airwaves, it’s a desperate shame that we leave bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t hear it properly.
Review Gary Walker
Pictures Rory James