Date of event: 25th May 2019
You look to the stage. You see a milk-skinned mop of black hair (he goes by the name of Jack White). He is fiercely focused on forcing feedback-drenched squalls of noise from the guitar around his neck.
You look to the big screen. You see the same White blown up to frightening proportions; a stadium-sized shaman silhouetted in the early evening light.
An alarm goes off in your pocket.
'Interpol’. We have to go.
Yonder Is Closer To The Heart
Camping at music festivals may have its thrills (and many spills, based on hard-earned experience). Yet the feasibility of a urban event like All Points East is an obvious draw for us city-slickers; for those seeking fun without the wildness of pitching a tent in a field full of thousands of strangers.
Granted, you will still be in close proximity to your fellow festival-goers (not unlike an average morning commute on the London Underground). But when it's all over for the night, there's the reassuring thought that you'll likely wake up in your own bed at home - washed or unwashed.
All Points East sits somewhere near the middle of the live music spectrum; with the traditional outdoor 'festival' on one end and a single - presumably indoor - club gig on the other. The multi-day event is still in its infancy (2018 was its debut year) yet has managed to draw a staggering array of headliners and a diverse lineup which doesn't repeat over its two weekends (unlike Coachella, for example). Rewarding fickle and focused fans alike is the option of single day tickets (and a multi-day saving) so you can easily spread the experience to suit your summer schedule.
This pick-and-mix approach led me to Victoria Park in the East End of London the first Saturday, as it led me again the following Sunday. With each day's line-up loosely themed by genre (i.e. dance, rock, folk), the first weekend's 'rock' show stood out for its bucket-list-ticking potential.
Keeping with its direction-orientated name, All Points East hosts three main stages (West, North, and East), with the latter being the end-point for each day's festivities. Fuelled by a fresh Brick Lane bagel, we 'Almost Had To Start A Fight' with American art-punkers Parquet Courts as they cavorted across the East Stage, 'Mardi Gras Beads' and whistles in hand (or mouth).
The New York foursome is definitely in a funky state of mind after their latest release, 2018's Wide Awaaaaake! (that's 5 aye's if you're counting). Comfortable with combining danceable rhythms and snarky woke-poetry, Parquet Courts lurched through as many as 8 cuts from the off-kilter odyssey. There were shaggy basslines and breezy melodies (play 'Freebird II'!), there was crowd-surfing to conga-line music (the title track), but never forget the bite and urgency of the 'Master Of My Craft', living on 'Borrowed Time' from 2013's Light Up Gold era. "We are conductors of sound, heat and energy" brayed co-lead singer Adam Savage at the kick-off for 'Total Football', which references the free-floating Dutch tactic from the 1974 World Cup, "And I bet that you thought you had us figured out from the start".
New Town Velocity
Third time's a crime for me and Johnny Marr, up next on the East Stage. Extending back to Coachella in 2013, and as recently as six months ago at a club in Hackney, I've watched the jangle-pop journeyman assert his idiosyncrasies and independence as a singer-songwriter at different pages and stages of this remarkable solo chapter.
Continuing the seemingly closed-off Call The Comet tour through the States in support of his latest, Marr sprung into action in London with new material - February's 'eco-disco' splash of synths 'Armatopia'. The mid-tempo number bolstered his indie-dance credentials, which followed in the next three tracks as a sort-of genre CV.
Sandwiched by two resurrected Electronic singles in recent years ('Get The Message' and 'Getting Away With It') was the sensual centrepiece 'How Soon Is Now?'; one of subtle allure and two-step, and of brain-bending live guitar-retuning. These spoke more for Marr's moves into synth-sounding tones (also heard in setlist-staple 'Easy Money') or into nuanced self-covering (although there was a not-so subtle return of The Smiths' 'This Charming Man', first performed live in full at the Hackney gig I attended). His is one light that keeps from going out.
Pedestrian At Best
Free-floating tactics were needed (and mathematically calculated beforehand) to allow for back-to-back vignettes from the East and North Stages. Slacker-cool Courtney Barnett ran on a different (internal) clock altogether, weaving woozy, witty wonderings into a gritty indie-rock playbook at the North's grey airplane-hanger setup.
Her deadpan Aussie drawl can be a divisive point for some, especially on the more rambly cuts. But catch her in one of her more quicksilver moments - like 'Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party' or the hit 'Elevator Operator' - and her songcraft hooks the melodies, line and sinker. I even made my partner a believer of the Barnett Agenda, as she sang along to the latter on the way home. Not too bad for a songwriter with 'Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence'.
Salute Your Solution
All aboard an exodus with the flood back to the East Stage, and The Raconteurs had already set up shop and begun shredding away like old hands. The recently reunited rock supergroup - initially a fruitful songwriting workshop between co-lead vocalists Jack White and Brendon Benson that yielded smash-hit 'Steady, As She Goes' - is due to drop their first album in 11 years, Help Us Stranger, and this set boldly showed it.
With an almost-even three-way split between their first two tipsy Americana stomps (2006's Broken Boy Soldiers, and 2008's Consolers Of The Lonely) and the upcoming affair, The Raconteurs spun catchy yarns young and old all told. As a fan of White's many (current) fancies - whether it be solo or behind the kit of The Dead Weather - the start was already the beginning of the victory lap; to have finally captured White lightning in a bottle. The parade just rolled out the hits; the psych-pop country of 'Old Enough', the lop-sided spookiness of 'Broken Boy Soldier' (with an odd snippet of Alice Cooper's 'School’s Out' included for good measure), as well as the song that started it all for the band still on the run.
This could be heard mid burger-refuelling as we dashed between stages, loud and clear at a food stand a few hundred metres away. It was enough to even consider recording a video for the well-wishing. The Raconteurs had some of the best sound all day; a booming clarity of instruments and vocals which wasn't a given for the two acts to follow.
All Of The Ways
Fortunately my experience - albeit truncated - of Interpol's set at the North Stage over sunset was free from any disheartening sound issues. By the time I arrived to 'Rest My Chemistry', Paul Banks and Co. were steering back steadily to a 3-song finale from their 2002 debut, Turn On The Bright Lights, bringing 'Obstacle 1', 'PDA', and 'Roland' into the sonic orbit.
The trio's hit a purple patch of form since regrouping sans founding bassist Carlos Dengler in 2014, plying straight-ahead wide-eyed post-punk on El Pintor and 2018's Marauder that seethes as it burrows into the sinew. That they've carried on as a trio is also commendable (albeit with a touring bassist), bringing new dynamics to the band as Banks switches between bass and guitar in the studio on top of his day job as singer-lyricist. For the subtle shape-shifters Interpol, they can find new ways of living, and it usually feels best once darkness has fallen and the brights are on.
15 years of at-times feverish fandom finally got its reward on the East Stage for the day's headliner, The Strokes. The last set-alarm of the day was barely necessary as it All Points East anyway. You best hope that the tide carries you somewhere with a clear view of the heroes on stage. I found myself far-right (but on the barrier), in front of the side-stage screen and speaker system. These were healthy odds.
The boys had it going for them. Straight out of the gate was the rollicking 'Heart In A Cage'. It was there in the playful 'You Only Live Once'; in the rage in 'Ize Of The World'. It was there in one of those heart-in-your-throat sort-of moments when rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr. dipped really deep into the solo during the bridge of 'The Modern Age' and literally duckwalked a few steps out of it to surge into that freewheeling second verse.
But 'I Can't Win', and sometimes it's 'Hard To Explain'. The question must be asked though: 'What Ever Happened' (to the sound?). Somewhere during the first half of The Strokes' set, the volume dropped to noticeably muted levels, particularly on Julian's already practice-amp style vocals. Songs started to feel more distant despite my close proximity to the stage, with happy singalongs to 'Reptilia' and 'New York City Cops' obscuring the inconvenient truth that this was becoming festival karaoke.
To the band's credit, they played on despite repeated disgruntled chants from my section of the crowd (at least) of "turn it up", probably hearing themselves fine in monitors and not sure about where else. Although it was strange not being able to decipher any stage banter, one could see that The Strokes were entering a top gear on their 'global comeback tour' after two years away, smiling and laughing with renewed energy for their back catalogue (2011's Angles and 2013's Comedown Machine excluded tonight, for better and for worse).
So 'Is This It'? Is seeing The Strokes in 2019 seeing the same leather-clad indie darlings 'When It Started' in the early 2000's? Given their divergence into new bands and solo careers, and the democratic shake-ups within the band around the 2011 reunion, it's amazing that 'On The Other Side' of 20 years together that The Strokes still want to play - and perhaps record new - music.
Anyways, I can't think 'cause I'm just way too tired. Midnight ticks over as the masses disperse back into the streets of London from which they came, feet not failing us (for) now. Home is only but a short bus or train ride away - or a really long walk to the front doorstep.