Saturday before last, I went over to Victoria Park with Jon G and his son Louis to the All Points East festival. All Points East has usurped Field Day and a number of other festivals from the park this summer – presumably after a re-tendering of the slots by the Tower Hamlets council. Field Day has relocated to South London and is focusing even more on dance. All Points East, in fairness, has picked up the baton from the festivals it has replaced, and has held a string of events with some strong line ups from across the genres. The headliners on 2 June were The National and The War on Drugs – a dream team!
I got there about six; Jon and Louis went for the early shift. The sun was shining and the beer was flowing. When I met up with them, Warpaint were about to come on to the North Stage, the second biggest. War on Drugs were headlining that one. I do like Warpaint, but their music kind of drifts by in the open air. They deal in soundscapes rather than arresting melodies – it’s entertaining but doesn’t really get a crowd going. The exception was their last song, “New Song”, from their most recent album “Heads Up”. That had a real tune and shook people out of their summery torpor.
There was a bit of a gap until War on Drugs, and I’d noticed that there were a few bands lined up to play a place called the Jägerhaus, which was promoting Jägermeister, the sort of drink to be avoided at 7pm at a festival! To my surprise and delight Gengahr were on at seven. And Pumarosa at 8.20! I was sorely tempted to go to both, though decided in the end that as the main band I’d come to see was War on Drugs, it would be perverse to skip part of their show. Decisions, decisions. Anyway, we got into Gengahr and found ourselves in a small, barn-like space, with room for no more than 150 people. And on came Gengahr onto the tiny stage, and they played a riveting, high energy 35 minutes set. Eight songs, with more from the first album than the latest. An edited version of the recent Koko show. We stood about four rows back, really feeling the energy. And had a chance to study the guitar playing of both John and Felix. Loads of the great tunes, including “Heroine”, “She’s a Witch”, “Before Sunrise” and the closer, the awesome “Carrion”. Most Gengahr songs allow the opportunity at some point for a real guitar wig-out live, and they sure wigged-out! Just brilliant. My one good ear was ringing a bit at the end as we were so close to the speakers; but hey man, it’s rock’n’roll.
The War on Drugs were great – of course they were. Adam Granduciel to the fore – singer and lead guitarist. And his guitar, those solos that sing and cry, are a central part of the appeal of the music to me. They enhance the sense of melancholy that pervades the songs, but also lift them up. And the song right now that does that for me more than any other is “Thinking of a Place”. A magnificent, moving piece of music. So, of course, they didn’t play it! They didn’t play “Thinking of a Place”! The song above all other songs on the latest album. Oh well. The set was really good, concentrating pretty heavily on “Lost in a Dream” (though, sadly without the title track). And naturally the highlight was an extended, recast version of “Under the Pressure”. “Red Eyes” roused the crowd too, and there was a lovely version of “Eyes to the Wind” at the beginning. On a warm, sunny day, Adam was wearing a red waterproof top. The epitome of uncool. But he still made that guitar sing. I loved the show, although I was always waiting for that song. No regrets about not going to Pumarosa. I wonder if they played “Honey”…
(Black and white photos are camera shots of the big screen).
Then it was over to the main, East Stage, for The National. I am learning to love this band. It was a band I knew I should like, but I had a lot of catching up to do. And I did what you do in this day and age. I heard individual tracks I liked, put them on the playlist and didn’t invest enough time in the whole albums. The only albums I’ve really got on top of are “High Violet” and “Trouble Will Find Me”. And there are so many good songs on them. My greatest favourites are: “Pink Rabbits”, “Demons”, I Should Live in Salt” and “I Need my Girl” from “Trouble Will Find me”; and “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and “Terrible Love” from “High Violet”. We did get “Terrible Love” and “I Need my Girl”, though not this time, in the latter case, with Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches, as happened at Latitude in 2016. And there was an unamplified singalong of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” at the end, though that was only for the people at the front really. For us, it was a distant, though fetching echo.
It was a great show though. The band as a whole are pretty low key, but singer Matt Berninger is a real character, and he featured most of the time on the big screens. (I still think he and football manager Jurgen Klopp must have been separated at birth.) The lighting and backdrops are always interesting, and the songs are impressive even when you aren’t sure whether you know them or not. As it happens, it was quite a greatest hits selection, which all true fans would have known. One nice surprise was the guest appearance on a new song called “Light Years” by two of The Staves, Jessica and (I think) Camilla . And Adam Granduciel came on towards the end for a couple of songs. This was the fourth time I’d seen The National live, and I think I might just have made the breakthrough now. Now for those early albums…
With the Staves.
After that it was the long traipse back to the other side of London, but it was definitely worth the effort. A great day of music. Highlights? Probably Gengahr, “Under the Pressure”, “I Need my Girl” and “Light Years”. We’ll be back next year, I’m sure.