All Points East Victoria Park, London: Live Review

All Points East – Victoria Park, London – 28th August 2022

A balmy day in Bethnal Green finds this ambitious enterprise going from strength to strength, with something for everyone.

London’s Roman Road is, I think it fair to say, a road with little grasp on gentrification. True, there are outcrops of barista coffee boutiques and craft ale basements here and there, but they are still outnumbered by the 24hr supermarkets and kebab/chicken shops. I love it, and, for this second trip to All Points East, the first since the pandemic, if anything the slow inward tide from Shoreditch has stalled. But don’t tell that to the punters pouring into Victoria Park, scooped and siphoned in with maximum efficiency by a huge crew of the All Points East team, as all the tribes of hipsterdom were broadly present and correct. Ageing hipsterdom, it’s true, given the longevity of many playing, but a fair few in the lower ranges, twenty and early thirties, perhaps coming for the Nick Cave songs their parents put them to sleep by.

Bigger than many a festival elsewhere, the only thing lacking is accommodation, it being all strictly by the day, the organisers occupying a vast tranche of the park and curating the best part of a fortnight’s worth of attractions, each skewed towards a slightly different demographic. So you get an electronica/dance-y type day, you get an American indie type day, with, for good measure, a middle few days thrown open as a local community event for the residents of Tower Hamlets. This particular day, today, of concerts possibly comes under the odds and sods closing the loop day, such was the varied nature of acts present. And, I should add, I caught but a fraction of the acts playing, there being five, maybe six separate stages, meaning care with the clashfinder and a fair old bit of walking. The other essentials, food, drink and toilets, all seemed well provided for the must have been near capacity crowd. Prices seemed reasonable, London reasonable, anyway. Shall we hit the music?

Arriving towards the end of her set, I only caught the tail end of Alynda Segarra, aka Hooray For The Riff Raff. With only half an hour to play with, from start to finish, by the time I arrived she was already glowing, a tiny dynamo of activity, whipping through a bevy of songs, all taken from her recent Life On Earth. with a tight band behind her, with herself doubling between strumming an electric and just singing. And running around. I rued the queue that had disallowed me more, feeling she could have benefitted from a later and longer slot, 2.00pm perhaps not quite suiting her dynamic.

A switch of stage then took me over the other side of the park, just in time for Joan Wasser, or, as she is better known, Joan As Police Woman. One can never be sure which Joan you are going to get, her style having embraced any number of opposing genres. Given her last album was, I guess, afrobeat, if you will, given the heft of the two other artists present on her The Solution Is Restless,, the late great Tony Allen and Dave Okumu, the presence of a sunglassed dude on a natty six-string electric bass, his complex finger work high in the mix augured well. And whilst it wasn’t Okumu, and without Allen, the drummer, Parker Kindred, a long-time alumnus, made for a mean soundscape, especially when the odd song from Solution was played. Wasser flitted between keyboards and guitar, a second keyboard player picking up the slack. Again, this seemed more nighttime music, with the sun high in the sky, it fell and felt a little flat.

A quick explore had me back where I had begun, with the stage being set for Tinariwen. The last time I caught these guys, back in 2016, they had seemed a little tired. Or maybe I was. Here, today, they were anything but. Their droney, dirgey desert blues perfect for the setting. Standing alongside an American, unfamiliar with the band or their music, he was swiftly as entranced as I, as we discussed briefly, between songs, the distinct and palpable musical links with early 20th c. blues. With the music held principally together by the bass and hand drum, providing a solid anchor for each extemporised outing, often by, at least, twin guitars and with chorally chanted vocals, most eyes are directed to the striking figure of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, founding member and the only one still defiantly without head covering. Starting the set on backing vocals, it was if he were benevolently supervising his protegees, before laconically strapping on an extravagantly embellished guitar, coaxing shimmery soundscapes out between his thumb and fingers. One member exclusively on bvs and dancing fatigue entranced the crowd: uncertain if the same fella who, nominally, provided similar in years gone by, tonight he was a constant shimmy, the audience beckoning back with similarly outstretched arms. Names of the songs mattered little, and I have a brace of their albums, remaining unable to discern new from old. Today they all merged into a blur of constancy, a hypnotic mirage. Masterful.

The desert can make you thirsty, necessitating a brave of the craft ale bar queues, the only one offering cups over tins, and with a far greater trade than the bars scattered around it. Brixton ales had travelled not that far and hit the spot. A sit-down and a blether, ahead the need to bag a place in the only marquee and indoor stage. Befittingly, as the act awaited were Spiritualised, bucket listers for me, and a band I would find difficult to follow in daylight.

If a stage can be bathed in darkness, they had it, with barely a haze of the eight beings visible through the swathe of smoke and dry ice. Jason Pierce, tucked to one side of the stage, sits to play and perform, something that has my some wry pleasure. I gather her always has, but, nonetheless, with his reputation and back story, however and ifsoever reformed, it would be perverse were he even capable of standing. Of course, he was in shades, a trio of black girls swaying loosely behind him, to the music coming from two guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, the musicians all grouped to the opposite side of the stage. Some squalls of feedback as Pierce plugged in, kicking off with a couple of faster paced songs, Hey Jane and the cleverly entitled She Kissed Me (and It Felt Like a Hit), before dialling down into the more trademark drawn out psychedeligospel of Shine a Light, the oldest song played here tonight, and which was received joyously. The light show was by now throwing shadows and shapes on the backdrop, it apparent how much in control of this small, by Spiritualised standards, band was Pierce. Not that the sound of the gargantuan keys and three, including Pierce, guitars would have you ever accusing the sound of being small. The drums clattered and pounded aplenty and the bass, throughout, was rumbling innards across the tent. (“Turn down the bass, cries some poor fool“?!)

The set continued with a trio of songs from 2018’s And It Hurt, with The Morning After embellished by the rawest of exquisite harmonica play, from the principal guitarist, whoever he is; we were here introduced. To any of them. By now, I was getting caught up in the near rhapsody of the audience. The term sonic cathedral is one that wordier critics bandy about with abandon, but, you know, it was, the whole effect hypnotic between the structured noise from one side, chorally embellished and baleful lead vocals from the other. Beseechments to a vengeful God. Let It Bleed (For Iggy) and The A Song (Laid In Your Arm), parentheses intact, followed, the newest songs played, each from this year’s Everything Was Beautiful, sounding as timeless and ageless as all before, indelibly stamped with the unchanging template that defines this band. They could play the same few chords all night, in the same order and at the same tempo and it would still sound right. Maybe they did, but no-one was complaining. With So Long You Pretty Thing closing, it was a surprise to realise how the majority of these songs came from this recent decade or so. A triumphant set that will have had those with only dusty old copies of Ladies & Gentlemen looking toward their wallets.

Emerging into the daylight blinking, yet another whirlwind traipse through the varieties of modern music, this time to capture the wonder of Michael Kiwanuka. No apologies, it was his presence here today that had nailed mine, and I was eager to see how the third album might have morphed and maximised his show. A lot being the answer, and a fair bit since, even, as the robes and more generous afro of head and chin toned down to short scalp braids and the hinterland betwixt beard and stubble. Baggy jeans, a T and an open workshirt, it looked as if the Neil Young school of fashion had been studied, a battered fedora being all that was missing. As is his style, the band entered the stage first, two female backing singers, keyboards, bass and the unmistakable struwelpeter locked Michael Jablonka on guitar. Cheers and hands rose as Kiwanuka emerged, the backing singers already announcing their integral and important role to his muse. A set largely from last year’s Kiwanuka, his third outing, it was good to see how well the songs fitted into his live set. kicking off with the opener, You Ain’t The Problem, following straight into two more. Given just how well-known his second breakthrough album has become, courtesy soundtrack exposure and the like, he didn’t even play the epic Cold Little Heart, so long his signature song, apart from an abbreviated form midset. And apart from wondering whether it would get an airing, it wasn’t missed. Far more anticipated was the two-part bravadaccio of Hero, the acoustic strum and then the more electric onslaught. No Black Man In A White World, today, it perhaps too overt an observation of the Victoria Park demographic. Sometimes, on the record, the backing singers can appear to dominate, and draw away the attention from Kiwanuka’s characteristically hoarse tenor. Somehow today, despite being given ample opportunity to showcase and even steal his limelight, Emily Holligan being especially awe-inspiring, but both astounding, they were definitely still his accompanists, demonstrating the class of the arrangements. And Kiwanuka’s confidently unshowy presence as the man in charge.This came sharply into focus for Solid Ground, which closed the too short set. With Kiwanuka now sat a small keyboard centre stage, spotlit in the haze of the stage, exquisitely picking out the notes, it was just the piano and his voice, ahead the band’s slow join. Magnificent. As the last act on this side of the park, surely they would allow him an encore. Surely? Sadly not, the audience shuffling away, not quite satiated but satisfied they had had the Kiwanuka experience. I commend it.

Well, any headliner would have to pull out all their chops to top that, thought I, not least as the sound of the first couple of songs from Nick Cave’s set were making themselves apparent as the mass migration to his side of the area. I had missed The Smile, a tactical choice in favour of Kiwanuka, and so any chance of a pole position was daunted. I am told The Smile, the Radiohead meets Sons of Kemet and their existential fusion, were fine. Another time, maybe. Urgent precautionary measures purchased, I hit the back of the crowd, awaiting enlightenment.

This seemed a very different Nick Cave to the angry and aggressive figure stalking this very stage, four years ago. That night had been a bitter scourging of expectations, with only occasional lightness for contrast. Tonight he seemed relaxed and mellow, content in his own shiny shoes. Back with the Bad Seeds, they having had some period of remission, Warren Ellis apart, as the Cave/Ellis show unfolded across the world, how would that pan out? Indeed, given the way the last “band” record so nearly and clearly wasn’t, so keen the advancing creep of Ellis into all matters Cave; were the Seeds going to prove superfluous? A resounding no became very swiftly the answer, largely courtesy the powerhouse drumming of Tom Wyler and the never less than inventive percussion of Jim Sclavunos, there for very much more than the tubular bell of Red Right Hand. Sure, the increasingly tramp on electric soup appearance and presence of Ellis was never far from the limelight, hogging even a lot of the electric guitar from George Vjestica, he often relegated to rhythmic amplified acoustic strumming, but this was the opportunity, taken, for the rebirth of the band as a band.

Jubilee Street the first full song I caught, with Cave in full-on banter mode between songs, out at the very front, clutching hands and joshing those present, accusing one punter of over-eager attachment: “sexual harassment in the workplace, woman?” The consummate showman, Cave alternated between the much loved benevolent dictator, joking with his people, and the dramatist, living and breathing his songs. This latter came to the fore as he took to the piano for a spell-breaking I Need You, widely perceived an ode to his lost son, Arthur. Visibly tearful, Cave made this emotional song a triumph. Tupelo, always an outrider amongst his repertoire suddenly made sense, the grand guignol aspects thereof suddenly apt for the spectacle. Ellis, meantime, was switching between guitar and his manic banshee wail of violin, frequently making a point invoking peals of feedback, arm, and fiddle, held high, aloft, as if for emphasis. He also got his portable keyboard out, for the full laptop experience, legs flailing wildly, as if to shake it away. An odd and extraordinary performer. Red Right Hand gets its required repeal, ‘by order of the Peaky Blinders’, the once just quirky song now positively anthemic. And the tubular bell was exquisite, each strike captured in close-up, on the resolutely monochrome screens, either side of the stage. Sclavunos also added some delicious vibraphone to, I think, The Ship song, with the set drawing to a close. I realise I haven’t mentioned the graceful gravitas of the trio of backing vocalist, the same trio, seemingly drawn into the packet following their vital contribution to the Warren/Ellis Carnage tour, as here. Their vocals helped swell out of the hard to find gaps in Cave’s rich baritone and made for a counterbalance to Cave’s frantic nature, they swaying gracefully throughout. A rousing rally of City Of Refuge beckoned the end, provided by the sole song culled from the Warren/Ellis Carnage, White Elephant, a most suitable point of closure.

But not for long, those with a keen eye on the curfew aware there was time for a fair old bit yet. Almost inevitably, befitting the standard it is fast becoming, a solo rendition of Into My Arms, most singing along. I was. Lesser known song, the Vortes had the band brought back out, and was magnificent, even as the masses began to dwindle, mindful of the melee at the gates to get out. It seemed entirely appropriate that the studied electronic sheen of Ghosted Speaks, followed by The Weeping Song should serenade them out.

What a show and what a guy, my not small opinion of him doubled or even trebled. A superb finale to a superb day. All credit to the All Points East Team. They know how to put on a good show, from the setting, to the associated essentials, and to ensuring the weather. They have already sent out feedback questionnaires for next year, with no doubt most will be back. Here’s hoping.

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