Review: All Points East, 2nd June 2019
As the sun rose on a glistening June morning, festival goers scrambled to London for the final day of London’s newest high-profile large-scale music festival at Victoria Park. Having already experienced staggering sets from The Chemical Brothers, Christine & the Queens and Mumford and Sons plus a day of hard rock featuring Bring Me The Horizon and Architects and a slightly dampened headline set by The Strokes, we arrived for perhaps the most exciting yet unpredictable day of the festival.
Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver have been an obscure entity ever since their sublime debut record ‘For Emma, Forever Ago‘ first ripped the heartstrings out of the heartbroken, as Vernon’s tale is slowly becomes one of alternative legend as the years roll on. Having moved from North Carolina to Wisconsin, a broken Vernon moved into his father’s isolated log cabin for three months in the wilderness and wrote one of the most notoriously beautiful albums ever created. Since then Bon Iver have beaten for those whose hearts need mending, with the following self-titled record winning two Grammy Awards and their 2016’s third album ‘22, A Million‘ gaining rapturous applause for its shift to a new direction focused on electronic production and a barrage of distortion alongside its Windings-style track listing.
Taking to the stage as the sun set across the capital, the band’s set was a scintillating demonstration of how subtle tweaks within the performance and live production can make for a show so ironically unique yet delightfully fresh. Opening with ‘Perth‘ and ‘Minnesota, WI‘ from 2012’s second record, the American troupe swept a blanket of emotional tranquillity across the heaving crowd on the East Stage, with Vernon’s soaring vocals cutting through the tension and expectation laid on him by almost 40,000 festival goers.
Despite being three years since ’22, A Million’ was released, the headline show was still heavily oriented towards the third album. ‘715 – CREEKS,’ ‘1 0 d E A T h b R E a s T,’ ‘33 “GOD“‘ and ‘_45_‘ were met with a mixture of surprise and glee, with 2014’s ‘Heavenly Father’ taken from the soundtrack to film Wish I Was Here, sandwiched between the four.
‘Blood Bank,’ ‘Towers‘ and ‘8 (circle)‘ provided more atmospheric depth before the first big crowd sing-along occurred with the serene ‘Skinny Love.’ A live performance from Bon Iver is almost as rare as an English summer without rain, and the crowd made their appreciation known at every moment possible as they screamed to their hearts’ content to one of the most iconic tracks in music.
Moving onto the lead single from ’22, A Million,’ ‘22 (OVER SOON)’ and then ‘Creature Fear,’ it’s impossible to not admire a band flowing with creative prowess. Whilst guitar solos can be the conventional big flex of festival music, I’d argue that possessing the ability to add layer upon layer of vocal lines, tweak subtle synth arrangements and provide a performance of such haunting beauty that captivates almost transfixes and moves 40,000 people is the biggest flex of all.
Emerging again for an encore of ‘Holocene,’ yet another reminder of the band’s ability to make the emotional seem simple, Justin Vernon spoke to the crowd explaining that they were going to do something different, by playing ‘Holocene‘ to end the set and then leaving to let the crowd have an exclusive look at two new tracks. The fact that the band didn’t actually play the new tracks live gained some response from the audience, nevertheless the opportunity to listen to new material was enticing enough. ‘Hey Ma‘ sees the band taking their music to even richer depths, combining the emotional journey of the first two records with the production knowledge of the third. ‘U‘ is something a bit different from the Wisconsin band, an upbeat, almost pop-oriented arrangement that lifted the audience happily away from the festival and into the London night.
As has been the case with all the shows from All Points East this year, the undercard has been an impressive array of talent from across the globe. Baltimore’s Snail Mail gave a melodic display of female-fronted indie rock on the North Stage whilst Kinshasha based KOKOKO! delivered a mesmerising show of high-octane percussion driven songs from the heart of Africa.
Mac DeMarco’s headline set on the North Stage gained a mighty crowd, who camped out to hear some old favourites like ‘Salad Days‘ alongside tracks from the new record ‘Here Comes The Cowboy.’ A livewire performer, DeMarco is famed for his unpredictability, and whilst his set in the blissful London sunshine was a breezy display of defiant slacker music, enthusiasm slowly waned away as his show sounded more and more predictable.
To say John Grant’s set on the East Stage was a quirky extravaganza might be a bit of an understatement. Donned in a mask and glitter, the eccentric Denver-based singer-songwriter strutted across the stage throughout his electronic pop dominated performance. Keeping his audience on their toes, the likes of ‘He’s Got His Mother’s Hips‘ and ‘Preppy Boy‘ we’re divinely diva-ish and the show as a whole was so perfectly over the top and full of sarcastic wit that you couldn’t help but offer a wry smirk as he launched into the next track
Though Ezra Furman’s set was an equally diva-ish experience, albeit through the medium of alternative rock, one of the highlights of the day came from classically trained Spanish guitarist and UK singer-songwriter Charlie Cunningham who opened the East Stage perfectly with his mix of rhythmic yet soulful tracks. ‘Minimum‘ was a noticeable treat for fans but with a new record released on June 7th, his popularity could soar in the coming weeks.
Whilst the full All Points East bill was an impressive display of international talent, the day and ultimately the festival belonged to a collective group of conventionally isolated individuals who took a packed London crowd on an enthralling emotional rollercoaster for 90 minutes. Bon Iver’s headline set might have put an end to the second edition of the festival, but it acted as the start of a new era for the band as two new tracks signalled a forthcoming fourth studio album. When that comes, who can tell, given Vernon’s tendency for surprise, but they’ve managed to wet the appetite of the capital ahead of what could be a huge six months for the band.