Sitting in the middle of a field in London, pint in hand, listening to some of the most exciting bands of our time as the sun set, I felt like I had potentially taken escaping the ‘Oxford bubble’ a little too far. Though it was winding to the end of a long sixth week, the energy of these bands was invigorating. The Saturday of All Points East comes between a Catfish and the Bottlemen headliner on Friday and Nick Cave on Saturday. It is as if the days are working their way through generations of fans, and music, and, for me, the Saturday line up struck a perfect balance between being mature and energetic. The ticketed days also close a free 4-day, community focussed programme for half term. It is this community focussed element that made me happier with the event as a whole, as the evident disruption was somewhat compensated for. The organisers had clearly tried to move the event beyond a commercial venture into something genuinely beneficial for the area, this was also seen in the amount of locals who were working as stewards.
The National thrive, not because they rely on the intoxication of a thumping arena experience, but simply because of their poignant and elegant song writing
The first band I was eager to see were Philadelphia indie band ‘The Districts’. You can hear in their emotionally raw songs that frontman Robby Grote has a uniquely engaging talent. But seeing his command over the stage, as his body seemed to be viscerally effected by the songs, was an experience that made me invest even more in their music, and assures me that the vulnerability you hear in songs like ‘Long Distance’ is anything but artificial.
On the same stage, but on a wholly different vibe, was ‘This Is The Kit’. A band whose instrumentation consists of, amongst other things, a bass clarinet, saxophone and banjo is not one who you would usually bank on being able to captivate an audience. Yet since their Rough Trade debut ‘Moonshine Freeze’ I have been entranced by Kate Sables’ ability to texture avant-garde lyricism and unconventional sounds. This did translate, to an extent, onto the All Points East stage as the sun beat down and listeners laid back on the grass. Yet, for the audience congregated at the front in expectation of a kind of mosh pit, the chilled out music did not quite work.
Warpaint were another triumph in their set which had both depth and joy. I moved along with the band as they sang ethereally ‘love is to dance’, and was struck at how nearly every member of the band could sing in this unique way. Another band whose sheer collective talent was genuinely breath-taking were Amber Run. They could segway seamlessly from layered group harmonies, almost classical, to the rugged energy of a rock band. As frontman Joe Keogh gripped his shirt, nearly tearing it, with emotion he wavered between indie rawness and virtuosic control. Their song ‘Wastelands’ was a touching moment of vulnerability that resonated through the crowd: ‘And I know you’ll fall in love again. When you do, I hope you’ll find somebody Who you can love like I love you’.
Yet all of this was leading up to headliners ‘The National’. Their set was truly exceptional. They stand as a band who thrive because they do not rely on technical magic and the intoxication of a thumping arena experience. but because their song writing is poignant and elegant. They invited both The Staves and War On Drugs to collaborate with their performance and showed a humble respect for both as they created an experience that went beyond the normal set. The whole audience, who were packed in tightly across a significant section of the field, had hands in the air and there was a tangible a communal relation to the feelings of disillusionment and loss that, in itself, gave a hope – an effect which only great artists can achieve. They played ‘Vanderlye Crybaby Geeks’ almost totally stripped back as the audience belted out the lyrics, replacing their lead man who seemed moved by the crowd’s response to this risk.
The band also dedicated ‘About Today’ to Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit who passed away last month. The two bands were close, the guitarist of The National even producing their final album. It was a respectful and special moment.
The day as a whole showed heights of new music artistry and I would highly recommend listening to the bands on Saturday’s line-up if you have not already as the song writing and musicality is striking.