I was ready to lay into All Points East. The lead up to the festival that had been, to say the very least, a bit of a mess. For weeks prior to the six day event, competitions and offers had started to pop up everywhere. If you were on Tinder you could get tickets to see the likes of Christine and the Queens, The Chemical Brothers, Mumford and Sons, and Bon Iver at two for the price of one. O2 Priority and Vodafone were doling them out for free. They were appearing all over the place, sometimes for completely arbitrary prices such as £2.50. There was a desperation to offload tickets that was frankly embarrassing. As someone who had shelled out £140 for two tickets to the Bon Iver day, this was more than a little irritating. Not only was I annoyed that I had spent so much more than the majority of other punters, but I knew that some people would go to anything if it was free (or £2.50). I worried that, while I watched one of my very favourite artists for only the second time, I would be surrounded by people who had no interest and would chat throughout the show. I was also disgruntled that those of us who had paid so much were still receiving emails asking us to upgrade to VIP for another £40. Fuck off.
Then came the second night of the event, headlined by The Strokes. The only night of the whole festival that had sold out, even before the silly offers, there had been a buzz around the show for months. It was the band’s first gig in the UK for years. I can’t stand The Strokes personally, but I felt very sorry for their fans when Twitter became awash with reports of how awful the sound was and how many people in attendance could barely hear a sound. And when the festival responded to these complaints with an almost complete dismissal, I (and many others) was absolutely fuming.
This was not boding well.
But as I travelled down to London on the MegaBus, I had to try and put these feelings aside. The reason I had so eagerly parted with that £140 was simple; two of my all-time favourite artists were on the bill, as were a host of others that I had at least a passing interest in. This was going to be good. As long as I could hear it over the noisy freeloaders and the shite sound system.
And things started pretty well. An opening set from Matilda Homer lessened some of the concerns, as her soulful voice sounded clear in the North Stage’s speakers. She told the crowd that it was her first ever gig at an outdoor festival, and if she hadn’t have shared that there would’ve been no way of knowing. She came across as confident and with bags of potential.
It was over to the main stage towards the end of her set to catch Charlie Cunningham, someone who had stood out to me while giving the lineup a listen in preparation. On stage he was even more impressive, demonstrating his envy-inducing guitar skills, a powerful voice, and a setlist that showed him at his very best. ‘Minimum’ was a real standout and I suggest you give it a listen immediately. He has an air of Jose Gonzalez about his music, and that can only be a good thing.
There was an element of floating around that followed, and while there was maybe a little bit too much time between the really high quality sets, we got by on good beer and decent displays from Gently Tender, KOKOKO!, Ezra Furman, and Phospherecent. Snail Mail, however, was probably the day’s biggest let down. Despite drawing one of the biggest crowds, her performance made all of her songs sound the same and those dreaded sound problems I mentioned before started to show themselves.
But then came the second biggest reason that we were in attendance. The Tallest Man on Earth. Taking to the main stage at around 6pm, he was the first artist I saw that day that managed to totally silence the talkative crowd. Even those with the freebies. It was a short set for a man with so much to offer, and so many guitars to switch between, but he treated us to a near perfect mix of the new and old while rushing around the stage in a way that pretty much no other folk artist is likely to. If you don’t know The Tallest Man on Earth, I urge you to go and spend some time with his music right now. And if you haven’t seen him live, grab yourself a ticket. His set at All Points East was an absolute standout and a reminder of what a consummate performer he is.
I was beginning to forgive All Points East. I couldn’t deny that there were pulling it off, with barely any sign of the concerns I had been mulling over in my head. But when The Tallest Man on Earth finished, there was suddenly a long gap in my schedule that reminded me of another reason I’d been pissed off with them. First Aid Kit had been supposed to be subbing for Bon Iver but had dropped out for health reasons. Surely there would be a replacement, no? Well, no actually. Instead they just moved the rest of the lineup to later in the day, meaning that John Grant was now the main stage’s penultimate act. And I absolutely despise John Grant. I just don’t get him.
But it was winding down to Bon Iver time, so I made my way towards the front with my fingers in my ears. I saw the end of John Grant’s set. And, I have to say, it was worth the torture to be in place for the arrival of Justin Vernon and co. Because in the hour and a half that they were on the stage, we were treated to an absolute masterclass. While the majority of the set was made up of songs from 22, A Million, we were also surprised by rarities such as ‘Blood Bank’ and ‘The Woods.’ ‘Skinny Love’ was, of course, a standout, as were ‘Holocene’, ‘715 – CREEKS’, and ‘Creature Fear’. And while there was some controversy over them finishing the set by playing two new songs and their videos, this turned out to be an exciting introduction to a new album that got social media buzzing the next day. It is difficult to sum up how powerful and moving this set was, other than to say that if you’re a fan you will understand. It was spellbinding.
So did All Points East redeem themselves? I’m afraid I can’t say that they did. Bon Iver, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Charlie Cunningham gave them a fighting chance of doing so, and the day itself went off with barely a hitch. But this was one of the most unprofessional and unfair build ups to a music event that I have experienced. But they do keep putting eye-catching lineups together, and if they do so again you might see me back there. But I, and 1000s of others, will probably wait for the freebies. Why the hell not?
Words by Fran Slater