Memory of a Festival: 029: All Points East presents Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

The last day of the ten day period of All Points East at Victoria Park was also my first ever attendance at one of the festivals in that park. Like my own “home” park Finsbury Park (I live within 100m of it), it is extensively used for live music over the summer period, which probably goes some way to paying for the upkeep of these large parks. Even so, it was surprising to find that the Victoria Park site was vast, much bigger than the festivals that Finsbury Park has, and the layout of the park lent itself well to a multi-stage festival site.

Memory of a Festival: 029
All Points East presents Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Bands seen

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
St. Vincent
Patti Smith
Courtney Barnett
Black Lips
Nadine Shah
Shame

Venue

Victoria Park, E3

For a start, it is flat, but also the large trees provide useful screens to allow two large stages to be relatively close to each other, face the same way (west), and no impinge on each other. That said, they were a fair walk from each other, which meant it was a close-run thing on occasions getting from one to the other in time. And despite it being a “corporate” festival, it didn’t feel as gouging as some do – sure, food and booze wasn’t particularly cheap, but it was no more expensive than a day out in Central London – and crucially, it was well organised, well set-up, had good sound (frankly fucking remarkable for a London-based festival in recent years) and everything ran to time.

Onto the bands, then: we caught one song of Shame (the bludgeoning Concrete), that in all honesty sounded pretty much as they do on record, so off to the other stage for Nadine Shah it was, and not for the last time on the day, I made the right call.

Nadine Shah Setlist

Place Like This
Holiday Destination
Fast Food
Evil
Fool
Yes Men
Mother Fighter
Out The Way

I’ve already seen Nadine Shah this year, at her headlining show at The Roundhouse in February, and this was a shorter, perhaps a little stripped down version of the same set, concentrating on the strongest points of Holiday Destination with a couple of older songs dropped in too. Her politicised, strident post-punk-esque rock is no less striking in front of a festival crowd, and is less of making pleas for inclusivity than making a louder voice for those that are victims of xenophobia and outright racism – not to mention asking more than a few questions of her listeners.

The whole set was a striking one, that’s for sure, and of the people I was with who hadn’t heard her before, they were converted by the end of the set. There was less approval for the pedestrian retro-rock of Black Lips, though. Apparently, they describe themselves as a punk band, but I wasn’t hearing any fight from where I was. So we moved on, and took a break from music for a bit for refreshment, catching up with friends and getting out of the sun (it was a warm day, and had the happy coincidence of giving Baxter Dury a miss.

There is always someone I see at festivals such as this where I kick myself for not having caught on before, though, and here, it was Courtney Barnett. I’d never heard her material until I started hearing some of her songs from her album with Kurt Vile, which I hated, and that rather coloured my opinion, until I heard Nameless, Faceless from her new solo album, and suddenly I was…oh, balls.

I rather missed out here, didn’t I? Particularly live, she reminds me of the various alt-rock artists I loved in the nineties, a no-bullshit attitude, great songs and some particularly caustic and witty lyrics that litter her songs. One amusing moment between songs had her about to say something, then admitted she had nothing else to say so would just keep on playing. With songs as good as she was airing, I was fine with that.

One highlight was Avant Gardener, a song that sounded vaguely familiar, and confirmed when I sought out the original online – it was just rather heavier live. Lyrically it’s also a hoot – about struggling to be bothered to do the gardening in the sunshine, and bunking off and getting wasted instead. Rather more serious in tone are the newer songs, with Nameless, Faceless a wonderful middle-finger to male privilege, while Need A Little Time perhaps resonates with anyone who has got trapped into a relationship that they perhaps should have left long before.

The set closed out with a scorching, raging Pedestrian at Best, that as my wife pointed out from the opening riff, sounds like Hole in their prime (not that this is a bad thing in the slightest), and confirmed that pretty much her entire back-catalogue is now on my shopping list for the coming months.

Ahead of the weekend, the APE app had suggested a rather uncomfortable three-way clash of bands that I wanted to see immediately before Nick Cave, but by the day it was clear that Patti Smith had been pulled forward, broadly leaving a two-way clash. Which meant that we saw the first couple of songs of Patti Smith – and hearing her recite part of Howl on what would have been Allen Ginsberg‘s birthday – and a sense that she was better than when I saw her a couple of years back in Hyde Park.

But we had to move on, and after seeing the tiny confines of the J√§gerHaus tent – and no apparent stage area – I reluctantly decided to pass on Marika Hackman, and I’ll catch her smart indie-pop another time, instead heading over to the North Stage.

I went to see St. Vincent at Shepherd’s Bush on her last tour (a good three or four years hence), which was a slick, hit-filled show and a whole lot of fun. But word from her first MASSEDUCTION shows last year – where she apparently performed solo onstage, and the whole thing was reported as rather listless – had me a bit concerned about what we might get.

St. Vincent Setlist

Sugarboy
Los Ageless
Pills
New York
Savior
Masseduction
Huey Newton
Marrow
Cruel
Cheerleader
Digital Witness
Rattlesnake
Fear the Future
Slow Disco

I shouldn’t have worried, really. With an expensive-looking, hi-tech stage set-up with four people onstage, it was obvious that things had been re-thought in a big way. Each of the four was on raised units with a big, powerful LED lighting rig behind them, in a row across the stage, and when the band came onstage things got weird. Toko Yasuda (ex-Enon, the later band from the ashes of Brainiac!) was on bass and synths, and then unidentified men on synths and drums. Why unidentifed? Well, they were in boiler suits, full head masks and blonde wigs, and rather performed like robots – and were more than a little creepy.

St. Vincent herself, mind, was thus the striking focal point. Clad in an orange latex dress and accessories, initially with a matching neon orange guitar (and then a selection of different coloured neon guitars!), she was a shocking splash of colour and performed with an energy that the colour demanded, as she initially flashed through most of the strongest moments of MASSEDUCTION, before she and the band dug into older highlights as well.

Of the new, Sugarboy sounded every bit the industrial club banger that it always promised to be, while Los Ageless and Pills in particular are still glorious, sunny earworms, and Savior has lost none of the shock value as a sleazy electro-funk BDSM jam. Of the old, in retrospect the robotic moves and electro of Marrow was signposting St. Vincent’s future sound long before we noticed, while Digital Witness proved once again to be the best pop song she’s yet released. We had to leave as Fear The Future rolled in, as we were missing a moment of Nick Cave, but it was a difficult choice, as St. Vincent here was so damned good.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Kylie Minogue“. Six words that I’ve heard before – when she appeared onstage with John Grant at the Royal Albert Hall a few years back, but I never thought I’d be privileged to see her join Nick Cave onstage. But here we were, just before 2200 on a summer Sunday night in Victoria Park, and our long-hoped-for moment arrived. To explain: my wife and I had long agreed that Where The Wild Roses Grow would be our wedding day first dance, years before we finally got married. We went through with it, to the surprise and joy of our friends. It’s our song. And it was every bit as glorious, and swooning, as I’d ever hoped it would be – and the chemistry between Cave and Minogue was clear to see. It’s only been played live four times with Minogue guesting and hearing it last night felt like winning the lottery.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Setlist

Jesus Alone
Magneto
Do You Love Me?
From Her to Eternity
Loverman
Red Right Hand
Come Into My Sleep
Into My Arms
Girl In Amber
Where the Wild Roses Grow (with Kylie Minogue)
Jubilee Street
Deanna
Stagger Lee
Push the Sky Away

It was hardly the only surprise of the night, either. Less surprising, mind, was the appearance of less Skeleton Tree songs, although as I noted on Into the Pit: 200 songs from it have been through a striking transformation in the live environment, which made room for more songs from the rest of his career, and songs we didn’t hear last time.

We likely got an inkling that this was going to be another impressive show by the early airing of a dramatic Do You Love Me?, which rolled into the astonishing cacophony of From Her To Eternity (even better than last time), before that eventually ran out of steam and we were treated to a rare airing of the brooding/thrashing and humourous, self-effacing Loverman – not a song I would ever have expected the Bad Seeds in 2018 to be playing. Another surprise, later on, was an extended, crowd-involving Deanna, a song that still sounds like it is on rickety foundations and is only just held together before it falls apart – here, Cave got the crowd involved and pushed the song to extraordinary heights.

One other jaw-dropping moment, though, was when he took to the piano for Into My Arms, to find the crowd of tens of thousands singing along in tune to every word. A proper spine-tingling moment, that, and would have been the moment of the night were it not for the introduction of a fellow, diminutive Australian onstage just moments later…

Once again, though, this was a pretty much flawless set from Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds, who seem after years of being something of a cult band, to have broken through to the mainstream, as if everyone else has finally realised how brilliant a songwriter and performer he is. I don’t know where that point was, but if he can sell out arena tours, and now headline this vast day-long festival, the chances of seeing him in a smaller venue now are, I suspect, literally nil.

Unusually, though, this is not a bad thing. He has a rare talent for making any venue feel intimate, and that even worked out fine here. Normally large festivals mean some form of compromise, but somehow they managed here for this not to be the cast. Can I hope for just as impressive a line-up next year?

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