Bon Iver winds down All Points East Festival 2019 with a slick and psychedelic set
As the wind whipped up a relentless cloud of dust through a well-trodden and sun-parched Victoria Park, the final day of All Points East was looking more like the scene of a gritty Western. But in spite of the coating of grey that settled over each and every festivalgoer, causing us to squint, sneeze and splutter, in an atmosphere so chilled and contented there was no chance of a standoff. The day hosted a colourful array of artists, for the most part pulling off the difficult feat of keeping up the energy on a lineup characterised by ambient electronic vibes.
Snail Mail provided a fitting laid-back start to the day, Lindsay Jordan’s apt opener Heat Wave resonating with a sweaty audience. But in spite of the sun, the frontwoman, with her smooth vocals and cool confidence, kept the crowd sheltered under her nostalgic 90s shade.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, alternative band KOKOKO!, hailing from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa, were an explosive delight, arriving on stage in matching bright yellow overalls to perform an infectious, fast-paced set. They played on a variety of intriguing homemade instruments, from recycled xylophone-style washing up bottles to strings wired up to tin cans. The multi-talented musicians swapped positions with ease, their vocals switching frequently from melodic to percussive. The man who stole the show, though, was singer and drummer Makara Bianko, who owned the stage in cyclops-style sunglasses and a skewed topknot. He didn’t bother to speak a word of English because he didn’t need to; bringing the performance to a close with Malembe, he came through the crowd and had everyone chanting along to a euphoric finish.
Another highlight of the day came from the inimitable Ezra Furman, who slayed in a floral dress, floaty red and black kimono and pearls. Despite sound issues on the stage, which were unfortunately never quite resolved, the American artist fluttered his eyelashes and had the crowd under his spell. His setlist varied from slower numbers My Zero and Haunted Head to upbeat tracks like recent release Calm Down and emotive renditions of Suck the Blood from My Wound and Driving to LA from 2018’s Transangelic Exodus, giving us his signature slides from silky vocals to shouty segments that had the crowd jumping. Furman also gave us a special performance of new song Evening Prayer, a gift to his followers, who he thanked modestly with trademark charm.
The most fabulous and unashamed flirt of the evening, though, was John Grant, who hit, for this reviewer, the absolute apex of the day. Strutting and gyrating in makeup that sat somewhere between Kiss and Mad Max, the vocalist had presence enough to fill the park – and then some. Standout tracks were He’s Got His Mother’s Hips, delivered with an appropriate amount of hip action; Metamorphosis, through which he exhibited a wildly wide vocal range with characteristic wackiness; and GMF (Greatest Mother F**cker), originally performed with Sinead O’ Connor on back vocals back in 2013. This wonderfully witty “love song”, as he titled it, certainly had the whole audience, fans and new listeners alike, in the palm of his hand.
After such a thorough warm up, festivalgoers were ready to be lulled back into a trance-like state with the chilled-out, ambient sounds of Bon Iver. Admittedly, as a headliner the act was slightly divisive: some on the outskirts shared the opinion that the band might have been more fitting in a lazy, lounging afternoon slot. But given their international success, that too would have been a controversial choice, as evidenced by the young fans who had been waiting all night and now enveloped them in a wave of screams. No one seemed in doubt as to the quality of the ensemble’s performance: the velvety vocals and tight electronic harmonies were hypnotic and transcendent.
Lead singer Justin Vernon was sporting a dressed-down look with a starry bandana and a T-shirt, but his casual attire was nicely accompanied by a backdrop of psychedelic graphics. Though the frontman isn’t the most dynamic performer, his passion was clear as he took us through an impressive back-catalogue, from stripped-back folky tracks like 715 – CR∑∑KS to more cutting-edge synth-heavy number 666ʇ. Fan favourite Skinny Love, the artist’s most well-known track, sent the crowd crazy, the crooning chorus worth the wait. Holocene was another highlight, which was performed in what could have easily been the spine-tingling finale. And yet, fans were even more delighted when they were treated to the world premiere of two new, sleek tracks, Hey, Ma and U, in a special surprise finish.
Bon Iver’s message was admirable and pertinent: “Make sure you spread love everywhere you can”. However, following such a diverse day celebrating talent of all genders, sexualities and nationalities, he was probably preaching to the choir.
Photo: Jordan Hughes
All Points East events ran at Victoria Park from 24th May until 2nd June 2019. For further information and future events visit All Points East’s website here.