All Points East may have racked up an insanely top tier level of artists across its inaugural year (hello LCD Soundsystem, Bjork, The National et al), but it’s on the final day of the two-weekend stint that they really go all guns blazing for the motherload.
Having played arguably the show of his career at The O2 Arena last year, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are an almighty headliner in themselves. Add an immaculately curated supporting cast featuring cemented legends and burgeoning stars of the alternative world’s most intelligent, boundary-pushing favourites and you’ve got a leading light in a fortnight already full of stars.
Shame kick things off in the blazing mid-afternoon sun by announcing this as their first ever Main Stage festival slot. If their visceral punk blasts find a natural home in the sweaty confines of small venues, however, then today proves that they translate thrillingly onto bigger stages too. Ever the magnetic frontman, today Charlie Steen uses the added space and platform to really revel in the joys of being front and centre. Newly bleached blonde and sporting his now-customary white boiler suit, the singer is utterly in control of every moment, meticulously teasing out articulate tales of disarray in a baritone rumble and switching between moments of total, comfortable stillness and vein-popping all-out aggression with ease. It’s a mightily confident performance that suggests there really is no limit to their potential.
Atlanta flower punks The Black Lips continue to delight and confuse with a set that begins by new member Zumi Rosow, in full dominatrix get-up, leading singer Cole Alexander out by a dog leash. It’s an aesthetic that suits one side of the band – the anarchists that still toilet paper every show and have a love song set during the horrors of KristallNacht. But you sense that they’re still being somewhat done over by their own visuals. See, underneath all the grotty madness, Black Lips have always had one hell of a way with a melody, and there’s a 60s beat group nestled within ‘Time Of The Scab’ that owes as much to early Beatles as it does to some of music’s dirtier factions.
Courtney Barnett draws one of the biggest afternoon crowds of the entire fortnight, bringing a heavier, riffier slant to the introversions of recent LP ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’. It’s not just the baking heat that’s making the Aussie seem entirely at home, either. Tearing into old favourite ‘Avant Gardener’ and recent single ‘Nameless, Faceless’ with the same level of confident gusto, any hint of the introverted soul that used to reside underneath is ditched in favour of a proper, full blown frontwoman today.
If there’s one person who knows a thing or two about putting on a show, it’s St. Vincent. Over on the second stage, her crowd may be suffering in numbers slightly due to Patti Smith’s superlative turn on the Main Stage, but those that are there bear witness to something truly original. Now fully ensconced in the neon, sci-fi sexual dystopia of ‘Masseduction’, she’s part human, part robot, swapping out a series of highlighter pen-coloured guitars while her eerily masked male band mates stand static clothed in a sea of beige. And lord knows there’s tunes too, from ‘Birth In Reverse’ to ‘Digital Witness’, Annie Clark gives a masterclass in effortless cool, wrangling meaty riffs at every turn while barely breaking a sweat.
Patti herself is, of course, every bit the living legend. Exuding the kind of natural presence and gravitas that only the true one-offs can muster, she begins by reciting a poem by Allen Ginsberg in honour of the anniversary of his passing before proceeding to unveil a set that’s more a communal sermon than a traditional music gig. Sure there are hits (‘People Have The Power’, ‘Gloria’), but it’s the whole vibe that gets you with Patti. Impassioning messages of kindness and compassion, it’s impossible not to feel part of something special here. And when the dark master that follows her takes to the stage, that feeling is fully cemented.
Ever since he basically hypnotised a girl in the crowd during a now-legendary Glastonbury performance, Nick Cave’s reputation as the high priest of musical black magic has been unquestionable. Tonight, with a sold out congregation there to bear witness to he and the Bad Seeds’ murky tales of eloquent darkness, he’s on the greatest form of his life. It’s a testament to his powers of command that when he brings out Actual Real Life Kylie for their ’90s duet of ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, he’s still the most entrancing presence on stage. A tear-jerking ‘Into My Arms’ welcomes the dusk, while ‘Jubilee Street’ and ‘Stagger Lee’ are gargantuan things that build into dramatic storms – the former welcoming hordes of fans onto the stage, who stay there for the rest of the set.
As they finish with ‘Push The Sky Away’, Cave surrounded on all sides, it’s like he’s hypnotised not just one person but a whole field of them. And that’s how you headline a festival.