The Strokes And Yeah Yeah Yeahs Bring New York City To All Points East

The documentary Meet Me In The Bathroom, which revisits the early 2000s New York City music scene, is stuffed with clips from the era. In one, Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O asks: “What’s more important? Good sound or a good time?” 

“Sounding good, having a good time,” guitarist Nick Zinner replies instantly.

The Strokes @ All Points East 2023

The Strokes @ All Points East 2023 (Jennifer McCord)
The Strokes @ All Points East 2023 (Jennifer McCord)

They obviously still believe that. Some two decades later, their headline set on the All Points East West Stage is an all-out celebration. And they’re clearly not just celebrating their debut album, Fever To Tell, turning 20; their set doesn’t shy away from 2009’s It’s Blitz! or last year’s Cool It Down. So alongside the likes of Rich (all angular guitar riff and sneering vocal) and Maps (dedicated to Sinéad O’Connor) Yeah Yeah Yeahs give their all to songs like hand-clapping Heads Will Roll, bounding Zero, stellar Soft Shock (written while dreaming about London), contemplative Lovebomb, and dramatic Spitting Off The Edge Of The World

Drummer Brian Chase, especially, seems to be having the night of his life, his broad smile frequently filling the screens. But it’s Karen O, of course, who pulls focus. She sounds spectacular (total euphoria on Y Control; all-out seductive on Bond-theme-in-waiting Burning) and looks even better (bouncing along with the giant inflatable eyeballs thrown into the audience, striking poses with her microphone cable). The rest of the band get in on the stagecraft during furious set closer Date With The Night, freezing for a few seconds of silence before the singer shoves the microphone into her mouth, spins it above her head, and hurls it onto the stage repeatedly. 

Over on the main East Stage a few minutes later, The Strokes are somewhat less demonstrative. They prefer to let the music do the talking — although, during the first 15 minutes, it’s more of a whisper (metaphorically speaking). Not only does everything sound muted and a little muddy, but singer Julian Casablancas and guitarists Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi are especially lost in the mix. It’s a pity because the five-piece from New York City kick off their 90-minute set with three heavy hitters: What Ever Happened Alone, Together, and Last Nite.

By the time Nikolai Fraiture jangles the bass intro of The Adults Are Talking, everything’s sounding a lot better. Casablancas, who never takes off his sunglasses, even seems more engaged. Between songs he drops good-natured non sequiturs about everything from the UK weather, multilingual greetings, and narrating nature documentaries to ringtones and the Pink Panther theme. After Last Nite (song three in the set), he jokingly declares: “Thank you, good night” and punctuates the chorus of Is This It with shouts of “Yup!”.  At one point he (and the rest of the band) even go as far as to adlib a song he introduces as Fallacy

The real songs, representing the entire back catalogue except 2011’s Angles, do an excellent job of tracing The Strokes’ evolution from the post-punk riffs of their seminal debut to the louche late night jazz club stylings of Call It Fate, Call It Karma; organ-led balladry of Ask Me Anything and it’s refrain of “I’ve got nothing to say”; disco dalliance that is Welcome To Japan; and arm-waving lighter anthemics of Ode To The Mets (with Casablancas’ casual croon interspersed with belted lines like “I need you there”). 

But, unsurprisingly, it’s the frenetic guitar-heavy moments that connect most with the festival crowd. Retro rocker Juicebox, jubilant You Only Live Once (highlight of third album First Impressions Of Earth), mission statement Meet Me In The Bathroom, ever effervescent Someday, rampant Reptilia (complete with audience singing every word and melody line), and Hard To Explain (accompanied by mass pogoing) are the perfect encapsulation of a day dedicated to indie music.

It all kicks off hours earlier on the West Stage with the thrilling HotWax and their empowerment anthem Barbie (Not Yours). The trio — singer/guitarist Tallulah Sim-Savage, always-moving bassist Lola Sam, and drummer Alfie Sayers ​​— have combined influences like Hole, Smashing Pumpkins, and early PJ Harvey to truly make the best of the 1990s their own.

The Lazy Eyes have looked even further into the past for inspiration. Formed in Sydney, Australia, in the late 2010s, their psych-rock sound is pure California in the late 1960s: gauzy vocals, floaty harmonies, spacey guitars, long instrumental jams. The quartet dig deep into their debut album, last year’s SongBook, with tracks like fittingly tropical The Island, extended acid trip Where’s My Brain??? (complete with quiet bit where all three guitarists play while on their haunches), and self-aware piano ballad Cheesy Love Song. Their dreamy rendition of Bee Gees classic More Than A Woman is a summery surprise on an overcast day that can use as much sunshine as it can get. 

Be Your Own Pet, making their first appearance on a UK festival stage in 15 years, take a slightly different approach to bringing back the sunshine: their garage rock is fierce enough to bust apart the clouds. “How’s everybody doing out there?” asks singer Jemina Pearl as they begin. “It’s about to get a whole lot better.” Headbanging, high kicking, and running she leads the recently reunited Nashville four piece through one gritty, grimy, punchy song after another. Moments like the 100 miles per hour Super Soaked, thrashy Black Hole, and post-punk rumbler Adventure revisit their first two mid-2000s albums, while Worship The Whip and Goodtime! prove that they’ve lost none of their edge in the ensuing years. Both are from LP three, Mommy, which receives a fitting introduction from Pearl: “It’s a great day for us. Donald Trump got arrested and our new album came out.”

The Walkmen, over on the West Stage, may not have any new material (yet). But, like Be Your Own Pet, they’ve reformed after an extended hiatus. And, like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they’re from the turn of the century NYC indie scene. The Rat, from 2004’s breakout Bows + Arrows, is their best-known song and, performed with real urgency today, unexpectedly gets the biggest response of their afternoon set. But the group are by no means one-hit wonders. A yearning Wake Up, which singer Hamilton Leithauser introduces as the second song the band ever wrote, shows off his raspy croon to fantastic effect. Little House Of Savages adds danger, intensity, and volume. In The New Year is big on passion and Leithauser’s vocal range. And the lush Heaven (“Remember remember/ All we fight for”) still sounds as hopelessly romantic as it did back in 2012 (and, in hindsight, wouldn’t seem out of place on a later album by The National or Elbow).

You could even imagine Angel Olsen doing an unhurried cover version. She doesn’t, instead focusing on her own material — in particular, the releases All Mirrors and Big Time. A looping video not unlike the latter’s artwork (wild flowers blowing in the wind in a landscape of rolling hills and mountains) forms the backdrop as the singer-guitarist and her six musicians (including violinist and cellist) recreate the drama and majesty of her sweeping songs. They tend to build slowly from a quiet Lana Del Ray indifference to the full-blown emotion associated with soaring vocals and lavish, almost orchestral, music. Like the hypnotic Right Now, which is in no rush to reach its climax, or Go Home, which evolves from a minimalist beat and piano melody into a symphonic swell before fading back to its stark beginnings. But it’s Lark that does it best, Olsen and her band gradually swirling up a maelstrom of emotion with all the ease and confidence of Mogwai

The big emotions keep coming with girl in red, the project of Marie Ulven. Her opening song: You Stupid Bitch. Clearly in touch with her feelings, the Norwegian musician’s personal reflections and big indie-pop melodies have seen the likes of Serotonin (about mental health issues) make a real connection; LGBTQ+ anthem We Fell In Love In October (“You will be my girl”) alone has almost 748 million Spotify streams. Both make an appearance during Ulven’s high-energy set that’s all the more remarkable for her feeling a bit under the weather. Tissue box and “toasty” jumper aside, she’s all over the stage, jumping, crowd surfing, waving her arms, or teasing the “bourgeoisie in the VIP” area. There’s also time to address threats on gay rights, but Ulven’s primary focus is on bringing her songs to her fans. 

She makes a genuine connection, but not quite like Amyl And The Sniffers over on the West Stage. Singer Amy Taylor comes out dancing to Eminem‘s Without Me and barely stands still for the next 45 minutes. She poses, sticks out her tongue, straddles the monitors, jumps into the photo pit, dances uncontrollably, and rolls around on the stage, all the while shouting lyrics designed to be shouted right back. “I like control, I’m obsessed/ It’s the reason I exist,” she declares on Control in her Australian accent; “I don’t want anybody else,” she repeats on Got You; “Take me to the beach/ Take me to the country,” she demands on Hertz.

All the while guitarist Declan Martens, bassist Gus Romer, and drummer Bryce Wilson hardly take a breath either as they leap from frenetic garage jam to ’70s punk anthem to AC/DC-style rocker. Not even a 15-minute mid-set downpour can break the momentum. Instead Taylor leads the band through an impromptu Monsoon Rock, absolutely belting out the line “You try to stop us” even as the power cuts out for a few seconds.

Sounding good, having a good time, theirs is undoubtedly the performance of the day.

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Review of The Strokes @ All Points East on 7th July by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Jennifer McCord, Nirah Sanghani and Sharon López.

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