All Points East: Gorillaz – review: a chipper Damon Albarn raises a toast to his hometown

Victoria Park, London, August 19: indie's renaissance man celebrates “the best fucking people in the world” and Self Esteem, Pusha T and more also wow

Someone’s happy to be home. “Lon-don! Lon-don!” chants Damon Albarn, stopping off midway through a global Gorillaz jaunt to play his “most local gig to where I was born” ever and punch the air in celebration of the City That Never Underpays. Here, he insists, dwell “the best fucking people in the world”, thanks to one notable cosmopolitan trait: “everybody’s got rhythm!”

They’ve certainly got determination. 60,000 Londoners somehow find their way to Hackney for the first of 2022’s 10 All Points East shows with next to no help from the transport system and, as a result, no-one’s letting the experience get away. Over on the Victoria Park West stage mid-afternoon, Self Esteem’s set is scuppered by several sound desk meltdowns, but she powers on regardless, taking to the stage for a third time singing “that was not my fuck up” and insisting she plays her full set.

And Rebecca Taylor is not a force to be fucked with. Beneath a backdrop demanding “MALE PILL WHEN?”, and with a deceptively cheery demeanour, she blasts through 40 minutes of forthright and confrontational electronic crank-pop – plus moments of gospel balladry and catchy tropicalia – in unison with her trio of backing singer/dancers. ‘Moody’ concerns “me being a moody bitch”, ‘How Can I Help You’ concludes its supportive tribal-pop intervention with the admission that none of us “know shit”, and ‘The 345’ bluntly advocates living for the moment because “it all ends mid-paragraph”. Most moving is the open-diary soul ballad ‘I Do This All The Time’, wherein Taylor sets herself all manner of self-help tasks and briefly, at the song’s abrupt end, glimpses light at the end of the emotional tunnel. Brit Award when?

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Over on the main East stage, fellow former NME cover star Pusha T is indulging in his own form of introspection. “I’m dealin’ with heartbreak, checkin’ my ego / I’m livin’ with lost faith,” he confesses to the Heavens on ‘Santeria’, addressing the spirit of his late tour manager De’Von Pickett, who was killed in 2015. Besides a few such heartfelt moments, though, T largely seems concerned with the inflationary crisis on the cost of his drug supply, although what he’s pushing hardest today is his new album and tour. Still, he relishes his verses of Kanye West tracks such as ‘New God Flow’, ‘Mercy’ and ‘Runaway’ and his music deserves far more credit as the quintessential concoction of rap, twisted soul and East Coast synth work, which he has honed – oh yes – to a T.

Whoever programmed the day certainly embraced the all-encompassing nature of streaming-gen tastes. On the BBC Radio 6Music Stage, Nia Archives – who picked up Best Producer at the BandLab NME Awards 2022 – bounces and sings along to her new wave jungle beats (sporadically in French) while, on the main stage, Turnstile come on like a crazed mash-up of funk rock, thrash metal, Mars Volta freakouts and breakfast TV workout sessions. Singer Brendan Yates throws himself around in all manner of aerobic moves as ‘UNDERWATER BOI’ itself contorts from beachside psych pop to the sound of a hard rock tsunami hitting. Later, ‘NO SURPRISE’ exposes bassist ‘Freaky’ Franz Lyons as a fine singer of future R&B before it’s crushed beneath the wheels of ‘Come Back For More’, a belated audition to replace Rage Against The Machine at Reading & Leeds.

IDLES see Turnstile’s energised eclecticism and raise it a load of cross-dressed crowd-surfing. As much as singer Joe Talbot indulges in knees-up jogs in circles and bandy-legged flamenco dancing – and who is in charge of delivering lyrics calling cocaine “Charlie Sheen” and imagining “Kathleen Hanna with bear claws grabbing Trump by the pussy” – it’s guitarist Mark Bowen who realty draws the eye. In a pretty sailor-style dress, he stares down the camera from the organ stool during the spooky slow-dance of ‘The Beachland Ballroom’, unleashes fire-in-Heaven atmospherics upon ‘A Hymn’ and rolls into the crowd to get them to sing the name-spelling crescendo of a fantastic ‘Danny Nedelko’.

IDLES’ politics – celebrating immigration, challenging gender norms and terrifying Tories – melt naturally out from the chaos, where the tumbling punk of ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ lands in a heap of bone-crushing chords and ‘Crawl!’ sounds like a pop song screaming to be let out of punk’s basement and allowed to keep what remains of its skin.

If the day feels like an accelerating whirl of genres, it’s only to prepare us for the stylistic head-spin that is Gorillaz. Albarn, beaming like a Shell shareholder, lays the dubby foundations for the set early with ‘Last Living Souls’ and ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’, but by opening with the punkoid ‘M1 A1’ and throwing in playground pop cracker ’19-2000’ and a euphoric ‘On Melancholy Hill’ inside the first half-hour, he also lays bare the freedoms of the cartoon conceit. He can literally chuck anything at the Gorillaz project – and for two hours that’s exactly what he does, often in blue wigs or monkey hats handed to him from the front row.

Take ‘O Green World’ from 2005’s ‘Demon Dayz’, which sounds like a lovely, heartfelt piano ballad being rudely interrupted by unexpected chunks of ‘In Utero’. Or the way he follows the serene, sci-fi New York funk of ‘Empire Ants’ with a brand new song called ‘New Gold’, for which Damon introduces rapper Bootie Brown and Tame Impala‘s Kevin Parker for a sugar-and-grit amalgam of psych-rock and rap. A couple of songs later, for the voodoo groove of ‘With Love To An Ex’, Damon dons a bright pink sacrificial cloak and parps a lengthy horn. This is more ‘anything goes’ than Downing Street in lockdown.

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Gorillaz
Kevin Parker of Tame Impala joins Damon Albarn of Gorillaz during All Points East 2022 at Victoria Park on August 19, 2022 in London, England. Credit: Gus Stewart/Redferns.

Guest-wise, Albarn sets out to put Macca at this year’s Glastonbury to shame. Mos Def emerges for ‘Stylo’ – with the late Bobby Womack making an appearance on the screens – and then reappears for a fairground hawker turn on ‘Sweepstakes’. Shaun Ryder brings Happy Mondays singer Rowetta along for his customary ‘Dare’; Paul Simonon returns to the fold for ‘Plastic Beach’ – an ecological groover that, Damon reminds us, “people said was very negative, but fuck ‘em, what did they know about the future?” Del La Soul lead the crowd in a spot of self-affirmation therapy ahead of ‘Feel Good Inc.’ and Sweetie Irie appears midway through the final ‘Clint Eastwood’ to turn the track into a double-speed ragga party that even Damon struggles to keep up with.

The peak of the set, though, comes with ‘Momentary Bliss’, the compulsive slab of throbbing grime punk – featuring Slowthai and Slaves in screen form – that ranks among Albarn’s greatest compositions. No wonder he’s in such an elated mood come the end. “London, honestly: love you,” he grins and, stylistically sated, Victoria Park drifts off for a long, singalong walk home.

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