Seven days after seeing The National I still have ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’ on repeat in my head. London does a nice line in chilled-out summer festivals these days and last Saturday The National were the perfect headliners in Victoria Park, somehow invoking audience euphoria from a set-list that veritably wallowed in melancholy. The previous night I had enjoyed a different kind up uplift in Brixton, with Loyle Carner singing about his mum again and Erykah Badu suitably eccentric in a stetson.
Both events were mellow in the extreme, in the way that the later stages of Glastonbury calm down a bit on the rare occasions that the sun comes out on consecutive days. Us British festival-goers seem to chill out when the weather warms up.
All Points East seemed to have anticipated the mood and decided to show a documentary film as the warm-up for the headliners. ‘Mistaken for Strangers‘ is ostensibly a band-biopic, following The National on tour, but turned out to actually be a poignant story about what its like to be a humble roadie when your older brother is a rock-star. Directed Tom Berringer, younger sibling to lead-singer, Matt Berringer, the film unintentionally made the man behind the camera a cult-star. I don’t think I was the only one hoping for a technical fault at some point in the set, so we could all give him a cheer as he sheepishly sloped on to stage.
This gig, however, went without a hitch and the band packed an impressive sonic punch throughout. Live, it is much clearer how the band’s sound is built around Matt Berringer’s deep, often gravelly, voice and passionate delivery. The key lyrics are repeated in every song so it is easy for the crowd to get involved too. But when the words stop, Berringer seems to pause too, standing awkwardly with his hands in his teacher’s-jacket pockets, as the crowd awaits his next pronouncement.
The exception that proves the rule is the show-closing acoustic version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks, for which Berringer ditches the microphone and energetically conducts the crowd instead, prowling the stage to make sure we’re all joining in. Everyone belts it out to order, straining to match the emotion of the song and pretending we understand the lyrics, which have an R.E.M-esque quality of being either intensely philosophical or utter nonsense: “Vanderlyle crybaby cry / O’ the waters are rising / Still no surprising you / Vanderlyle crybaby cry / Man, it’s all been forgiven / Swans are a-swimming / I’ll explain everything to the geeks.”
Down south in Broxbourne Park, Brixton, Erykah Badu had been doing promotional interviews promising that, even if some interpretation is also required, everything she does is political. Certainly there was no doubting who was the star of the show from the moment she strode on to stage in platform heels and a complicated flowery costume, topped off by a stetson that a gust of wind soon dislodged.
While the complexity of Badu’s music required a whole stage full of musicians, Loyle Carner’s only accomplic for most of his show was a DJ. But then his lyrics are so strong, that this is all he needs. I can’t get enough of this south London rapper and ‘No CDs’ was a joy to behold, as always.
So whereas usually at this time of year markontour is either getting excited about Glastonbury, or suffering a rare summer solstice despondency when Michael Eavis invokes fallow years, like 2018. But with Robert Smith’s Meltdown and Roger Waters in Hyde Park still to come, I reckon London is going to keep me festival-happy this year, at least until Green Man in August.