If one were to read the mountain-high stack of fawning articles devoted to The Strokes in the early 2000s, particularly the relentless love-bombing from a smitten NME, it would be difficult to believe that the New York quintet were anything other than The Greatest Rock n' Roll Band In The History Of The World, Ever.
With fortuitous timing, the group's excellent, drolly-titled debut album, Is This It, emerged at the exact point where it had become clear that At The Drive-In had no intention of playing up to the 'New Nirvana' tag bestowed upon them by the ever hype-friendly UK music press, and The Strokes were swiftly positioned as the de-facto leaders of the 'New Rock Revolution', a loose coalition of bands - including The White Stripes, The Libertines, The Datsuns, The Von Bondies, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Walkmen, the latter two acts also both present on today's All Points East line-up - presented as the cool and credible antidote to the filth and fury of the nu metal scene. That The Strokes last scored a Top 30 single in the UK in 2006 (anyone care to guess which song peaked at number 25 on April 1 that year without using Google?) and that the two albums released by the band in the past decade - 2013's Comedown Machine and 2020's The New Abnormal - spent a combined total of just nine weeks on the UK albums chart has done nothing to dent their iconic status, meaning that the UK remains one of the few global 'territories' where the group are still capable of headlining festivals. Tonight, based on their performance rather than their legend, it's hard to understand why.
Today's APE bill isn't all about rose-tinted nostalgia. New bands such as Picture Parlour offer great hope for the future, while the likes of black midi and Warmduscher prove that indie rock can be shaped into bold new forms. And while Amyl and the Sniffers owe an inarguable debt to fellow Aussies AC/DC and Rose Tattoo, Amy Taylor's livewire presence ensures that they exist very much in the present tense. At one point, before torrential rain causes hundreds to flee from the site's West Stage in search of shelter, Taylor urges her audience to embrace life right now "because the motherfucking Grim Reaper will be knocking on your door soon!", and the likes of Knifey, I'm Not A Loser and Some Mutts (Can't Be Muzzled) are as ferociously in-your-face and urgent as punk rock gets in 2023.
Over on the East Stage, Norway's Girl In Red too is all about living your best life in the here and now, unencumbered by shame, fear or regret. Booked for two separate APE performances - the second on August 28, supporting Haim - the artist formerly known as Marie Ringheim initially seems nonplussed when faced with a "dude"-heavy audience, and is momentarily thrown out of her stride when, after stopping the show out of concern that a crowd member is in distress, she discovers that said individual is merely bored/disinterested, which only serves to focus her attack. Girls is introduced as the singer's "first lesbian fucking rock ass bitch ass song" while We Fell In Love In October is prefaced as being about "embracing that lesbian shit." Later, ahead of I'll Call You Mine, Ringheim gets to gently tease the VIP viewing section for being "the bourgeoisie", before admitting that she doesn't really know what the term means, but likes it because it features in a boygenius lyric. It's easy to see why Girl In Red is so relatable, and her beautifully-paced set is utterly charming from start to finish.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs' vocalist Karen O emerges onstage looking like a rare, beautiful butterfly, and holds the APE crowd in the palms of her hands from the moment the New York band ease into set opener Spitting Off The Edge Of The World from last year's Cool It Down album. Burning, from the same record, builds brilliantly from its tender, contemplative, keyboards-led intro, while cooler-than-everyone guitarist Nick Zinner gets to cut loose on It's Blitz! bangers Heads Will Roll and Zero. Yeah Yeah Yeahs don't need to rely on their best-loved record, 2003's Fever To Tell, but when they do dip back into their killer debut, for Y Control, a breathtaking Maps - introduced by Karen O as "the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' love song" and dedicated to everyone from The Strokes, to the band's soundman on his birthday, to the late, great Sinead O'Connor - and a joyous set-closing Date With The Night, they transform a chilly East London festival into the sweatiest, you-had-to-be-there Williamsburg loft party.
There are times during The Strokes set where you wonder if perhaps a mumbling, rambling Julian Casablancas has called for a minute's silence for lost friends. Then you realise that the yawning silence is simply due to the fact that the New York band are playing songs that aren't a) Juicebox or b) anything from Is This It, and 99 per cent of the crowd have no idea what they're listening to. Couple this with a PA that's quieter than the braying, coked-up music industry poseurs in the VIP section, and a complete lack of charisma from the band's frontman and you're faced with a 20 song set that never rises above mediocre. Three songs in, Last Nite threatens to get the party started, but followed up by a dead-eyed The Adults Are Talking and the Arctic Monkeys B-side that is Call It Fate, Call It Karma, momentum is lost, and thereafter there are only sporadic jolts of excitement (Meet Me In The Bathroom, Soma, a surging Reptilia) in a soporific set. The Strokes at least exit on a high with the punchy one-two of Hard To Explain and Is This It, but if this was your first introduction to the band, you'd be left thoroughly bewildered as to exactly why so much hyperbole was thrown their way at the outset of the noughties. You had to be there, for if you weren't here tonight, rest assured you missed nothing of note.