STORMZY – All Points East – live review – Evening Standard, 21 Aug 2023

We already know that Stormzy can accomplish anything he puts his mind to, whether it’s taking grime to the top of the bill at Glastonbury, swelling the number of black students admitted to Cambridge, or diversifying the publishing industry. Naturally, for the opening night of this year’s All Points East festival, he didn’t just show up to headline. He curated a full line-up of rap and R&B under the banner This is What We Mean Day.

But dictating the weather too? That’s when things start to look a bit spooky. Halfway through his show, he began the song Rainfall, with its commanding chorus, “Let the rain fall on my enemies,” and right on cue, it started to tip down.

That was also the moment when a fairly restrained event finally loosened up. Earlier on, New Orleans singer Lucky Daye showed why he had won a Grammy for Best Progressive R&B Album, fronting an adventurous, accomplished band. South Londoner Sampha, who hasn’t released an album since 2017, sounded fabulous but played unfamiliar new material that was too sophisticated to grab a casual festival crowd. Kehlani’s acrobatic voice moved fluidly across her songs, which weren’t energetic enough to prevent many from heading back across the site to bag a good spot for the main attraction.

Even Stormzy started slow, beginning with Fire + Water, the heartbroken ballad that opens his subdued, highly personal last album, This is What I Mean. Touching on record, it couldn’t drown out the chatter in Victoria Park. The title track followed, with a menacing bassline that merited the accompanying fireworks, but after that it was straight back to slow singing, on Firebabe and then Crown.

He described the main feeling of recording that album as a “stillness”, and tried to encourage the huge crowd to share that sensation by stepping back to listen to Debbie Ehirim singing Give It to the Water. A nice thought but unfortunately for him, they weren’t in that kind of mood, as demonstrated when he tried to find a fan called Marcus whose mum he had promised a rendition of Happy Birthday, only to have the entire audience, male and female, screaming that they were the man he was after.

After the rain started, the scenery changed too. The plush curtains around the stage fell to reveal flashing red lights, the large band was exchanged for a shouty DJ, and Stormzy finally brought out his knee-hoisting dance routine to show what he can do to a crowd when he raps fast and furious. Know Me From, Cold, Big For Your Boots and Wiley Flow were all among a thrilling second section. He ended up shirtless and shoeless, water bouncing off his bare chest, having lost some control over his big day but all the better for it.

The All Points East festival continues until Aug 28. Stormzy’s concert will be shown on Channel 4 on Sun Aug 20 at 10pm.