Impressive gathering of indie and folk-rock luminaries still makes room for noise and fury
End Of The Road, Kamasi Washington
ÒIT seems like you guys really like music,” observes from the main Woods Stage on Friday. “It’s not true of all festivals…” Indeed, End Of The Road is perhaps the leader in a growing movement of festivals that seek to reflect the wide range of music many of us now enjoy. Punk or folk weekenders, say, don’t span the range. Meanwhile, here on the Dorset /Wiltshire border, there’s avant-garde sets curated by Radio 3’s Late Junction, Ethio-jazz from the 74-year-old
Mulatu Astatke and young Bristol punks Idles, a word-of-mouth sensation. Someone who knows a thing or two about extremes is Josh T Pearson, who demonstrates his dual interests with a rousing set of heartland rock from this year’s The Straight Hits!, followed by a run of, as he puts it, “sad bastard music” from 2011’s Last Of The Country Gentlemen. Seeing the man who wrote “Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ” explaining how he penned “Give It To Me Straight” from the point of view of a sports jock, and encouraging the crowd to raise their fists in time, is a strange experience, but Pearson tells the crowd he’s happier now, “though I don’t look as good”. The Texan immerses himself in the festival for the rest of the weekend; he’s spotted enjoying raucous sets by Thee Oh Sees and Fat White Family.
Similarly polarised, Yo La Tengo’s Thursday night headline set swings between quasi-ambient cuts from last year’s There’s A Riot Going On, indie-pop gems such as “Stockholm Syndrome” and their louder material, like the stinging shoegaze of “From A Motel 6”. Fellow headliner St Vincent brings her robotic space-disco to the Woods Stage the next night, drawing one of the biggest crowds EOTR has seen. Kicking off with the hard electro-pop of “Sugarboy”, “Los Ageless”, “Masseduction” and “Savior”, backed by a wall of bright lights and wielding a different coloured Ernie Ball guitar for each song, it’s an impressive spectacle, but one that’s diluted when Annie Clark brings out slightly maudlin ballads like “Marrow”.
Vampire Weekend cover Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” during their own carnivalesque headline set on Saturday night, their first European gig in four years, but they are eclipsed by Thee Oh
Sees’ parallel performance on the leafy Garden Stage, one of the most exciting appearances of the weekend. There’s little chat, just fast tempos, copious tape echo and some stunning motorik punk from John Dwyer and his double-drummer lineup. “The Dream”, “Web” and the recent “Sentient Oona” are especially driving. In an echo of Ty Segall’s riotous set on the same stage last year, the mass of people down the front turn End Of The Road into something a little more feral and dangerous for an evening.
The next morning Richard Dawson appears on the same stage, with the sun right in his eyes, to take a large crowd back to the Middle Ages with songs from his acclaimed 2017 album, Peasant. With the Newcastle guitarist joined by a compact band, it’s a loud, raucous set of folk-rock: ragged, complex and transcendent. We also get a hint at his next album; in direct contrast to Peasant, he jokes, it will be “set in modern times but is actually an allegory for medieval times”. Dawson ends his set with an a cappella folk song, which he predicts will be a damp squib, yet as he switches between a bellow and a murmur, he stuns the crowd into silence.
Generally, End Of The Road is a place where artists seem to feel comfortable throwing off the usual constraints of a festival set. Julia Holter, playing the Garden Stage on Sunday, begins with a couple of impenetrable new songs from her new LP, Aviary, while Iceage, in the Big Top Tent, draw almost exclusively from 2018’s Beyondless. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s messianic seriousness is comical at times, but it’s impossible to remain unaffected by the feral Bad Seeds lurch of “Hurrah” or the closing “Catch It”. Gruff Rhys, on the sunset slot at the Woods Stage, performs a stripped-down
Thee Oh Sees turn the festival into something a little more feral and dangerous for an evening
version of his recent Babelsberg.A fair few of these mid-tempo songs are treated like old favourites, however, especially when model Lily Cole comes on to reprise her vocal parts on LP closer “Selfies In The Sunset”, played – with exquisite timing – as the sun goes down. A final half-hour, including “Iolo”, “Sensations In The Dark” and “American Interior”, provides a catchier conclusion, but Rhys has a problem. “What’s the opposite of running out of time?” he says, before playing an impromptu “Candylion”, with vocals from 9bach’s Lisa Jen, to finish.
Also performing a host of new songs are The Wave Pictures,a last-minute replacement for an ill Damien Jurado (“I was watching
Celebrity Pointless when the text message came through,” jokes singer and guitarist David Tattersall). The trio draw heavily from their upcoming album, Look Inside Your
Heart, including “Brian”, a chugging blues which Tattersall explains is about a friend who took too much LSD and joined a cult, and the lilting high-life of “Goodbye Spiderman”, but there’s also time for tracks from their past, including an extended take on Creedence’s “Green River”, with fantastically knotty solos from Tattersall. Even those expecting Jurado seem captivated by the band’s garage-blues, wordy lyrics and irreverent attitude. Perhaps next year they’ll make the festival posters.
Wild Billy Childish hasn’t played live much over the last few years, but he’s corralled his group CTMF for a mid-afternoon set, probably the most downright enjoyable performance of the weekend. With hundreds of songs to choose from, Childish sticks to his best-known garage cuts including “Lie Detector”, “Troubled Mind” and “Sally Sensation”; but along the way, there are naïve, thrilling covers of Hendrix’s “Fire”, The Kinks’ “Misty Water” and The Who’s “You Are Forgiven”.
Another acolyte of fury and noise is John Cale. Today there’s a little more shuffling than there is chicken decapitation, but he’s as uncompromising as ever, leading his band in radical reinventions of his work. “The Endless Plain Of Fortune” and “Half Past France”, both stately ballads on Paris 1919, are turned, respectively, into harsh new wave and nightmarish drone horror, while a new song, “What Is The Legal Status Of Ice?”, is as unwieldy and intriguing as its title. Cale ends on a hushed cover of one of his favourite Bowie songs, “Valentine’s Day”, and a roaring “I’m Waiting For The Man”, exiting to wild applause.
White Denim, closing the Garden Stage, might not draw the biggest crowd of the weekend, but they are the perfect embodiment of End Of The Road’s freewheeling ethic. In the garagey soup of their sound, there’s Southern rock, punk, funk, jazz and even experimental textures. They’re not afraid to challenge the listener, ending with a fuzzy, hyperactive medley of “Thank You”, “River To Consider” and “Back At The Farm”, but it’s all done with a real sense of fun. A decade and a bit after they first appeared, they’re at the peak of their powers – just like End Of The Road.
Festival favourites: White Denim (above) Gruff Rhys (below)
NOVEMBER 2018 • UNCUT •