Saturday at End Of The Road begins where Friday finished, at The Garden Stage. There’s probably no better place on the planet at which to relax, and nurse a slightly soar head. Especially as realising how beautiful it looks, a decision appears to have been made to stage most of the more, shall we say, sedate bands here. The opening act Lily and Madeline are a perfect example. The Indianapolis based sisters, signed to Sufjan Steven’s Asthmatic Kitty label, nit together stunningly tight harmonies, described rather bizarrely in the programme as “as blameless as cornflowers” they recall First Aid Kit or if we’re being a tad unfair The Webb Sisters. They run through a series of competent but ultimately dull folk-pop songs, that leave little lasting impression.
Lau, loving the NHS & Saving The Bees
They’re followed by an all together more exciting prospect, Scottish folktronica-trio Lau. They emerge on stage, all three members sharing centre stage, no clear leader or front-man on view. Accordion come-keysman Martin Green’s gear is daubed with typically 38 Degrees slogans “I Love The NHS” and “Save The Bees” it’s hard to argue with either of those! The trio deal is rich-progressive folk music, routed in tradition but given a modern spin. The musicianship on show is frankly incredible, all virtuoso’s in their chosen instruments. Kris Drever’s guitars propel the song along whilst Aidan O’Rourke’s fiddle adds a flourish. Their songs resemble cinematic lullabies, often instrumental, they bring to mind a beardier, male version of Derbyshire’s Haiku Salut. They show their traditional routes with a beautiful Lal Waterson cover, introduced as “either about eating food late at night or about two people presumably legally married and very much in love.” Indeed they’re so routed in organic sounds that even their drum machine appears to have been made out of wood and whatever scrap metal they could find in the shed. It’s one of the most intriguing sets of the weekend, and they’re a band unlike any other.
Leaving the beautiful setting behind, we head to the TiPi Tent to take in new Bella Union signings, Baltimore psych-soul band Celebration. The members look oddly familiar and after consulting the programme, a number of the band had appeared the night before as part of The Gene Clark No Other Band, and vocally singer Katrina Ford does recall another member of that band, Beach House’s Victoria Legrand. Though she’s a considerably more awkward front-woman, her nerves perhaps heightened by the fact the band are using borrowed equipment, as she puts it “we need some loving to get this pony riding.” They draw a sizeable crowd to the tent and once they get into their swing they deal in a classic take of pop-tinged, anthemic rock and they throw some jazz and soul elements into the mix to create an ultimately encouraging sound, they’re certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Welsh-wonder Cate Le Bon is next up, now three albums into her career and based in Los Angeles, it’s clear from the get go she’s come along way since last I checked in. Expecting lilting, near acoustic folk numbers, what we’re treated to is an all together more exciting prospect, joined by a three piece backing band, dressed all in black, they run through a series of excellent and varied numbers, combining her gorgeously hushed vocal, with an almost glam-rock stomp and some delightfully dark lyrics it’s a winning combination, and a reminder of the wonderful talent she possesses, despite being probably best known as Gruff Rhys’ co-collaborator in Neon Neon, a man with whom she shares a similarly stilted and humorous line in charming stage banter.
Perfume Genius is set to release his new album Too Bright at the end of September. His third album promises to be a different beast to his previous two efforts, casting aside the story-telling, largely piano led balladry, and replacing it with a more visceral, angry and complex sound. It’s a sign of his burgeoning reputation that his late afternoon set here packs the Garden Stage, despite the presence of The Horrors and Hookworms elsewhere on site. A traditional rockstar he is not, he looks a bundle of nerves, his slight frame, dressed in a black jumpsuit, he barely speaks between songs, and when he does his voice almost quivers. However this all just adds to the stunning intensity of his performance, whilst musically they’re nothing like Joy Division, his intensity is such that we’re not the only one to draw comparison with Ian Curtis, you get get the same feeling you did with Ian that he’s giving so much of himself up there, it’s raw, emotive and moving. Musically he runs through tracks old and new, the older stripped material, suitably subtle, emotive and powerful, the newer, fuller, bassier tracks, layered with distortion. The contrast is occasionally a touch jarring, but the expertly picked setlist holds the flow of the performance together. New single, Queen, is a song fuelled with anger at the worlds perception of homosexuality, with it’s chorus “no family is safe, when I sashay” it’s suitably fantastic, as are older tracks like Katie and Mr. Peterson, a personal highlight though is the stunning Dark Parts, a horribly honest tale of wanting to take a loved ones pain on yourself, “I will take the dark part of your heart, into my heart” he sings, it’s every bit as moving as you would imagine it to be.
Gruff Rhys arrives next, slide-show and felt-puppet of Welsh Explorer John Evans in-tow, to run through his latest album American Interior, the tale of one mans expedition to America to attempt to find a rumoured Welsh speaking tribe. Having already seen Gruff earlier in the year it was nice to focus less on his hilarious presentation and more on the sheer quality of the music. Take Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru, from 2007’s Candy Lion album, which he introduces about being driving, and which translates as Driving Driving Driving, and mainly involves repeating the word Gyrru at different speeds, despite it’s obvious simplicity it’s catchy enough that we latterly wake up at around 4am with that one word stuck in our head, yeah thanks Gruff, thanks a lot! Even better are the tracks from this years American Interior album, the title tracks a wonderful thing, but my personal favourite is 100 Unread Messages, a song about John Evans’ siblings writing him a series of emails, except they only have a dial-up connection, so they don’t get through. Hilarious and talented in equal measures, we’re beginning to not miss the Super Furry Animals at all.
It’s a sign of how much love End Of The Road have for Garden Stage headliner John Grant that despite the presence of the brilliantly enigmatic Flaming Lips on the main stage he still draws a huge crowd. John and the festival are a match made in heaven, a fact they’ve obviously noticed having booked him for the third time in four years. Last years album Pale Green Ghost has taken the Colardo native to sparkling new heights, including a Brit award nomination for Best International Male Solo Artist alongside the likes of Eminem, Justin Timberlake and eventual winner Bruno Mars, a fact which is as baffling as it is brilliant. That said if anyone deserves such acclaim it’s surely John, since leaving previous band The Czars behind he’s produced two fantastic, and very different solo albums. If melding the pounding techno of new track Black Belt with the piano power-balladry of I Wanna Go To Marz, should be a near impossible task, the emotional strands and wondrous barritone vocals act to seamlessly bond the seemingly unbondable.
He arrives on stage looking not unlike the worlds biggest garden gnome, who’s been sleeping rough for a couple of weeks, a fact he acknowledges when he dedicates one song to the person who sold him his hat, foiling his managers plan to lock his original hat in the car so he couldn’t wear one. He’s an impressively large man, a complete contrast to his fellow piano-based singer-songwriter Perfume Genius, yet his movements are oddly delicate, the flourishes of his wrist, the way he bounces between blasting out synth lines back to his centre stage microphone, there’s something almost elegant about it all. He borrows almost evenly from the two albums. He opens with Vietnam, from Pale Green Ghosts, a track about the devastating affect of saying nothing “it isn’t complicated; you just don’t care. You attack me by not saying anything.” he sings, it’s a horribly accurate portrayal of the power of passive aggression to destroy a relationship. The highlights are constant, stunning renditions of tracks old and new throughout and all underpinned with a natural wit, present in both his lyrics and his on stage patter. He dedicates GMF to “all the children, because aren’t they the greatest motherfuckers” it’s a song that sounds like it’s all arrogance and bombast but in reality is about growing a thick skin to deal with all the crap that’s get thrown at you just for being a gay man “I should have practiced my scales, I should not be attracted to males. But you said I should love myself, well make up your mind Dr. Frankenstein” like so many of his songs he hides some raw emotions with trademark humour, perhaps that’s just how he’s learnt to deal with things.
The emotion is laid even more clearly out on the stunning and epic Glacier, with it’s brilliantly raw chorus, his vocal straining to the top of his impressive range to sing “this pain it is a glacier moving through you, and carving out deep valleys and creating spectacular landscapes” he’s the kind of singer who means the world to people, and the number of people down the front with us who at one point or another break down into tears are a testament to his power to connect with his audience, as a metaphor for dealing with your shit and facing up to the pain it’s utterly brilliant, and as he notes at the end, his impressive band really do a good job of recreating the sound of a glacier crashing through the landscape. It’s magical!
He finished on his debut albums title track Queen Of Denmark, it’s grandiose, dramatic, overblown and incredible with it! Pick any line out and it will probably be brilliant be it humorous such as “I hope that you know all I want from you is sex, to be with someone who looks smashing in athletic wear” or crushing like “Why don’t you take it out on somebody else? Why don’t you bore the shit out of somebody else? Why don’t you tell somebody else that they’re selfish? A weakling, coward, a pathetic fraud.” He just fits so much into every song, every verse, every line. He is just simply a great songwriter, and the crowd love him for it, they whoop and holler, scream for more, chant John, John, John, as if that’s not a truly terrible chant and we all go along with it, swept up in a completely extraordinary moment. Even as the lights come on and the crowd filter out one man remains arm raised to the heavens, still demanding more, it’s not happening, but the memories will last a life time, the sort of set we’ll look back on years from now, not just as a highlight of the festival, but as a moment in our lives as a whole.