This weekend saw End Of The Road festival return to the beautiful setting of Larmer Tree Gardens, looking as picturesque, tree-lines and peacock full as ever. It remains one of the most breathtaking sites on the UK festival scene, and it’s hard to imagine anyone not walking up to the stunning Garden Stage for the first time and being anything less than blown away by it.
Whilst much of the festival remains the same, there are also some pleasant evolutions to proceedings, starting with for the first time ever a main-stage line up on the Thursday night. While previous years have been limited to simply a few surprise acts on the festivals smallest stage, this year the mammoth Wood Stage was open to welcome one of the year’s most anticipated acts, The Shins. The upside of this change of course being more music, the downside being that many of the festivals punters haven’t actually arrived yet, and the stage slightly dwarfs the in situ crowd. None the less the crowd are treated to two excellent sets, starting with returning heroes, Teleman. The London quartet have had a triumphant year, releasing their second album, Brilliant Sanity, to massed critical acclaim, and playing their biggest shows to date. They ran through a set lifted from both their albums, and it’s quite remarkable how many hook-laden pop songs they’ve already put together. Upbeat, and accessible, they’re an ideal band to get a festival crowd going, and it’s a low-key but wonderful start to the weekend.
It’s been four years since The Shins released their last album, the slightly patchy but enjoyable, Port Of Morrow, and just as long since they played live in the UK. It’s no surprise then that plenty of people are very excited to see them. They’ve confirmed a new album for early next year, and the set includes a few new numbers, one of which was great, and one was incredibly underwhelming. It’s unsurprising though that the best reaction goes to older numbers – it’s easy to forget just how good Oh, Inverted World, and in particular, Chutes Too Narrow were. They sound as fresh as ever, and are rightly lapped up by an expectant audience, Kissing The Lipless and, of course, New Slang, turn the crowd into a swooning sing along. By the time they’ve finished, the word is well and truly out that Ezra Furman is doing a set of cover versions in the tiny Tipi Tent, and so, we can’t get anywhere near sadly, but from the adjoining bar it sounds delightful, and there’ll be many more chances to see the hardest working singer at End Of The Road still to come.
It’s hard to imagine a better way to start a day than slowly waking up to the dulcet tones of Annelotte de Graff, aka Amber Arcades. Accompanied by her impeccably dressed, and damn good looking band, they run through a set almost entirely lifted from their debut album Fading Lines, which is one of the years finest, although they also throw a wonderful Nick Drake cover into proceedings. Amber Arcades’ take on hazy, dream-pop is absolutely perfect for the setting, the time of day and the fact we can sit down and still get a good view – it’s hard to argue with that.
We drag ourselves into the slightly dank setting of The Big Top to check out noisy-Canadian tykes Weaves. We’re not entirely sure if it’s us or them, but the set doesn’t quite catch fire; their jerky rhythms are just a touch too arresting, and whilst singer Jasmyn Burke is a magnetic stage presence and a wonderful singer, we’re left slightly underwhelmed.
A chance encounter results in a tip-off that the aforementioned Ezra Furman is taking to the tiny piano stage, essentially a fake front room set up in the wooded part of the site, resplendent in flamingo wallpaper, arm chairs and a piano. Taking to the stage in a red dress, that looks like it cost far more than the $5 one he mentioned in hit single Restless Year, it’s a stripped back affair, Ezra taking the opportunity to, let some of the “children out of the basement” that don’t normally get an outing. It’s a wonderful way to see another side to an artist, who’s live shows with backing band The Boyfriends, tend to showcase the more energetic and debauched side of his musical personality.
Whitney are proving to be one of the year’s break-out alternative bands, with debut album Light Upon The Lake receiving near universal critical acclaim. The band, who formed when Smith Westerns split up and are fronted by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Julien Ehlrich, deal in harmony-laden country, and seem a perfect fit for the festival. All of which makes it slightly surprising that it’s not quite as packed on the Garden Stage as we’d imagined. The set though is sublime, from discovering the singer is also the drummer, to just generally swooning at their sun-kissed sound, they’re a band who show little let up in quality, and look destined for big things; No Woman, accidentally introduced here as No Women, is a particular stand out.
The end of Whitney heralds the weekends most horrific, quadruple clash. We take in a decent chunk of Field Music, who are excellent despite a van break down leaving them using borrowed gear, a few track from MONEY who are exquisitely gloomy, the noisy, inspiring, but not quite at their best Savages, and a single, beautiful track from Karl Blau. We’d happily take in more of all four at a later occasion, but on today’s performance MONEY are the pick of the bunch – just.
We briefly drop in to see Cat Power, who’s as exquisite as you’d imagine, before heading over to see, probably our favourite band of the year, Mothers. Sadly with a very chatty crowd, including some out right rude hecklers, the Athens quartet never really hit their stride, and it’s hard not to think they’re on at completely the wrong time of night – a brilliant band they are, but a slightly drunken party they are not. A slightly disappointing end to an otherwise wonderful days music, with a hectic two days of music to come we retired with the strains of the rather lovely sounding Big Thief still ringing out of the Tipi Tent.
Part two of our review will follow tomorrow – all photos courtesy of End Of The Road