End Of The Road Festival
That’s goodbye to another year in a field in Dorset for End Of The Road Festival. There are many delights to the experience outside of the music, the multitude of food stalls (the burritos were amazing), the real ale festival (recommended pint? Gold Spice), the walk through the sparklingly lit woods at night, the Phone Box Poet, the Cinema Tent (watching Aliens at midnight), the qigong at 10am. But we’re a music website right? The clue is in the name. So here are my music based highlights of 2013:
Diana Jones – Garden Stage, Friday
The first act I saw at this year’s festival - Jones all alone on the stage, just her and two guitars. It’s always a brave thing, especially when your songs are so lonely and miserable. The whole set is lightened by her relaxed stage presence and between song banter.
M O N E Y – Big Top, Friday
Out of the new breed of guitar bands appearing in 2013 M O N E Y are possibly the most interesting. We liked their debut album, and the Big Top was the perfect venue to ensure that their expansive sound and the echo-ey quality of the album was replicated. Frontman Jamie Lee is also somewhat eccentric, opening the set alone on the stage he sang part of that track off mic directly to the crowd. I’ve seen it done before but not by such a new band. From kicking a shoe into a punter's face (“I’ve got an apology to make”) to snogging someone in the front row, it was a relaxed and confident performance.
Eels – Woods Stage, Friday
In a show of how the festival is growing, Eels are the type of band that would have headlined in the past and E himself put on a headline performance. In a well-polished and crowd pleasing show they had the assembled throng dancing in their wellies, all made better by the “double fucking rainbow” that appeared through the hazy rain. A finale mash-up of ‘My Beloved Monster’ and ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ ended the set on a high and set things up perfectly for…
David Byrne & St Vincent – Woods Stage, Friday
Wow. David Byrne was quite the show man, or “hype man” as he deferred to Annie Clarke (aka St Vincent) at the start of the set. Supported by a ten man brass section, Byrne and Clarke take us from our rain soaked field on the Dorset/Wiltshire border to somewhere more exotic and happy. For a full ninety minutes we dance our way through their joint and solo efforts all culminating in a great sing through of ‘Road To Nowhere’.
Pokey La Farge – Main Stage, Saturday
It’s not often I follow recommendations from my Dad (We're not just Generation Wallet, you know! - Ed.) but by the time Pokey La Farge had finished his set I was happy I had. Bringing the vibe from 1950s St Louis to a field in Dorset, Pokey led his band through a bunch of ragtime and blues numbers, which were surprisingly well received. Drinking whiskey from a hip flask thrown by the crowd, he’s something a little different from your usual EOTR performer.
Dawes – Main Stage, Saturday
Following on from La Farge were the more mainstream folk rockers from LA. Their guitar solo heavy set of crowd pleasing, sunshine ready, tunes are perfect for this Saturday afternoon. Intimate numbers like ‘From A Window Seat’ to crowd favourite ‘When My Time Comes’ they hit far more than they miss, with band leader Taylor Goldsmith’s arm movements making him looking like he’s telling us a story with each song.
Sigur Ros – Main Stage, Saturday
Halfway through the set, in one of the quiet, after-the-storm moments that frequently happen after the frenzied guitar and vocal cacophony that bring their songs to a crescendo, someone in the crowd yells out: “that’s some crazy shit” – and that is the best way to sum up this excellent set from these undoubtedly unique and un-headline like Icelanders. It is indeed some “crazy shit”.
Daniel Norgren – Main Stage, Sunday
The surprise of the weekend for me, I just wanted somewhere to sit and enjoy my beer when this unassuming Swede took to the stage with his kick drum, guitar, and pal Anders on double bass. An excellent hour of bluesy roots stomping later I was down the front buying his CD. Norgren is one of those gems you find at these smaller festivals.
Merchandise – Big Top, Sunday
On a day of indie bands in the Big Top, Merchandise were by far the best, beating out the guitar thrashing of the overrated Palma Violets. They’re at the melancholy end of the spectrum and deliver some decent tunes. A pity the tent was only half full, but then it was every day at 3pm.
Heartless Bastards – Woods Stage, Sunday
The band with the best name of the weekend played an excellent hour to a mildly disinterested main field. Coming from the harder part of Americana they still rocked the nuts off those who bothered and were the best all out rock band of the weekend.
The Walkmen – Garden Stage, Sunday
The louche style of frontman Hamilton Leithauser, hand in pocket throughout, belies the sheer noise that his band produce. Fan favourite ‘The Rat’ was a highlight and a packed Garden Stage was the perfect venue for their set.
John Murry – Tipi Tent, Sunday
Troubling, crippling, raw, emotional, excruciating, stunned, dazed. From the shambling opening song ‘The Ballad of the Pyjama Kid’ through his dedication to the late Paul Hinckley Smith (one of the first journalists to write about his impeccable album The Graceless Age) that led to a teary exchange with a girl in audience ("He didn't listen to the record, he heard what I said.") you know this could be something special. Though veering close to disastrous at times the Tipi was captivated by Murry and his band. And the impact of powerful final song ‘Little Coloured Balloons’ is impossible to put into words. So I’ll leave it to Murry himself: "This is a fucking lonely song… I ain't even kidding."