This was End of The Road's fifth festival. It was MMD's third consecutive appearance. The line up has got better with each year MMD has attended. You can call that coincidence if you like. I'll try and waste no further time with these introductions as I often do, instead I'm going to take a day-by-day approach to this thing. I just think thats more organised, more professional and as David Brent once said "Professionalism is.....and that's what I want."
So the festival started properly on Friday but the campsite opened a day early which seems to be a trend with these summer festivals - I'm pretty sure the campsite for the next Glastonbury is open now - and as the organisers of EOTR are a pretty good bunch, they put a few bands on to keep the earlycomers entertained. The whole thing kicked off with an unannounced surprise acoustic slot from Willy Mason. I've never really given him a chance in all truth nor am I familiar with any of his songs aside from 'Oxygen' and 'Where The Humans Eat' but he was nice enough. You know, songs about whiskey and southbound trains and the travellin' man and all that. The main draw of this precursor day, though, was undoubtedly Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan. They did their gravel vs honey trick pretty well and after starting off a bit suspiciously sound wise, it wasn't long before they hit their stride and got into their groove. I particularly enjoyed 'You Won't Let Me Down Again' from the recently released 'Hawk' because it's got a bit of tempo and although I really like the duo, it can get a little wearing live. Mainly because each song has a tendency to sound very similar to the last one. No hatin', just sayin'. Oh and Mark Lanegan I know your schtick is to be all moody and that but c'mon man, say "hello" at least.
I missed Allo Darlin' later on that night which could've been regrettable because apparently they were pretty good. I do wish that they'd tone down the tweeness though, I'm not alone in thinking that right? Still, I should've watched them but I was oblivious over in my tent playing scrabble, drinking tea out of china cups and smoking a pipe.
I may as well sketch photos court room style in the future. L-R: Joaquin Phoenix, Stone Cold and Beck.
Elliot Brood had the dubious honour of being the first band of this festival that I was really looking forward to seeing. Mainly because I've listened to them for years but I've never had the opportunity to see them live. I've never even seen a picture of them in fact. They could've looked like anyone. Turns out, they don't look out of the ordinary. At a push they look like, erm, Joaquin Phoenix, a mix between Beck/Matt Berninger and the drummer looks like, well, he's bald so take your pick. Not Stone Cold Steve Austin though, he doesn't look like him. Enough with tedious lookalikes though, Elliott Brood were really good, perfectly twangy and refreshingly loud. 'Second Son' filled all my expectations wonderfully as did 'Acer Negundo'. Both are taken from an album called 'Ambassador' that you should already have if you're any good but if not, sort that. You do get the impression at this festival that people often watch bands with open minds and perfectly intend to investigate further if a new band impresses them. EB definitely impressed here and I hope a few people check them out on the back of this performance
After that it was to the main stage for a run consisting of Freelance Whales, The Mountain Goats, Wolf Parade and headliners of the night, Modest Mouse. I may or may not have made a joke about all the bands having animal band names at some point. Yeah, it sank like a lead zeppelin. Still, Freelance Whales. I'd been enjoying 'Weathervanes' a great deal in the week leading up to the festival but I did think they got a bit lost in the wind in this sort of live setting. Perhaps in a small venue it would have worked better (they did play a smaller tent the next night which got rave reviews) but here it sounded like someone had set up a ghetto blaster on stage to play the Freelance Whales album at a lowish volume. Next up was the library heartbreak/resolve of The Mountain Goats and as I expected, they've got some real devoted fans. I can see why too. John Darnielle is easily one of the most consistent songwriters going and whilst his body of work is a pretty hefty one, there really isn't too much fat in it at all. Nor did he disappoint here. I don't think I was the only one to be hoping for as many songs as possible from 'The Sunset Tree' and from memory we definitely got 'You or Your Memory' and 'This Year'. "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me..." we all sang. Not really one for those on death row that tune.
The Mountain Goats doing their thing. John Darnielle thinking we're falling for him plugging his guitar into a piece of strawberry liquorice.
Wolf Parade didn't happen because we found out that was a secret gaming garden near the main stage and I just love games too much. I say gaming garden there but for any of you younger readers out there, this wasn't like the Trocadero or anything. This is a gaming garden at a indie/folk festival we're talking about. There wasn't an Xbox or PS3 in sight which to me is a good thing because if they had Call of Duty set up I wouldn't have seen a band. I mean that too. Instead we had table football, table tennis and a skittles thing. So, sorry about that Wolf Parade (and I did hear they were really good) but man, table tennis is such a good game. Just hitting a little ball over a little net on a little table. That's what life's really about. Could table tennis help those in poverty or in need? I think it coul....it wouldn't would it, it is really good fun though.
I reviewed a Modest Mouse show for this here blog a while back and whilst I enjoyed it I also thought there was something not quite right about them. I'll level with you here, I didn't really enjoy their headline show at all. Again, it's hard to put a finger on why. Some of the song choices seemed a bit obtuse for a festival slot (why play 'The Whale Song'?') and even the songs the band knew would be crowd pleasers sounded a bit murky and off paced. I'm talking things like 'Satin In a Coffin' here. At times, I found my spirit and mind had been left over at the table tennis table whilst my body stood shoulder to shoulder with others watching Modest Mouse sort of wishing they'd finish soon. I know, I'm sorry, it just wasn't for me that night.
This was the day that, on paper, looked by far the weakest for me. It started pretty dismally when I woke at 6am to find my tent pretty much entirely filled with water. I was just pleased I slept in a scuba mask. This Saturday, however, actually turned out to contain the highlight of my festival. I've loved Iron & Wine for a long long time now. I think Sam Beam is in the top five lyricists working today if he isn't the best and it really gets to me how his songs and the words contained in those songs are often dismissed as sounding "all the same". That said, I haven't seen I&W live for a couple of years but recent reports I've read and heard have suggested that he's a bit of a noodling jamster these days which is frustrating because he's capable of silencing wars when he stands alone with an acoustic guitar. Either way, I made my way to watch him on the main stage as it was getting dark and I was completely unprepared for what happened next. Firstly, Sam Beam came out alone with an acoustic guitar. Secondly, he played a set that, if I'm not mistaken, consisted of every single one of my favourite I&W songs. Starting with an acapella 'Flightless Bird, American Mouth' Beam silenced the crowd in a way very few performers can. From the plucked beauty of ' Upwards Over The Mountain' to the rolling majesty of 'The Trapeze Swinger', it was then that I knew I'd just witnessed two things. 1. something very special and 2. the best performance of the weekend. The latter song, in particular, was jaw dropping.
Clearly not recorded at EOTR but just watch it. You'll see what I'm saying
Iron & Wine had already made my night but as is the way with this festival, there's always something to watch. Later that night we caught Caitlin Rose who had packed out the 'Local Stage' (read as 'not-so-big top with stage in middle. Open on one side) and she sounded in fine voice even if I'm a bit baffled by her popularity. I mean, it's just classic Nashville sound country isn't it? There's a million cassettes of people sounding like that clogging up those reduced baskets up and down the country's service stations. Fill yer (Topshop) cowboy boots pardners! Later that night I played some more table tennis including a game against some guy (he looked like a drummer) from Black Mountain who CHEATED to a win against me. Kinda mean considering I was handicapped at the time. Yeah, I was drunk, I mean I was drunk.
The Antlers were charging £15 for a t-shirt. No wonder they can afford that fancy lighting.
This was the day that leapt out of the schedule for me with The Antlers, Felice Brothers, The Low Anthem and Wilco playing in a row on the main 'Garden Stage'. The Antlers kicked off in the sunshine playing a pretty short set consisting of songs from 'Hospice' which was my favourite album of last year. As I mentioned when reviewing last years festival, some bands sound a little strange in certain situations and I think that applied here too. 'Hospice' is an extraordinary album about a set of circumstances that, seem at least, desperately tragic. For me, songs like that sound a bit weird in Dorset sunlight whilst the bloke to the left of you concentrates on stopping his Solero from dripping. Still, they stayed faithful to those brilliant songs and I only hope so of the crowd were turned on to the band from seeing that set. If not, they truly do not know what they are missing out on.
The Felice Brothers irritated me. I've never been overwhelmingly in love with them anyway but I'm certainly partial to the odd song and don't deny they have a certain charm. In a live setting though, their whole country troubadour thing is really played out. They spoke of how they'd been up all night and the singer was slurring because he had no doubt had been drinking bourbon constantly for the last xx years despite looking about 14 and they sounded all over the place but yes, I know, that ramshackle approach is supposed to be part of their charm etc. Bleurgh. I just didn't really enjoy it all. We left halfway through this set to get some food and as always, the food at this festival is as diverse as it is good. It's all well expensive but everyone knows that money doesn't really mean anything at festivals and the majority of people are perfectly happy to frit away small fortunes on food, drink and whatever shit they sell in those stalls around the site. Any combination of bongos, fur coats, high visibility vests and army jackets by the look of things.
This guy thought carrying a duck on a stick was quite literally the funniest thing ever.
The Low Anthem are the archetypal EOTR band. They really are. They are of a certain size. They play indie folk/americana. They are on Bella Union and Nonesuch in the US. You see where I'm going with this. They got another great reception this year on a main stage that, for their time slot, was as busy as I'd seen it. I seemed to be alone as I struggled with the lack of variance in their music as their set wore on. It's perhaps a bit rich to talk of variety at a festival like this because that's not really the aim of the whole thing but I found myself getting bored a fair distance before the band closed their set. After they'd just finished I heard a girl near me say "...that [the set] was so perfect, the atmosphere here is so beautiful." I looked at her as she said this, I then looked at the bloke stood next to her and he was picking his nose and examining the extractions. I found that kinda funny. Beautiful indeed.
Chances are your Dad was ROCKING OUT to Wilco whether you knew he was at EOTR or not.
Wilco were the last band I saw at the festival and, as expected, the ended the thing in a fantastic manner. Rarely do you see a band that contains such professionals on every instrument like them. Jeff's voice has been at the top of its game for years now and I couldn't criticise at all aside from saying they didn't play enough from 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' (obviously) and that they didn't play 'Spiders (kidsmoke)' because that song live is an absolute juggernaut. With Wilco, you know what you're going to get and everyone loves them for that. They have the largest of back catalogues to choose from and let's fact it, must of those songs are winners. This one was a foregone conclusion before the band even came out. Brilliant.
End of The Road surely remains the best small festival in the country and as I said last year, if you like this sort of thing, there really is nowhere better. I've got some concerns to how sustainable the festival is at its current size because after all, these guys are running a business here and to progress, well, surely that means selling more tickets or selling the same amount of tickets at a higher price. Of course, This could reflect both postively and negatively on the festival as a whole but either way, I'll be here next year and I urge you to be too
P.S EOTR organisers: Next year, perhaps throw a token act from a different musical genre on here or there though yeah?