The End of the Road festival, located at Larmer Tree Gardens in Salisbury, Dorset has become a haven for fans of music that either is, or sounds like it should be on the Bella Union label. Arriving attendees seemed to be in good cheer on the Friday afternoon and groups of people were happily wandering around the beautiful gardens that surround the festival. With table tennis tables and other attractions located in secluded locations around the festival End of the Road seemed to be a special, although low key experience. I even heard tales of peacocks wandering the grounds, but I failed to track them down.
With the high number of families at the festival it would initially seem that End of the Road is a much calmer environment than its contemporaries. While the drink was in full flow everybody was having fun in a family friendly way, which was perhaps a nice change. The good weather (on Friday and Saturday at least) and good music contributed to a very positive and friendly atmosphere throughout the festival. While obviously it's hard to find a festival that seems actively hostile, End of the Road has a certain special something about it.
Kicking off the festival for me was The Acorn at the pretty Garden Stage. While The Acorn is usually comprised of a full band in this instance Rolf Klausener performed on stage alone. This was not as disappointing as it could have been because Rolf seemed very capable of creating a large, textual sound on his lonesome. With a large wealth of strong material this was a strong enjoyable show to kick things off. I then wandered to the smallest stage of the festival, The Tipi Tent Stage to catch personal favourite Alessi's Ark. As always Alessi put on a endearing and heart-warming show that felt both intimate while immediately accessible. While she has got over the crippling shyness that made her an especially adorable performer in her early days she still has a certain charm with her stage presence. She could perhaps be accused of lacking some diversity in her material, but with folk 'choons' like 'The Horse' and 'The Robot', it's difficult not to enjoy her set. Peter Broderick had gone missing from the Garden Stage and I could find no information about when he'd be appearing so I sauntered off to see Still Corners at the stuffy Big Top Tent (too hot and dusty inside). Still Corners are an enjoyable live experience. They have strong vocals and a great sound, however it's difficult to shake the feeling that they are essentially a poor man's late-era Portishead. This is not a particularly harsh criticism and the group still entertained but I had no qualms leaving early to catch Tony Law.
Tony Law, who was playing over in a wood at the comedy stage, has long been a favourite act of mine. His unique brand of meta-infused comedy is always entertaining and the comedian builds a special bond with his audience during his set. Each moment with Tony feels somewhat special and while he clearly works off prepared material he makes it seem spontaneous. While he could be accused of relying upon tired techniques of talking about his comedy to drag himself out of quiet moments, he has a wealth of humour and creative writing to leave an audience wanting more.
I reluctantly left the lovely surroundings of the comedy stage to go and catch Lanterns on the Lake. The group are an enjoyable live experience but are easily accused of completely lacking any variety in their material. They come across as too predictable, their sound seems set in stone and while they have a talent for writing a pretty song there's a sense that they are a somewhat sub-par group at time. This was made particularly apparent when watching the excellent Dirty Three who were possibly the band of the day. Warren Ellis is a amazing performer and the group have a knack for making repetitive, meandering songs seem magical and important. Ellis's on stage movements and remarkably emotive violin playing make the group a amazing live experience and one that left me completely transfixed. The legendary Roy Harper was less convincing. While it would be absurd to say he hasn't written some amazing songs that say some important things it's difficult not to get bored during Harpers long inter-song talk. He come across, simply, as a bore and when one isn't held in a state of reverence it's difficult to forgive this slow live performance. I Break Horses were for me a revelation, I had not listened to them much prior to the festival but was completely blown away by their live performance. While the group were obscured by fog the sound that they managed to produce was massive, filling the tent and making even the most steely festival goers dance in appreciation. A very tight act who are worth seeing.
The lovely Veronica Falls made the wait for Beach House go somewhat faster but it seems disrespectful to only credit them for this. The group are an accomplished live act and have a wealth of good material to fall back on. While it's difficult to point to anything particularly special that the band do they are strong song-smiths and rarely put a foot wrong. The afore-mentioned Beach House arrived on stage in a haze of fog. It was impossible to make out the much buzzed about trio and a sizeable crowd was left squinting into the haze. Never mind though because what the band lacked in visuals they made up in sound. The group are an excellent live act, their songs swell up into massive pieces that transmit so much emotion into the audience. While the end of the set was completely ruined for me by a group of girls shouting over the music I can barely blame Beach House for this travesty. The group put on a set befitting of their headlining status and were very enjoyable.
As is customary at festivals I woke uncomfortably early, with my tent growing increasingly hot I was forced to enter the world and wander around a festival with nothing to do. Not to worry, because soon Islet were on. With their madcap music and insanely energetic on-stage antics Islet would have put on a very palatable show slightly later in the day. As things stood I enjoyed the group but found them very difficult to watch in my dazed and tired state. I wandered off to the pretty comedy stage for a bit before returning to see Alt-J. The Big Top Stage was packed for the band who have received much attention over the past few months. I have always been slightly sceptical of the group myself, the overplaying of single 'Matilda' having done much to dampen my enthusiasm. However I found myself enjoying their set a lot. The groups rhythmic, fun sound translates very well into a live setting and it's difficult to not get caught up in their entire aesthetic.
Later on, on the main Woods Stage I had the pleasure of seeing one of my very favourite bands, The Antlers. The Antlers are a strange live act, they are not content with playing their material in a traditional fashion and instead tend to mess around with their songs as much as possible. Sometimes this works very well but occasionally the audience is left wishing they could have just heard the version of 'Two' they know so well from the record. In this case I was left very satisfied with what the band provided. There was a good mix of music from both 'Hospice' and 'Burst Apart' and Peter Silberman was in typical emotive form. Having added an extra guitarist the group's sound has been significantly fleshed out and this work particularly well in this larger atmosphere. I had to rush off as soon as the band finished their excellent set as Perfume Genius had inexplicable been scheduled at roughly the same time. I wasn't sure how well his intimate, quite music would work in the large, friendly atmosphere of the Garden Stage but I was pleasantly surprised. Perfume Genius put on a excellent set managing to make the entire audience feel close to him and involved within the performance. 'Hood' was a particular highlight but there was little to criticise about the rest of the material.
I've always heard good things about Anna Calvi but I must admit in this case I completely didn't understand the enthusiasm. I have no great love for her music, it seems fairly uninspired and at best a poor man's PJ Harvey. Her live show seems very static and bare bones. Perhaps I was suddenly in a grumpy mood but I found her impossible to enjoy. The Pictish Trail on the other hand were a pleasant surprise. The banter of Johnny Lynch made the set seem jovial and the music certainly didn't hurt matter. The band are perhaps a little unoriginal but this is not damming thing. There is enough strong song-smithery and charm here to carry The Pictish Trail through an enjoyable set.
Tindersticks have released an excellent album this year and I was delighted to see them play it in near full at the festival. I was amazed at quite how good the band were. Firstly their musicianship was incredible and they were ridiculously tight. Complex and difficult songs from their album were played to complete perfection. It was particularly impressive playing the intimate nine minute opening track 'Chocolate' perfectly more more impressive that they managed to hold the audience in silent attention for it's entirety. The rest of the material was viewed with similar awe and respect. This was a group who demonstrated their experience and song-writing ability to a high degree. I left Tindersticks thinking that it would be impossible for any group to top them this weekend.
I had not yet, however, encountered this nights headliners Grizzly Bear. The group, since I last saw them, have added an additional member on keyboards who hides behind the line formation of group. The result of this addition was a move away from the quieter more melodic sound the group used to occupy in their live performance to a very full on, loud sound. This may not seem, to a reader, as a positive move but in this case it very much is. Grizzly Bear have a repertoire of genuinely good songs, and their new found ability to blast out this material at a high volume has only aided it. The group were, simply put, amazing. During their one and half hour set we heard much of Yellow House and Veckatimest but also a lot of material from their new album Shields. The quality of this has left me very optimistic for the new release. A brilliant headlining performance from the band and one that left a very clear impression upon me.
I woke on the sunday similarly groggy, uncomfortable and suddenly covered in mystery insect bites. Such is the life of the festival goer. I immediately headed for some rousing all female punk in the form of Savages. This turned out to be just the thing I needed. The group were energetic and in your face but still melodic enough to be an enjoyable watch for the ears as well as the eyes. That said, the main thing the group had going for them was their sheer attitude but this translates very well into the music. There was little for the remainder of the early afternoon that interested me in the form of music so I headed over to the comedy stage again were I caught a number of comedians, including the wonderfully odd Tom Bell.
I returned to the world of music to catch the noisy Dirty Beaches. Normally this type of noise-rock is a big pleasure of mine but something about the lack of energy shown the by the group made them a somewhat boring act to watch. Their somewhat lifeless music needed something else to create a compelling performance and I was left rather cold. The lovely First Aid Kit were a different proposition however. The swedish duo have an ability to write a wonderful folk-pop tune. They also have great stage presence, bouncing around in a youthful bliss that is very infectious. I was practically forced to fall a little bit in love with both of them.
Out of a vauge sense of duty I went to see Blur's Graham Coxon on the main stage. I am not a huge Blur fan, but like pretty much everybody else I have an affection for the group. It therefore pains to me say that I was bored senseless by Coxon's set. His music is rarely anything more than average rock and there is little inspiration or excitement to be found here. Additionally I'm not entirely convinced that he's a good enough singer to be fronting a band. A strong guitarist, sure, but that just isn't enough.
Living legend Patti Smith arrived on the stage beaming and waving and never seemed to stop her enthusiasm for live performance. Throughout her set Patti demonstrated why she's so well respected, even aside from her vast catalogue of excellent music, she's a confident and energetic performer that forms a bond with her audience very quickly. Her voice is as powerful as ever and her band were remarkably tight while still sounding raw and interesting. If I had to criticise I'd say that her inter-song banter occasionally went on a little long and descended into meaningless slogans. Nevermind though because this was a wonderful set demonstrative of her status.
I must admit I was never a massive Grandaddy fan. They had their moments but I wasn't amongst the many clamouring for a reunion. Obviously I went to see them close the festival with some sense of relish but without the fanboy zeal that many seemed to experience. It also probably didn't help that by this point, as is customary, my back had revolted and demanded I sit down. This, ultimately meant little as the group's projector had broken so all of the fancy visuals promised were not present. This obviously was just a slight set back and Grandaddy soon embarked on a mammoth hour and a half set that included hits from throughout their career. It's difficult to criticise the band who put on a very strong set but I found myself not fully getting on board with the group. Firstly Jason Lytle's voice is especially annoying in a live setting, possibly my least favourite American accent ever, this sounds an incredibly minor complaint but it really begins to grate over a long period. This was still a good set, just one I, and I think a good proportion of the audience, failed to get completely enthused by. Maybe fancy visuals would have improved Grandaddy but we were left with an all right end to what had been an amazing festival. Long may it continue.