Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Review: End of The Road - Friday, 31st August

End of the Road - Day 2
The sky is blue, the sun is hot and the belly is a-rumblin'. The tank is topped up after a full night's sleep in the [sleeping] bag and it's back to business. First things first: let's eat. After supping on the first juice served by EOTR's finest blenders of freshly squeezed fruits, a stop is planned for the aptly named Soup 'n' Juice stall (located near the relatively new Woods Stage) later in the morning but muscle-memory toned during previous End of the Road outings walks these feet to the absolutely scrumptious Chai Shop Organic. Being up and about early means a delicious veggy breakfast is enjoyed in relative isolation, served up with smiles by the weekend's forever friendly host: Dave (I think). Juicy tomatoes, monstrously mouth-watering mushrooms, sensationally sautéed potatoes all washed down with a tongue-taming cup of tea all soundtracked by Bill Withers - it is indeed going to be a lovely day.

Dave at work behind the counter of The Chai Shop Organic
And that day will belong to long-lasting independent record label Bella Union, the London-based brainchild of Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie (the latter having left the label in 2002). Celebrating fifteen years in the business, Friday's line-up has been moulded meticulously by the B.U. team who fittingly take control as curators for the day. Raymonde and co.'s choice to commence proceedings on the first official day of the seventh ever Larmer Tree Gardens-based music meet-up is Mountain Man, the most loveable trio of harmony angels ever to flap their wings and flutter out of Vermont.

Having toured as Feist's backing singers for the past year, Molly, Alexandra and Amelia forewarn that they may be slightly rusty with this being only their second Mountain Man show in twelve months but the next forty five minutes or so make light of those precautionary words. One wonder concerning the threesome's live shows is - with the majority of their tracks only coming in at two minutes long - how they will manage fill an entire set? Charming tales of violent diarrhoea (due to a bout of The Sultans Revenge picked up in Istanbul), well executed examples of choreography employed during their stint with the aforementioned Feist and similar enthralling stories that make you want to simply pick the three up and put them in your knapsack kick that doubt firmly into touch. When not chatting, the a-capella vivid vocal sting of 'Honeybee', the winding soul-cleansing wash of 'The River Song' and crowd favourite (and opening track of 2010's much lauded debut record Made The Harbor) 'Buffalo' all combine to create the perfect afternoon atmosphere on the now legendary Garden Stage.

Mountain Man co. of EG Photography
A quick dash can take you to the furthest reaches of the EOTR site so within minutes I have shifted between front-right of the Garden Stage to front-left of the Tipi where a growing crowd await one of today's curators' most recent signings. California-born folkie Hannah Cohen arrives gracefully on stage every bit the former model in free-flowing, hippy-chic regalia. Playing straight-up acoustic guitar and accompanied by Josh Kaufman on electric guitar, the set is a stripped down affair that showcases the heart-cradling simplicity of the compositions that appear on the New York-based songsmith's excellent debut, Child Bride. Strolling album opener 'Don't Say' is chaperoned beautifully by Kaufman's subtle delay-laden guitar additions complete with a soaring whammy-bar assisted solo, ascending Cohen's gliding chords and withheld vocals to varying ranges. Fellow album tracks 'Sorry' (with Josh on operating an odd hybrid of effects pedal and synth) and 'Say Anything' are two further stand outs either side of an outstanding take on Neil Young's 'Transformer Man' before finishing up with a sweet rendition of 'The Crying Game'. Definitely more to come from Hannah Cohen...

Hannah Cohen & compadre Josh
Poor Moon
Enraptured at the Tipi, the mind slipped on the fact that Poor Moon - a previously noted "must-see" of the weekend - had kicked off on the Woods Stage. The Seattle-ites, boasting half of past EOTR headliners Fleet Foxes in the talented forms of Christian Wargo and Casey Wescott, are treating the lazy, mostly seated/outstretched afternoon crowd to a masterclass in Laurel Canyon-soaked, sunshine folk-pop. Clearly enjoying their first ever visit to the UK declaring this EOTR performance "definitely the biggest show we've played so far" strongly hinting Poor Moon is no brief stint messing about. With the abilities displayed on tunes such as 'Anyplace', this team up with The Christmas Cards's Murray brothers is not merely a FF side project but a well-tuned melody machine set to cause quite a stir. Well they did in the Woods on Saturday anyway...

From joy at The Woods to heartbreak in The Garden, an early blow was struck with the news that Peter Broderick would not be making this year's festival as planned. Oh well...

Led by the spangly, silvery jacketed Tessa Murray, London's Still Corners are deftly delivering a loaded case of dream-pop to onlookers in The Big Top. Hearing those booming bass beats and whispered words of 'Cuckoo' live is a real highlight of the day.

Lanterns on the Lake
This being my first visit to the largest tent in the field all weekend, the executive decision is made to stay put for Geordie gems Lanterns on the Lake. Returning for their third consecutive EOTR appearance, Lanterns on the Lake's success is mirrored by their steady progression through the tent and timetable ranks, the growing confidence evident within the superb, laser-sharp performances of Gracious Tide, Take Me Home tracks such as 'You're Almost There'. B-side 'Sapsorrow' makes a welcome appearance with Sarah Kemp's sweeping violin lines reverberating around the Big Top's inner sanctum. Set closer 'Not Going Back to the Harbour' plays the indie quintet on a hushed high note with vocalist/guitarist Hazel Wilde recommending sticking around for I Break Horses who are up next. Excellent stuff.

A quick 360 degree tour of the main arena allows me to take in a rousing rendition of 'Highway Blues' from legendary folkie Roy Harper on the Woods Stage before spinning off for a sort-but-sweet taste of John Grant's marvellous brain and voice on the Garden Stage. And I'm back at The Big Top for Swedish duo I Break Horses scintillating set, Maria Lindén looking sensational as she strides out, magical cape wrapped around her shoulders similar to the spell she and her partner in crime Fredrik Balck are about to cast on all in attendance.

The dramatically extended foggy intro to slowburner 'Hearts' throbs from the P.A., a power and beat that has been absent in north Dorset since the gates opened on Thursday afternoon, Lindén's glistening vocal descending upon the crowd like a melodic mist, at times indistinguishable from the wall of sound being created behind her, otherwise invading eardrums like a spectral wisp. With the combination of dry ice and fantasy world garb, the stunning face of I Break Horses looms over the crowd like an Ice Queen from another land, a strength that booms from must-grab record Hearts. When the twinkling intro to 'Winter Beats' sparkles, and that reverb-roasted vocal flames into life it's clear we have another festival highlight on our hands. High hopes were held ahead of this show, Lindén and Balck certainly do not disappoint.


One aspect of End of the Road one must get used to is the serious amount of travelling involved. Small distances yes but it's constant. Before the dry ice even has a chance to settle in The Big Top, the inimitable Warren Ellis (and there truly is no one alive like this man) and Dirty Three are carving badger shaped sound-holes from The Wood Stage. Incendiary is a word only suitable for some but at times you could swear smoke is emanating from the Bad Seeds' violin his audio assault is so violent. Jim White's brooding - yet at times equally maniacal - beats combine with Mick Turner's relative rhythmical sanity to call forth the prettiest apocalypse imaginable. Listen to the albums and the classically-trained discipline and restraint shimmer fantastically to create timeless records but live this dirty three roll in the mud, shout from the mountain, swing from the treetops...you name it, pure visceral carnage. In a good way! Ellis' double-edged introduction to the soul-shifting magnificence of 'Everything's Fucked' shows the intended light quickly swallowed by the lurking darkness that lies within every note of the Australian group's music:

"Our attempt to write a hit single...trying to write songs for the kids to sit around the campfire and play on their acoustic guitars but it just didn't work out for some reason. A song about finding yourself in a hole, deciding to decorate it and you hang around for twenty years. It's about as good as it's going to get. You realise that's why everyone told you not to go down there because it is actually...great."

The Low Anthem with 'Wendy' for the last time
No one band typifies exactly what End of the Road stands for more than The Low Anthem. A young band who were not only given the chance to make their mark on a receptive crowd during their fledgling years, but a group of talented, fun-loving, in-it-for-all-the-right-reasons musicians who have been welcomed back with open arms, rising steadily from afternoon shows to late-night revellers. From their pin-drop hushed quiet debut on the Garden Stage to the boozy brilliance of the now infamous Tipi Snake Wagon performances, cherished memories are guaranteed when the Providence, Rhode Islanders are in town. And Friday night at EOTR is no different as sad goodbyes are said for 'Wendy', the beloved pump-organ gifted to the group by label guru Simon Raymonde (bought for £26 on Ebay) upon their first visit to the U.K. This night will see the last ever performance from the patched-up, crumbling ole' hunk of wood and metal before she meets her maker on the bonfire later that night.

Before that though an intelligent mix of compositions pulled from everlasting long-players Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (2009) Smart Flesh (2011) exhibit a growing - and impressive - back catalogue. From the splaying sounds of 'To The Ghosts Who Write History Books' (starring 'Wendy''s p.o.) and 'Smart Flesh' to the murkier beat of 'Ghost Woman Blues', long time favourite 'Charlie Darwin' B-side 'Sally Where Did You Get Your Liquour From' and the haunting multiple-harmony 'Charlie Darwin' itself. Strobe lights are not common at Low Anthem shows but the guest appearance by 'Mr. Moth Machine', a glowing, twisting mushroom shaped tower that accompanies a new track that sees Ben Knox Miller and co. swirl off into more psychadelic territory. As with most The Low Anthem shows, Daniel Lefkowitz's heart-wrencher 'This God Damn House' closes the set.

As the night starts to edge to a close, Beach House take complete advantage of the fading light with an impressive light show backdropping 21st century dream-pop royalty. It takes something special to shine on the relatively mammoth Woods Stage but the shoulder-swaying, shoegaze bliss of 'Myth', 'Used To Be', 'Norway' and more defy meteorology, raining rainbows in a cloudless sky.

And so to Midlake who take a more subtle approach to their headline slot on the Garden Stage, enchanting ears with strolling soulsearchers such as 'Van Occupanther' and the simply awesome 'Roscoe'. The Bella Union family are out in supportive force too with long-time pal John Grant and big boss/head-honcho himself Simon Raymonde seated front and centre to see out the day's carefully curated, masterfully masterminded festivities. Day two (or official day one) down and End of the Road 2012 is already glistening like the diamond it is.

Saturday's review to come soon...

For those who missed Thursday's review click here.

Midlake
For more on End of the Road visit:

- End of the Road 2012 took place in Larmer Tree Gardens from 30th August to the 2nd September
- Early bird tickets for 2013 are now on sale
- Visit www.endoftheroadfestival.com for more details
- For more photos see EG Photography




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