September 10-12, 2010
The natural post-festival chat which keeps revellers awake on their long journeys home invariably revolves around the pros and cons of the festival. It’s telling that the worst we could come up with on our drive home from End of the Road was that it rained for a while on Saturday morning. The organisers seem to have gone out their way to improve every facet of this cosy festival but even they can’t do anything about the great British “summer”. With the cons so easily dealt with, what of the pros?
Well, at End of the Road, the non-music highlights are perhaps as important to the overall vibe and experience as the music. Where else can you see peacocks wandering around the festival grounds? Where else do you get a choice of at least 10 holistic remedies including Indian head message, an osteopath and deep tissue massage (my back’s favourite part of the weekend)? Where else do you get a choice of flawlessly good food including Arabian Boureks (crispy, filled pasty type thing), whole rotisserie chicken and spuds (my belly’s favourite part of the weekend) and spicy Jamaican jerk chicken? Then there’s the quality (mostly) of the toilets and how often they’re emptied, the family friendly vibe, cocktails including the fieriest Bloody Mary (renamed as a Scary Mary) that has ever passed these lips, the hidden gems in the wooded area such as the free for all piano area, a light up disco dance floor and a games area. If you’re bored at End of the Road, there’s something very, very wrong with you.
So, to the music. The Ruby Sons kick things off nicely in the Big Top tent with an energetic set. Their calypso-pop really is a perfect opener to the weekend’s musical proceedings. Elliott Brood keeps the momentum going with a full on, toe tapping, thigh slapping run through of their countrified rock. Freelance Whales are the first genuine standout of the weekend, promising much with their melody rich pop and delivering in spades. They’re followed by a rare dip in form with the oh so American, God fearing ditties of Jessica Lea Mayfield. Nothing wrong with her performance and she’s amiably sweet and self-effacing but the music does nothing for me. Wolf Parade however are unequivocally ace. This is exactly how a ‘super group’ should be run with Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner taking it in turns to pelt out their extremely danceable rock tunes and although their voices are fairly similar, their delivery is totally different with Krug hunched over the keyboard like a mad scientist and Boeckner all swagger and swinging hips.
Modest Mouse are the weekend’s first headliners. I don’t know a great deal of their music but they go down well with myself and the majority of the two-thirds full crowd who noticeably up the noise and activity levels for the band’s biggest hit, ‘Float On’. My personal headliners follow next with The New Pornographers. Nobody else makes music like The New Pornos anymore – catchy, grin inducing sunshine pop with big hooks and massive choruses and they end the day perfectly.
How do you annoy a hillside full of festival goers raring to start their second day? You open the main stage’s output with 5 solid minutes of ear piercing guitar feedback. These kind of raucous shenanigans are just about acceptable at the end of a band’s set if they’re noisy, guitar smashing anarchists but Forest Fire are no such band. They play fairly plodding, middle of the road country tinged tunes which are pleasant if forgettable. They really ought to consider downsizing to a trio as Mr Feedback seems to think he’s in a different band. P45 on the way I reckon. But perhaps he could apply for a job playing with Snowman because they are pretty raucous. They’re also one of the revelations of the weekend. They’re loose and noisy and not at all like any other band playing at the festival which works absolutely in their favour. Their manic, diminutive keyboard player bounces around the stage as if it’s electrified.
Phosphorescent and Iron & Wine both captivate the main stage with their respective, good time, head-bobbing country and hushed, lo-fi gems. Beards-a-plenty too which seem prevalent all weekend.
After seeing the original set which got Monotonix banned from ATP and then the second ATP set after said ban was overturned, which in turn got that same ban reinstated – I was beginning to wonder if this is a band that purposefully court controversy in a bid to hide what may be a weakness in their musical output. Well, on the evidence of today’s performance; not so. It’s a massive credit to these middle-east mad men that they keep their set so tight despite playing its entirety either lifted above the crowd or atop the recycling bins 50 yards from their original starting point. Pure entertainment.
Wintersleep sound oddly weedy and un-engaging and the full Tipi Tent gradually empties to make their way to today’s headliners, Yo La Tengo. Again, the crowd size is surprisingly small, though I suppose Yo La Tengo are far from household names. They’re so easy going that they’re unlikely to have gained many new fans tonight but still, somehow, as an often meandering trio, they fill the stage with an effortless, feelgood vibe. Once again, it’s the follow up to the headliner which manages to seal the evening in a more notable manner; it’s Caribou tonight and they perk up End of The Road with a set of big beats and duelling drums.
Sunday is our day of rest. The sun is out (mostly), the peacocks are cawing and my back is feeling a good deal better after my massage. Dylan LeBlanc, The Antlers and Yuck are all pleasant and apt backing for such a day but it’s not until early evening that Sunday’s music offers somebody of note. And what a somebody! Olof Arnalds is super kooky but also incredibly sweet and likeable. Her music is slight and gentle and she switches between English and her native Icelandic tongue effortlessly. It’s not the tightest performance of the weekend, in fact, Arnalds is probably the least polished of all the acts but her banter and mid song giggles make most of the tent fall in love with her just a little bit.
Dour Scots, Errors, get the Big Top bouncing with their electro post rock, warming us all up nicely for the weekend’s final headliner Wilco. Of the three festival headliners, Wilco are the band I’m least looking forward to but sometimes the best festival acts are those that surprise and confound expectations; Wilco are extremely good. There’s real craft in these songs and the variety of styles on show mean that despite feeling achey and tired, we are kept entertained well enough to be able to ignore our pains. It’s a fine ending to End of the Road, my favourite festival of the year and quite possibly my favourite festival full stop.