How do three, completely randomly selected bands showcase a three day festival based around four stages that has, over the years, included the likes of Super Furry Animals, Howe Gelb, Patti Smith, Eels, Sleaford Mods and Billy Childish?
Trying to write about bands and performances at The End of The Road festival without writing about The End of The Road festival is a bit like trying to write about punk without mentioning Margaret Thatcher’s cancerous regime of de-socialisation. Unlike a regular gig (or ‘a gig’, as an inveterate festival-loathing misanthrope like me might call it) the set is shaped by any number of pointless factors – demographic, weather and who’s playing the other stages at the same time. Not to mention the random nature of wandering, drunk, around a field crashing into a wildly disparate selection of sounds…So sets from Savages, The Big Moon and The Garden turn on the mood, the climate and pure serendipity and come out smelling of…well, of spilled beer, pies, alcohol hand-rub and damp dog but that’s hardly the fault of any band.
Coming across like a metal Cowboy Junkies or a Kraftwerk-inspired Mogwai Savages step into the End of the Road slot on a Friday evening traditionally reserved for any band that can shake off the acoustic noodling and pedal-steel button-down country vibe that makes End of the Road such a bucolic pleasure to turn up to. Following on from the country swing of Margot Price and Omar Suleyman’s electro-chaabi Jehnny Beth’s moody theatricality injects the urgency into the glowering Dorset landscape that anyone who has been trudging the fields for several hours really needs. From the languid groovy dissonance of ‘Adore’ with Beth’s Morrissey-esque looping vocal to the punk sucker-punch of ‘Fuckers’ driven by Ayse Hassan’s bass delivering all the louche laid-back aggression of a Chanel Paul Simonon, Savages don’t so much blow away cobwebs as join forces with the spiders and capture a whole field full of pests into their thumping web. This is by turns the kind of relentless racket that makes your want to cry, laugh and sing all at the same time and it would be easy (if you were some kind of dick) to pass Savages off as a kind of Patti Smith (whose set here a few years back remains one of the best of the festival’s 11 year history) or Siouxie for the Vogue demographic. For some the impeccable style of their epic on-stage presentation, the slick delivery of their YouTube presence or their grandiose wall-of-sound might see them tarred with the inevitable and predictable slur of being, god-forbid, ‘stylish’ but take it from a drunk bloke in a cold field in the English countryside who, only twelve months ago, was here having to witness the one-trick-ponyism of Future Islands. Savages are absolutely everything it takes to push back against the clouds.
If you’re going to be signed to a tiny indie label, look like a cross between the pesky Scooby-Doo kids and a bunch of particularly annoying sisters, feature in videos as moody pupils in a gymnastics competition and play End of the Road’s cavernous Big Top stage then you either need to pray for rain or be The Big Moon. Every End of The Road band in TBM’s position prays for inclement weather to force the weary and wet under into the cosy communal warmth of this brilliant tented stage swelling an audience, for a band that might be more at home at Brixton’s superb Windmill venue, into the high hundreds. An almost total blackout allows for the kind of catacombic atmospherics normally reserved for the tedious psychedelia of Tame Impala.
Sounding like they’re going to take Best Coast out into a muddy field and give them the kind of metaphorical kicking that they so richly deserve, The Big Moon are one of those bands guaranteed to make you think that playing in them must be so bloody FUN! Everything is perfect. Lovely. Beautiful. And unexpected. Somewhere underneath the spiky punk-pop of ‘Bonfire’ a gorgeous country guitar harmony suddenly floats out from Soph Nathan’s guitar that wouldn’t be out of place on a Lucinda Williams track. ‘Cupid’ hops along, a study in nerdy glamour captured perfectly by drummer Fern Ford’s bespectacled genius that barely suggests the gorgeous Big Star harmonies to come. And just at that moment…you know it ..that moment when you think ‘surely not another gorgeous honeyed harmony?’ The dagger stab of Soph’s guitar brings it all back home.
Joined on stage by the massed ranks of the End of the Road secret post office (who, for any non-EoTRers out there, will attempt to deliver any letter to anyone at the festival – one day I’m going to try it!) The Big Moon end their set the way every set should end..making you smile and wonder why every day isn’t like this.
Best Coast have left the building where the rain laughs at them and pisses onto their heads.
Not only does the slashing downpour drive people in to see The Big Moon but, maybe more importantly, it keeps them snuggly huddled in the dry, cosy gloom for the band – any band! – that follows them. Anything that keeps us out of the rain. Any old shit will do when shelter is required. Any old shit will do. But any old shit is not what we get. What we get is the kind of casual, crazy, conceptual genius that we come to rainy fields in Dorset for. We get The Garden. With Alan Vega gone, Wyatt Shears takes up the barking mantle of the Suicide front-man while brother Fletcher rips into a drumming style possibly created from the unholy union of Art Blakey and Hellhammer. When Fletcher leaps the kit to join in with vocal duties it’s as if the whole tent has descended into some Dante-esque cabaret of the dead. Genuinely bonkers and utterly brilliant.
The guitar-and-drums, bass-and-drums, bloody accordion-and-drums format started to wear a bit thin just about the time the, admittedly marvellous, Royal Blood brought us the South Coast’s version a few years back so the appearance of the Shears twins on stage is not, perhaps, one to inspire confidence in any audience members driven to witness this extraordinary band by the shit weather. Until they get a face-full of a manic, pirouetting Pierrot coming across like a hyperactive Roxy-era Bryan Ferry alternating dirty bass and shouty vocals. Part punk conceptualism and part carnival Punch and Judy, The Garden, you suspect, would have drawn a much smaller crowd today had the sun been shining and some tedious noodle like Sufjan Stevens been occupying the Woods stage so, today, the rain (incidentally, the first of any note in 11 years) has played it’s part in the End of the Road magic and introduced some to ‘vada vada’.
The End of The Road festival has, for the last 11 years, been the most eclectically curated, obsessive and downright fun music event in the country and Savages, The Big Moon and The Garden randomly sum it up. And I hate saying that because I live with the fear that, one year, I’ll go and it will be full of the kind of simpering tossers who pride themselves on getting a ticket to Glastonbury. In fact it’s shit, the food’s awful, the setting is squalid, the organisers are idiots and, above all, the bands are beyond hopeless. Stay away. Please.