The End of the Road Festival is one of the UK’s most eclectic musical events, where folk, Americana and indie rock come together across the three day event in the Larmer Gardens of Dorset. Here is Neon Filler’s day by day review of the 2010 event, where our editor Dorian Rogers and photographer Zeina Clare got to see among others Wilco, Modest Mouse and Darren Hayman.
Arriving on the Thursday, before the official festival start time, proved to be a smart move. The tent was pitched in dry sunny weather, and things were relatively quiet. It was a good opportunity to check out the festival site before things kicked off in earnest.
First impressions were very good, the site is very well laid out, enough space without being sprawling, and a very pleasant atmosphere. The food and drink is excellent, good quality and reasonably priced. This may not seem a top priority but for anyone (like me) who has only gone to ATP for the last few years that is a real bonus. No Burger King or low quality fish and chips anywhere.
So, to the real business, the music. Thursday night only had a few acts playing. By the time we got settled and to the tent Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan were drawing to a close. By the reception they received it had a good performance. But one of the nice things about the festival “vibe” was that the crowd were attentive and appreciative in general.
Next up were the charmingly named Allo Darlin’. They played an excellent and upbeat set of the kind of indie pop that you don’t hear around much anymore. Pitched somewhere between Hefner and Go Sailor they flew through a batch of poppy bouncy numbers and set a pretty high standard for bands to follow. Their habit of throwing in snatches of other peoples songs (including an brilliant tune about Weezer) may be foolish from a royalties point of view, but it was a lot of fun.
Up last was Neon Filler favourite Darren Hayman. He was playing his fifth set in five years of the festival. He is the house band equivalent of Shellac at ATP. Most people in the street aren’t going to know his name, but to EotR regulars he is a must see act.
His set was pretty special. Accompanied for most songs but a lone fiddler (with later songs backed by members of Allo Darlin’) he played a set that was Hefner heavy with a number of solo songs as well. Hefner classics went down a storm but his solo songs were just as strong. Hearing him live I was reminded of what a brilliant and unique song writer he is. The perfect start to a festival like this.
Today is looking pretty packed with stuff to see and a race from stage to stage will be in order later to make sure to see enough of Modest Mouse and not miss a minute of The New Pornographers. With The Mountain Goats, Edwyn Collins, Here We Go Magic and more on stage (plus the prospect of some secret surprise slots) it looks like a great day ahead. And maybe the sun will come out as well.
The second day of the festival (the first proper day) was an opportunity to get a sense of the festival environment. Larmer Tree Gardens are a beautiful and unique place to hold an event like this. It may not be very rock and roll but seeing peacocks on top of a mock Tudor house or a makeshift library erected in a woodland clearing beats a muddy field as a place to spend your time.
Walking through the various hidden environments is pretty magical, whether you are discovering a decorated vintage car or playing the piano on a theatre set style Victorian drawing room. Of all the festival sites I have been to this is certainly the most charming, and a great place to hang out whilst waiting for the music to start.
First up was Australian oddity CW Stoneking. His music is a strange timewarp jazz blues and manages to be extremely enjoyable without slipping into pastiche. You get the sense that he thinks he is living in that era and we are the people who are out of time. He looks like he should be playing in a band on a cruise ship in an early “talkie”. Great stuff.
The southern hemisphere delivered more rewards next with New Zealand’s The Ruby Suns playing a set that had the appeal of an edgier Vampire Weekend (without the preppy style) and really should have been on later in the day to get the people dancing.
Early evening saw The Mountain Goats take to the main garden stage. Their performance was skilled and spirited but did lack something. It may have been my lack of familiarity with their songs, or the limitations of the guitar, bass, drums arrangements but it didn’t quite grab me. The next act on stage, Wolf Parade, was a different story. I stared off half listening to them as we explored the woods some more but was soon drawn in to watch the end of the set. A brilliant big sound and, along with CW Stoneking, my personal discovery of the day.
Modest Mouse are an odd choice of headliner for an event like this. Their live sound can be a little rough and ready and I imagine that beyond ‘Float On’ their songs haven’t permeated the general consciousness that much. They played a good set, tighter than I have seen them before and a good choice of songs. Isaac Brock is one of the most menacing singers around and his howl and growl was in excellent shape. A little more audience communication would have been nice, but he doesn’t strike me as the chatty type.
The end of Modest Mouse was abandoned so that I could see a few songs by Edwyn Collins. I’ve never been a big fan but have enjoyed his hits and didn’t want to miss seeing a living legend(ish) take to the stage. Accompanied by an odd looking band, including Sex Pistol Paul Cook, he was in good voice. Seated throughout due to the brain haemorrhage he suffered he struggled to speak clearly but could sing as well as ever. The band played well and the finale of ‘A Girl Like You’ was a lot of fun, although the soloing heroics of his lead guitarist was perhaps a little laboured.
The end of the night (for me anyway, the festival continued for hours after) was Canadian power pop troupe The New Pornographers. AC Newman’s act is for me the best buitar pop act since Blondie, and I am bemused that they aren’t one of the biggest bands on the planet. On the night they didn’t disappoint. In their core form (Neko Case and Dan Bejar not present) they blasted through pop classic after pop classic from opener ‘Sing Me Spanish Techno’ to the finale of ‘The Bleeding Heart Show’ they didn’t put a foot wrong. Newman is a more awkward figure than his records suggest but a capable front man who lets the songs do the talking. Kathryn Calder is an amazing vocalist in support of Newman and handled Neko Case’s parts brilliantly, Kurt Dahle is a great classic drummer who isn’t afraid to miss the odd beat if he can do some stick spinning or throw one in the air.
Day three looks to be another classic, with the rain kindly appearing overnight and clearing in the morning. The big clash of the day is between Iron and Wine and Brakes, but having that kind of choice to make is no bad thing.
Blogging a bit later today due to seeing “TV’s Russell Howard” in the comedy pavilion, and being distracted by the lawn scrabble tournament…
Saturday started with further exploration of the garden area of the site. The comedy pavilion was discovered, the croquet lawn and, best of all, the illuminated woodland dance floor. The dance floor would be returned to later, but most of the day was spent in front of the main garden stage seeing some of the best music so far.
Initial signs weren’t good, neither Forest Fire or Snowman really grabbed me. Giving up on the main stages for a while I enjoyed some pleasant, if a little twee, folk from Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrel in the Tipi Tent. This was enough to cheer me and send me back into the sun in search of some bigger sounds.
It was when Phosphorescent hit the stage at 3.15 that things started to come together. They are a band I’d heard of, but never been tempted to listen to before. They are a country rock combo, shades of The Band and Sunday’s headliners Wilco about their set. It was a great show and the first set I’ve seen that has made me go straight to buy the album from the merchandise stall. Brilliant stuff. They were followed by the similar, but distinctly less hairy, Deer Tick for another superb set. The best two hours of the festival so far.
The Unthanks proved to be a nice change of pace, their Northern folk was superbly performed and I doubt I’ll see any better clog dancing all weekend. Bonus marks go for some of the best audience patter yet.
After a bit of a fan boy dalliance at the signing tent (all three of Yo La Tengo’s signatures!) it was time to make some difficult decisions. First up Brakes or Iron and Wine? I chose to be loyal to one of the few British acts on the bill and see Brakes. I’ll never know if it was the right decision, but I can’t imagine that Iron and Wine would have been as much fun. Full pelt, daft and entertaining it was as close to moshing as I’ve got in a long time and a perfect festival tent set.
The next decision was easier, Black Mountain or Yo La Tengo? I’d have liked to have seen Black Mountain but a long standing love of Yo La Tengo drew me to the Garden Stage. The set was good but doesn’t rank as a festival classic. Was it necessary to play such a long version of Sun Ra’s ‘Nuclear War’ that early on? How often do we need to be treated to an identi-kit guitar feedback breakdown? Probably not as often as we were. When it was good it was great and the trio (Georgia brilliant on the drums) made a pretty glorious noise.
Time to give the bands a rest and out for some dancing. First to the illuminated disco floor for some student disco classics and then on to “The Local” to see Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker spin some discs. Jarvis shaded it on the night, his tunes were that bit more fun and he looked to be enjoying himself. Hawley was in the right though when he looked disgusted at Jarvis playing Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name Of”, it really is a terrible record.
The write up of day 4 will have to wait until I get home. I think it is pretty safe to say that Wilco will be brilliant. One of the best live bands around playing one of the nicest stages.
Sunday started with a trip to the comedy pavilion. An early start was essential to beat the crowds to see Russell Howard. The opportunity to see a big name comic in a small venue seemed too good to miss. The reality was somewhat disappointing. He was funny enough, but really didn’t seem that enthusiastic to be there and got away as soon as he could. The compere, Gordon Southern, was much better and managed to keep the crowd laughing harder than the bigger name to follow.
A fairly relaxed approach to seeing the music followed for a few hours. Sitting in the sun watching the Sunday scrabble and spotting exotic birds was a perfect way to hear the music drifting from the main stage. Smoke Fairies worked particularly well, their Sandy Denny era Fairport Convention sound drifting through the gardens.
The first focused band watch of the day was Radiohead’s Philip Selway in the Big Top tent. His set was very professional, but it was by some distance the dullest set of the weekend. His songs were fine, if unremarkable, but his early career decision not to be a front man was definitely the right move. I wish I had gone to see Singing Adams. When I abandoned Philip Selway I could hear the crowd going wild at the finale to his set.
After further exploration, some food and a drink at the tent it was time to get in position at the main stage for the final three acts of the day. First up, The Felice Brothers and early signs weren’t good. They seemed a bit flat, and the songs weren’t grabbing me. Halfway through the set things really started to pick up and they turned into an Americana party band. The most enthusiastic washboard playing I think I’ve ever seen, and a lot of fun.
I purchased The Low Anthem’s album after a series of rave reviews, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it. After seeing them live I will be returning to it with a renewed enthusiasm. The performance was one of the best of the weekend and captivated me from start to finish. The final song, sung by the four band members crowded round a single microphone, may well be the best single performance of the weekend. Magical stuff.
Wilco don’t seem capable of playing a bad set, and they played a set that was deserving of closing the festival main stage. It rocked from start to finish, no mucking about and some fantastic guitar heroics throughout. I’m hard pressed to think of a better live guitar act around and the packed garden crowd lapped it up. The only criticism I have is the lack of their “poppier” numbers from the set. It would have been nice to hear ‘Can’t Stand It’, ‘Wilco (the song)’ or ‘Kamera’ amongst the rockier numbers, Tweedy can write brilliant pop music and it gets neglected in their live shows. That is just a small criticism though of what was a pretty flawless performance.
And for me at least that was my festival over. It really is a unique and pretty special festival. The music was fantastic and the environment pretty magical. Money permitting I’ll be back next year to do it all over again.
Word and pictures by Dorian Rogers, additional pictures by Zeina Clare
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