End of the Road Festival 2012 review

'Delightfully Americana-flavoured'

End of the Road Festival 2012 review

Photographer:Burak Cingi

Virtual Festivals - 04 September 2012

It’s a curious move to tout the same festival headliner two years in a row, but when said headliner is Midlake and the festival is the delightfully Americana flavoured End of the Road Festival it kind of makes sense.

For the past couple of years, End of the Road has opened up on the Thursday evening, with some ‘secret slots’ in the Tipi tent - with a fair chunk of the audience heading to the splendid Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset to catch some Brucie bonuses.

Tonight it’s the turn of King Charles (7/10), who impressed with his extravagant show at Hop Farm festival back in July. Here he repeats his effort, with his rousing Vampire Weekend-esque slow burners. Buzzing off his right hand lady, Charles Costa struts around the stage with an air of Prince about him. A born performer and excellent mood setter for the main draw of the night - The Futureheads

Having toured with their a capella set earlier this year, including a slot at 2000 Trees festival, The Futureheads (9/10) have been perfecting their vocals and versions of a range of songs, including classical folk songs (‘The Keeper’) and modern covers (‘Hounds of Love’) as well as their own well known numbers (‘Decent Days and Nights’) and it is these with which they nail their late-night, opening slot at End of the Road.

Teaming up with indie label Bella Union sees a Friday line-up full of beautiful folk-infused indie in celebration of their 15th anniversary. Fresh from a tour with Feist, including a headline slot at the Green Man festival a couple of weeks back, Mountain Man (8/10) take to the idyllic Garden Stage for an almost perfect (technical hitches aside) set of three-way vocal harmonies. At times, Amelia Randall Meath reaches for the guitar but it’s not really necessary, as their personalities (including talk of bowel problems in Turkey, ahem) and vocals carry the show and prove the perfect way to start a sunny day. 

After an epic gig at End of the Road 2009, ATP Festival favourites Dirty Three (8/10) return to show everyone just how amazing instrumental music can be. Looking uncannily like the silent dude in the hole from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Aussie frontman (and Nick Cave’s right hand man) Warren Ellis works his way through goodness only knows how many violin bows with his signature side kicks and frantic thrusting, like Yann Tiersen on acid, he compliments the set of atmospheric excellence with bizarre tales of weird dreams and escapades.

Another duplicate from last year’s bill, John Grant (9/10) returns to the Garden Stage for an early evening set. Many people were left disappointed last year when label-mates and friends Midlake and John Grant were on different stages and overlapped, lessons were obviously learned and this year it’s all good. Grant has never looked more comfortable in his own skin, joking with the crowd about meeting men in woods and belting out heart-wrenching ballads about love, loss and hope - including the tear-jerker ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ and the more angsty ‘Queen Of Denmark’; and when you think things can’t get any better, he brings out Midlake to help him perform an track from his Czars days - ‘Paint The Moon’. 

This suitably whets the appetite for Midlake (9/10) and keeps the majority of the festival at the Garden Stage, rather than over on the newest addition - the Woods Stage - for Beach House. Our loyalty is rewarded with a fantastic set from Midlake, layered Americana belters, of a similar ilk to Fleet Foxes, sail around the picture-perfect setting leaving everyone in a dreamy haze. Songs such as ‘Roscoe’ and ‘Head Home’ sit comfortably in the middle of the set among the atmospheric blinders from their last album ‘The Courage of Others’. If anyone was in any doubt as to why Midlake were asked back to play End of the Road for the second year in a row, they need only sample a single song from this brilliant set.

Back to normal End of the Road business on Saturday with twee French troupe Francois & the Atlas Mountains (7/10). Twee, not in an irritating way, rather in a cutesy way. The group showcase their fully plugged in set with a good mix of English language and French songs, each invoking some wonderful dance moves - both on stage and in the crowd. Who knew a tiny French man could jump so high?! The Antlers (8/10) offer a girthy alternative to the folky vibes of this festival with an ethereal and astounding set of slow-building hypnotic belters, like a US Mogwai or a more contemplative Wild Beasts

Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard (9/10) play one of two sets of the day at the Garden Stage as the sun continues to shine (the second set being a ‘secret slot’ in the Tipi in the early hours). His undeniable wit lifts his work from nice catchy indie songs to mini masterpieces. With a high pitched tone, with sniffs of Violent Femmes, and an articulate and endearing manner a la Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) and some truly inspired lyrics. Saturday’s highlight comes in the shape of The Pictish Trail (10/10) in the Big Top. The lovable Scot (and one of the fantastic folk behind the Fence Collective), Johnny Lynch forges a beautiful union between a pure, folky voice and some highly charged synths to create some serious tunes, including ‘Of Course You Exist’ and ‘Words Fail Me Now’.

Sunday sees some major clashes with the opening slot - Savages vs Hurray For The Riff Raff vs Doug Paisley - while Savages put in a blinding set, for those nursing hangovers from the night before go slow with Doug Paisley’s (8/10) majestic set of solo singer/songwriter acoustic folk. His personality shines through and he undoubtedly picks up a bunch of new fans from this gig. Frank Fairfield (8/10) picks up the baton on the Woods Stage with some CW Stoneking style old timer tunes, centred around a fiddle and some husky vocals. While the crowd lounges about on the grass to this wonderful set, you can’t help wishing it was on the enclosed haven that is the Garden Stage. Completing the hatrick of excellent solo male singer/songwriter performances for Sunday is Richard Buckner (9/10). A smiley bear of a man with a cache of Townes Van Zandt style ballads, he nails his set and leaves us thirsty for more.

The adorable First Aid Kit (10/10) grace the Garden Stage like elfin princesses, in long flowing baby blue dresses, with angelic voices and charming, feminine headbanging/swaying sessions they play their crystal clear Swedish folk, exemplified in their ode to their influences ‘Emmylou’. The range of vocals displayed by these two young women is remarkable and leaves you in no doubt of the massive potential here. They also cover songs by The Knife and Paul Simon, but fail to include their exquisite cover of fellow EotR-er act Patti Smith’s ‘Dancing Barefoot’. Nevermind, we get that from the horse's mouth later on (excuse the pun).

Graham Coxon (8/10) looks suitably miserable as the rain pours down for his evening set on The Woods stage. Blasting through his highly charged songs from his most recent album, ‘A+E’, you just hope he doesn’t take offence at Patti Smith’s commendation of him with the misguided reference to him as ‘Blur but not Blur’. We all know he’s much more than that. But hell, Smith can do as she pleases; as one of the most inspirational women in music and a seasoned performer. One of the biggest End of the Road headliners to-date, New York punk pioneer Patti Smith (10/10) blows everything else out of the water. Effortlessly cool and grinning like a cheshire cat, Smith launches into ‘Dancing Barefoot’ and treats us to a greatest hits set, with ‘Because The Night’ (where she surpasses Bruce Springsteen’s version), ending on a mass singalong to ‘Gloria’. An impassioned performance by a true legend and one which the audience all felt privileged to witness. More like this please End of the Road.

Despite this epic show, Smith isn’t the final headliner - that responsibility falls to Grandaddy (8/10). After a hiatus of several years, the unmistakable analog synth sounds and soft, catchy vocals of Jason Lytle and co. are back with those early Noughties songs indie lovers across the country fell for, ‘The Crystal Lake’ and ‘AM 180’ - and it’s like they never went - a perfectly executed set and great end to one of the greatest festivals in the UK.

-- by Laura Williams


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