Welcome to our longest ever post, and a whole bucketful of great songs. Last weekend, Barry-Sean came with me to the End of the Road Festival and outside of the musical orgy that is SxSW, we agreed it is the best festival we’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. In fact he’s been writing about it ever since. Here’s what he has to say….
Having arrived early on Friday afternoon (yes, we missed secret guests Mark Lanegan & Isobel Campbell on Thursday night due to a prior 5-a-side football engagement), and after popping up tents we headed off to the Big Top for a gentle introduction of sunny, African-tinged, psych pop from the Ruby Suns before one of Mr M’s current favourites, Elliott Brood took the stage. What a great start to the weekend. With their casual, friendly banter and energetic riffs and vocals, the band drew a sizeable crowd and got them jumping. Hi-energy hoedown to get everyone in the festival mood.
Download Elliott Brood – Wolfgang mp3 (from Ambassador)
Being on the wrong side of forty, as Mr M headed off elsewhere, I decided to calm down a bit by staying at the Big Top for Woodpigeon, a group I heard for the first time recently (note to Mrs M here – be a bit more forthcoming with your musical discoveries please … Mr M tells me you’ve been a bit of a Woodpigeon fan for ages). Soothing melodies, tight musical arrangement and lyrics that cover a range of topics from love and reaching manhood to tales of the gods of nature in old Canada. This is contemporary folk and utterly excellent it is too. Lady Gaga fans probably won’t like it but we do … each to their own and we love Woodpigeon … so much so that I went back for second helpings when they stood in for Timber Timbre at the Garden Stage the following afternoon.
Download Woodpigeon – Empty-Hall-Sing-Along mp3 (from Die Stadt Muzikanten)
While this was going on MM was enjoying a thoroughly pleasant main stage set by Freelance Whales before heading over to catch the sultry, southern tones of singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield – already a fave of his, it was a performance that held the audience both captivated and spellbound. Meanwhile, I made a dash to the beautiful Garden Stage to see the truly wonderful Mountain Goats. These chaps aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but, like other favourites of mine The Hold Steady, they have a big enough following not to worry about that too much. Being slightly late, I couldn’t get anywhere near the front, but that didn’t take away from my enjoyment. If you’ve not heard anything by them, start yourself off with these gems.
Download The Mountain Goats – Dance Music mp3 (from The Sunset Tree)
Download The Mountain Goats – Genesis 3:23 mp3 (from The Life Of The World To Come)
Download Jessica Lea Mayfield – Kiss Me Again mp3 (from With Blasphemy So Heartfelt)
Time then for a change of pace with Wolf Parade. And despite a poor sound (the one time it happened in 3 days), the rabid crowd and full-on 100% rock ‘n’ roll performance ensured everyone was happy, and with This Heart’s On Fire, we had an early contender for song of the weekend.
Download Wolf Parade – Ghost Pressure mp3 (from Expo ’86)
And then we had Modest Mouse. As you’d expect, a very large crowd had gathered at the Garden Stage for biggest name of the day and they did not disappoint them one little bit. The die-hard fans rocked and jumped while admirers like Mr M and I swayed a bit and bobbed our heads in appreciation … except perhaps to the sublime Float On, where I may have shuffled my feet and sung along a bit. A great show with which to round off events on the main stage.
But the music wasn’t over. We still had time to take in The New Pornographers who closed proceedings in the Big Top with a surprisingly frenetic and high energy set that left the crowd breathless and us ready for our tents.
We’ll skip the rainstorm of Friday night/Saturday morning that caused my feet to get a good soaking while I slept. I might write a Leonard Cohen style song about it one day called ‘Wet feet at the End of the Road’ … sounds more like Half Man Half Biscuit when you look at it written down.
Anyway, I digress from the start of possibly one the most beautiful days of my music-loving life. Saturday in this part of North Dorset dawned with grey skies and a grim, relentless drizzle but gave way to sunshine, cider and truly fantastic music.
Over to the Garden Stage again for Forest Fire. I’d not really paid much attention to this US four-piece before but I certainly will be from now on. Full of character and attitude, these guys are indie-rock through and through. The lead guitarist threatened to steal the visual show with a combination of double denim, eye make-up, lipstick and cool cravate and armband. Try and imagine a meeting of Bruce Springsteen, Freddie Mercury (mid-70’s) and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and you’ll be somewhere close to the look … shouldn’t have worked but did.
Anyway, the guy can play, but rather than steal the show, complimented the others in the group perfectly. The geeky looking but slightly menacing lead singer, cool chick on bass and excellent drummer. I loved Fortune Teller with the brilliant lyric ‘gattling gun social skills’ but the real crowd pleaser came at the very end of the set as Forest Fire entered into a krautrock crowd-pleaser that became one of the many highlights of my festival. If anyone out there was at this gig and knows the name of that last song, please let me know. I want it!
Download Forest Fire – Fortune Teller mp3 (from Survival)
And then came Phosphorescent. The brilliant ‘Phossie’, loved by all at The Mad Mackerel, came to our attention when Mr M and younger brother Christypopper saw them at SxSW 2009. They have been in our hearts and playlists ever since. For this one, Mr M and I used our considerable frames to get to the very front row of the crowd and we spent the hour pretty much mesmerised by the haunting and haunted vocals of Matthew Houck backed up by a flawless performance by the band. This was a clever, crowd-pleasing set with a couple of songs from the sublime To Willie album, a stunning version of Wolves from the Pride album, and a few new ones from Here’s to Taking it Easy thrown in. Oh, and just for good measure, the lads were joined by their mates from Deer Tick who provided backing vocals on Los Angeles. The sun had come out and it felt like this day couldn’t get any better. How wrong can one person be?
Download Phosphorescent – Wolves mp3 (from Pride)
Download Phosphorescent – Reasons To Quit mp3 (from To Willie)
We didn’t bother moving from our front row spot at the Garden Stage. Why would we? Deer Tick were coming on and we love Deer Tick. They didn’t disappoint. A great set that varied from well paced jig-a-longs through to a truly beautiful rendition of Ashamed meant they had the crowd captivated and happy.
Download Deer Tick – Twenty Miles mp3 (from The Black Dirt Sessions)
So a break from the music for a few minutes while Mr M and I went to the Phosphorescent and Deer Tick signing sessions. And here happened the high point of my festival.
MM is queuing for his Deer Tick CD and Phossie are still hanging around, drinking their beer and smoking fags. Which is exactly what I was doing. Then drummer Chris Marine catches our eye and engages us in conversation. He gave a very candid view on playing at Bestival and a glowing character reference on David Gray (who Phossie have recently been supporting). He has never been a favourite of ours but if he’s okay with Phosphorescent, maybe we should try a bit harder to understand him (or lets not, MM). After failing miserably at a really cool handshake (sorry Chris, I was never as cool as you) we had a quick chat and photo shoot with lead-singer, Matthew Houck, in which we even discussed at which angle our cigarettes should be hanging from our lips. How cool are Phosphorescent?
Okay, a little self-indulgence on my part there…so back to the music.
And on to my eye-opener. MM has long been an admirer of Brakes. I have not … until I heard them at End of the Road. Their music doesn’t fit with the general laid back feeling of most other musicians at the festival but man it was good. It was better than good. I stood there mesmerised and energised by a group I didn’t even think I liked. It wasn’t quite an epiphany moment for me but it wasn’t far off. Playing live like the Ramones on speed, and featuring a four second long song as the set closer, I shall be listening to more of Brakes from now on.
Download Brakes – All Night Disco Party mp3 (from Give Blood)
However, I had to cut out on them to run across to the Local stage to see Caitlin Rose. I had heard rave reviews about her and wanted to hear the US songstress for myself. She had packed out the venue and I was forced to stand very near the back … it was worth it. If angels exist, they probably sing like Caitlin Rose. I saw four songs and found myself desperate to get hold of her album Own Side Now. One to keep a close eye on for the future.
And back over to the Big Top for a bit of Saturday night heavy rock with Black Mountain. Now I’ve never been into heavy rock and probably never will be. But I do like Old Fangs and thought I’d try and broaden my horizons with a bit of ear-splitting guitar and drums. I enjoyed it, Mr M loved it and judging by the reaction of the very large crowd who had gathered to see them Black Mountain were very much on form. Great stuff … as long as you like heavy rock.
Download Black Mountain – Old Fangs mp3 (from Wilderness Heart)
You’d think by this point Mr M and I would have been through with music, wouldn’t you? Oh no, not us. Grabbing another pint of cider from the Somerset Cider van, we scooted along to the Jarvis Cocker vs Richard Hawley DJ set for a bit of almost-dad-dancing.
Sunday. Our last day at The End of the Road. Where did the weekend go?
First to catch the ears as the sun shone down, were the gorgeous harmonies and traditional folk sound of The Smoke Fairies, who still managed to evoke a vague Wicker Man feeling to the proceedings.
Mr M had told me very good things about Kath Bloom and Woodpigeon had indicated that Ms Bloom had tried leading him astray, so I thought I’d give the veteran alt country singster a go. At the cosy Big Top stage, she charmed us all with lilting vocals, intimate chats and a great all-round performance. I’ve not followed Kath Bloom over the two or three decades she’s been performing but if this was anything to go by, she still got ‘it’.
Download Kath Bloom – Heart So Sadly mp3 (from Thin Thin Line)
Meanwhile MM was taking in the slightly experimental folktronica of Lanterns On The Lake and then finding himself completely absorbed by the raw, plaintive folk of Joe Pug. Reminiscent of Dylan, the lyrical wordplay of Hymn 35 and the brilliant, brooding despair of Not So Sure were two more standout tracks to add to the weekend’s collection.
Download Joe Pug – Not So Sure mp3 (from Messenger)
Onto the early evening and the Hawaiian inspired indie groove of Django Django brought the Big Top crowd up into one big head nodding, swaying mass. Like a less threatening Archie Bronson Outfit, the threesome melded krautrock rhythms with dance-friendly synths and big, big choruses to put (even bigger) smiles on the faces of the watching audience.
Download Django Django – Love’s Dart mp3 (from Storm / Love’s Dart 7″)
Then it was on to see the enigmatic, super-energetic, super-talented Felice Brothers. My (and MM’s) favourite performance of the entire festival. Before End of the Road, I was only really familiar with the beautiful ballad, Cooperstown, and I went to this performance expecting more of the same. What we got was the ultimate masterclass in ramshackle crowd pleasing..like the Waterboys on speed, or perhaps The Pogues on Red Bull and vodka?
For a bunch of brothers (which four of the guys really are) they’re pretty different. The lead singer, Ian, had the attitude (and even a slight look) of a young Roy Keane. Violinist, Farley, looked like an all-American college kid who could have easily played at the wildest hoe-down. Then, there’s the multi-talented, multi-instrumental James who got the large crowd singing along, stamping along and generally having a great old American time. In between, they introduced humour, irony and even a little self-effacement. What a great start to the evening.
Download The Felice Brothers – Run Chicken Run mp3 (from Yonder Is The Clock)
So, with the crowd literally jumping around and howling for more of the same, the Felice Brothers left us and as darkness descended across this little part of North Dorset, on came The Low Anthem. Energy levels dipped and as a hush descended across Larmer Gardens we waited like children eager for their bedtime story.
I’ve never seen The Low Anthem live and wasn’t prepared for the spellbinding performance. As each beautifully sung, tightly played song drifted across the gardens, the crowd were silent. Mr M reckons he couldn’t hear the pin he dropped … the rest of us were too transfixed too even notice he’d dropped it. If you like our sort of music, you’ll probably know To Ohio and Charlie Darwin but if you haven’t already heard it please listen to This God Damn House. It is a song of beautiful genius and could quite easily melt the coldest of hearts.
So was this a quiet set? Was it the musical equivalent of a mug of Horlicks? Don’t you believe it. The end of each song was met with rapturous appreciation and lead singer, Ben Knox Miller soaked up the adoration with unbridled happiness before finishing with a cover of the blues classic, Sally Where’d You Get Your Liquor From? Go and see The Low Anthem and if you can’t get to see them, buy Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, sit back with a cup of coffee and a cigarette and enjoy …
Download The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin mp3 (from O My God, Charlie Darwin)
Download The Low Anthem – This God Damn House mp3 (from What The Crow Brings)
It is now 9.30 on Sunday evening and the Garden Stage, which has been full to capacity for most of the day, is now fit to bursting with expectant ‘End of the Roaders’ awaiting the mighty Wilco. Guitars – lots and lots and lots of guitars – would send us on our way back up the road to Oxfordshire. And to songs like I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and Bull Black Nova we were slowly walking back to the car and heading home.
Download Wilco – Bull Black Nova mp3 (from Wilco (The Album))
A great festival, a superb weekend of music, laughs and the odd pint or six thrown in for good measure. Mr M and I will definitely be heading back to the End of the Road festival next year.
So should you.