Most if not everyone attending this year’s edition of End Of The Road festival at Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset will have kept a watchful eye over the weather forecast in the week or so leading up the festival. We watched in horror as the meteorologists predicted thunderstorms throughout the weekend and felt a gradual relief as fortunes seemed to shift as the clock counted down, with the sun starting to appear in the forecasts for Saturday and Sunday.
In the end, it turned out to be a harbinger of a gloriously hot late summer heatwave – which was more than welcome, except to those nursing compounded hangovers as the weekend progressed.
No weather app has a symbol to accurately describe the mist-like rain that engulfed the site on the Thursday, just as everyone was arriving. Setting up tents having lugged your stuff for a mile is never too fun – but especially not in this weather. Fortunately, for those like myself arriving around 5 o’clock, before too long we had the sounds of The Last Dinner Party ringing out from the Woods stage and across the campsite to soundtrack our work. It was a disappointment not to have been organised enough to make it in time to make it to witness the London hype band in full glory, but even from a distance it sounded like a gallivanting and gleeful way to open up proceedings on the main stage.
With the perception-altering precipitation still in the air, many headed to the Folly as it was the only covered stage with live music on the Thursday night. South London up-and-comer Louis Culture benefitted from the unexpected influx and made the most of it, his swaggering presence and verbose bars playing well with the audience. His polo shirt collar sticking out of his jumper may have given him the appearance of a schoolboy, but the maturity in his raps was undeniable (perhaps too mature for some of the kids in the audience, as he himself noted).
Those who ventured back out into the mist back to the Woods stage were treated with a noodling, nerdy set from California legends Deerhoof. The weather genuinely seemed like a cloud taking a rolly polly over the festival and leaving everything damp, and it can’t have been easy for the foursome to maintain their technical precision and tightness, but they’ve been doing this for nigh on 30 years and have been through it all like a breeze. While some may have been unenthused by the focus on riffs rather than hooks, Deerhoof’s incredible precision was a heck of a welcome to the festival for most.
The inclement weather had receded somewhat by the time the Thursday night headliners took the stage and Wilco’s performance was more than warm enough to usher the chill out of everyone’s bones. The Chicago legends have a new album out later this month and released one last year, but on this occasion they were mainly interested in crowd pleasing. While they played a handful of tracks from 2022’s Cruel Country, there were plenty of classics. This included an early double header of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot favourites “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” and “Kamera”, delivered and received with such conversational ease that everyone seemed to relax, knowing they were in good hands. They tugged the unsuspecting crowd with them towards a blistering finale of “Shot in the Arm” and “Spiders (Kidsmoke)”, sending the crowd off to the silent disco – or bed – with a vigorous energy.
Any sore heads on the Friday morning (or early afternoon) might have found themselves rudely awakened from their slumbering in the shade at the Garden Stage when Baltimore’s Horse Lords arrived with purpose. The quartet played a fine selection of their most centrifugal rockers, their combined force and jazz inflections unspooling like wild spinning tops around the audience’s minds – enthralling most, but perhaps aggravating those not in the state for high octane instrumentals.
Those more delicately disposed people will have found a more welcoming prospect in Katy Kirby’s performance in the Folly. The Nashville songwriter, joined by bassist and drummer (shared with Fenne Lily’s band), presented a smattering of highlights from her underappreciated debut album Cool Dry Place as well as a couple from her upcoming album. Her talkative and heartwarming indie missives seemed to float naturally on the air currents of the balmy tent, her light voice a stream of cool air. Kirby even delighted with a cover of The Mountain Goats’ “No Children”, paying tribute to an EOTR fave and starting a trend for great covers that lasted through the weekend.
From there it was a trek to the other end of the site (which isn’t really very far) to the Boat stage, picturesquely nestled in EOTR’s beloved Effing Forest. Performing there was Macie Stewart, the arranger and collaborator extraordinaire who made the space into her own bubble of beautiful music, ensconcing an attentive crowd as she and her sax-playing partner slipped and glided through the gorgeous cuts from her debut solo album Mouth Full of Glass. While she may not have performed her cover of Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights”, she went even better with a genuinely spellbinding and pitch-perfect performance of Kate Bush’s “Moving”, the forest a perfect setting that made us feel like we were in the “Wuthering Heights” video.
Back over on the Garden Stage it was up to Cass McCombs to ably transition the festival from day to night, his mellow songs and his band’s rich playing the perfect accompaniment the light’s gradual descending. Fan favourites like “Bum, Bum, Bum” and “County Line” were casually rolled out into the evening air, sparking several soundless singalongs. While my wish that he would invite Angel Olsen out to duet on “Opposite House” didn’t come to pass, we did get another sighting of Macie Stewart. Barely an hour after her own set had finished she was playing violin alongside McCombs, and the two duelling their instruments in the extended instrumental finale was one of the highlights of the set.
As many ventured to the Woods Stage to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra amaze, many stayed put on the Garden Stage to witness Angel Olsen in all her glory. She looked resplendent in a frilly white dress fronting her powerhouse band, whose playing only heightened her deific presence on the stage. Drawing heavily from her recent albums, she slow-cooked the crowd with a smattering of gradually combusting performances.
Olsen staved off her chilliness with full-blooded singing, the lack of an orchestra on the All Mirrors cuts was barely noticeable due to her rich and malleable voice. The stateliness of these songs was offset by the rollicking inclusion of “Shut Up, Kiss Me”, which went off like a firework show, the entire audience singing without abandon to the song’s wordless finale. She saved the best until last though, finishing off with an overpowering cover of “Without You”, full of the rock dynamics of Harry Nilsson’s original but with the vocal drama of Mariah Carey’s indelible cover.
EOTR’s after dark offerings have grown and evolved enormously over the years, and this was exemplified on Friday night when attendees were spoiled with a choice between Panda Bear & Sonic Boom or Yunè Pinku (or one of the other numerous places to dance). Those of us who went to see the rising Malaysian-Irish producer were not disappointed, as Pinku displayed a stage presence beyond her experience. Supported by pristine productions and an impactful light show, the entire crowd was in thrall to her particular brand of pop techno.
Those with the bug to keep dancing may then have been sucked into the Big Top where Marie Davidson was DJing. With only 90 minutes to play, she went hell-for-leather as if she was rounding out a marathon all-night set at a Berlin club with a selection of her favourite and heaviest cuts, threatening to rip a hole right through the tent.
Top notch programming was again on display on Saturday morning. Those who hadn’t risen early enough to join in the forest bathing, yoga class or morning singing will have been gently but firmly roused by the midday set on the Garden by cellist Mabe Fratti. Making her instrument growl, rumble and sing alongside her two bandmates, the Guatemalan gave the whole festival the slow, tender shake it needed. Equal parts beautiful, surprising and inspiring, Fratti’s performance was one of the most breathtaking of the weekend.
They Hate Change
On a completely different stratosphere were They Hate Change, the Tampa rap duo bringing boundless energy to the Big Top where they didn’t stop hopping for the whole set. The chemistry between the two was undeniable and irresistible, even if they did dress like they’d just stepped off a golf course.
MF Tomlinson has been so enamoured with his visits to EOTR in the past that he wrote a paean to the festival for his recent album We Are Still Wild Horses, and that sheer joy was beaming across his face as he led his octet of MFs on this occasion. It also helped that they sounded incredible, the Folly’s PA purring as the songwriter and his band glided their way through the set, with non-topical “Wintertime Blues” gripping the audience in its interwoven melodies. Of course the aforementioned “End Of The Road” was played and the crowd sung along to it as heartily as they chanted Tomlinson’s wife’s name when he revealed it was their wedding anniversary. The highlight of the set, however, was the full unabridged 20-minute rendition of “We Are Still Wild Horses”, a psychedelic odyssey where every member of the band got to display their pure talent – all pulled together into a colossal whole.
Another octet then took over the Garden in the form of Caroline, who had played the Folly two years earlier and seemed genuinely heartened to see empirical evidence of their rise with a good turn out for their late afternoon set on the festival’s favourite stage. They did not disappoint, their reputation as the quietest eight-piece around being proven as they patiently and exactingly worked their way through the pregnant expanses of their songs. And when they do get loud, especially in their harmonies, it is quite something to behold. This was particularly true of their cover of Low’s “Nothing But Heart”, a call back to when the Minnesota band themselves played that song on this very stage in 2019 and a tribute to the dearly departed Mimi Parker.
Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul
While many flocked to the Woods Stage to see the surprise performance from Wet Leg, those in the know decamped to the Big Top to prepare for the coming of Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul. The duo’s 2022 album Topical Dancer has been a slow-burn smash hit among music fans of all kinds and that was in evidence as the massive tent gradually packed out for their set – something that the performers seemed genuinely overawed by. They certainly gave the performance of their lives too, Pupul’s iridescent synth loops and Adigéry’s spright-like stage presence combining at full volume to set off the biggest impromptu rave of the weekend – led by the pair’s own characterful moves. Cut after cut, both from Tropical Dancer and from Adigéry’s earlier EP, were greeted rapturously and every time we were reminded how punchy their interwoven melodies, hooks and beats are, without fail.
Fully exhausted from non-stop bopping with Adigéry and Pupul, we needed something to calm us down – and that was perfectly provided by Arooj Aftab’s performance on the Garden Stage. It seems an injustice to only name Aftab here, as the show was just as – if not more – about her two instrumentalists Petros Klampanis and Maeve Gilchrist on upright bass and harp respectively. Their hands scampered so nimbly around their instruments it would have been mesmerising simply watching – but listening was pure bliss, even for Aftab, who spent portions standing back and admiring with a glass of wine. With Aftab’s serene, surreal voice coasting over the top, the trio created whole oceans of sound that belied the minimalist combination. The songs drifted across the arena like sweet and rich scented perfume billowing in clouds of unknowable colours, elevating everyone to a new sensation.
We could easily have all drifted off into a dreamland after that, but the majority were reinvigorated – just in time for Overmono to arrive for the late night set. The crowd was rampantly ready for the techno brothers’ onslaught, with the Big Top full to bursting, leaving many people watching and listening on from outside. They would have had just as fun a time, as Overmono’s productions pounded through the crowd and out into the open air, their rework of The Streets a particular highlight that sent those older members of the crowd into youthful reverie.
The sun was out in full force for the final day – though that might not have been such a boon to those struggling through bleary eyes. Fortunately they had Divorce’s appearance on the Woods Stage to perk them up, the Nottingham band’s charming rockers shining just as brightly as the sun. Their American indie influence was on full display as they loped through buoyant cuts that we presume (hope?) will soon feature on a debut album. As evidenced by the excitement for the closing “Checking Out”, there is a lot of anticipation for whatever this promising young group gets up to in the near future.
A soothing Kentucky lilt was exactly what the doctor ordered for a burning Sunday mid-afternoon and Joan Shelley was there to provide it. Having been on the lineup for the cancelled 2020 EOTR and then not being able to return in the intervening years due to having a child with partner and bandmate Nathan Salsburg, she finally made her bow on the Garden Stage and it was worth the wait. Serenading us with cuts from her recent records and displaying seamless chemistry with Salsburg, the set was a cooling reprieve in the midst of a draining day.
A similar alchemy then took place in the middle of the afternoon on the shady and secluded Talking Heads stage, where those in the know descended to catch a glimpse of rising star Kara Jackson. She was alone on the timber stage but perched on a wicker chair and dishing dirt, it could easily have been a front porch with friends. She never needs any accompaniment as she has wit and presence in spades – plus her deep and rich voice transmits in the live setting even better than on record. Commencing with a cover of Karen Dalton’s “He Stays” that settled everyone into position on their hay bales and benches, Jackson casually unfolded tale after tale of unfortunate affairs that had everyone hanging on every word.
Energy practically exhausted at this point, the only option was to return to the Woods Stage and set up camp for the festival’s crescendo. Fatoumata Diawara and her band provided early evening excitement, the Malian shredding on her guitar while her band projected their force out into the amassing audience. Diawara gave a lesson in Afrobeat – literally, as she spoke glowingly of Fela Kuti – and musically, with a succession of songs that are rooted in her African origins but encompass a global range of influence.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard
As darkness descended, the weekend’s final headliners King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard took to the stage to send neon radiance firing up towards the stars. Backed by an enormous screen of shapeshifting imagery and a wild light show, the Australians’ rugged, non-stop psych rock demanded every last endorphin from those in the audience. Together we surfed the King Gizzard’s undulating riffs, ascended on their waves of feedback and laughed along to their purely charming Australianness. At points, it felt like they were starting up a secret engine inside the stage and were getting set to blast off the whole thing into the stratosphere.
Even without that spectacle, the troupe provided the perfect send-off to another exceptional edition of EOTR.