Live Review: End Of The Road 2019
Mitski photo by Sharon Lopez
End Of The Road festival in Dorset falls in the last weekend of the summer holidays, which is probably what gave rise to its name, as it is time to get out the last frivolities of the season before it’s back to the grind and dimness of oncoming autumn and winter. It’s also a time and a feeling that suits the mood and sounds of the festival, it being mostly rock and folk oriented and set in leafy surroundings, which combine to make a hazy and relaxing experience. Although, as ever, there were some acts on the bill that bucked the trend and ensured that there was some energy and youthful zip in the air too.
For those who could make the trip down on the Thursday night, we were treated to a headline performance from long-running legends Spiritualized. J Spaceman brought the whole crew with him; his half-dozen band mates and three powerful backing singers still managing to create a spectacle after decades as a renowned live act. Although largely pulling from last year’s And Nothing Hurt, the showmen know enough to acquiesce to a festival’s demand for hits, dropping a soaring sing-along version of ‘Soul On Fire’ early into the set, before veering off into a full-on space gospel communion for their remaining hour.
On Friday, the festival proper could not have had a more appropriate band opening up their legendary Garden Stage than Ohtis, who perfectly captured the spirit of potential in their warm country songs, full of love and forgiveness. It was no surprise to see several people picking up their record afterwards, as they had connected so perfectly with the festival they had "been waiting 3 years" to play.
There was a less wholesome start for those who had decided to kick off their Friday afternoon by exploring the festival's legendary woods, as they might have come across SASAMI doing a stripped-down set on the piano stage. She cut through the peaceful early afternoon with comments about incontinence and unbridled scream-singing, which visibly divided the crowd. By the time it came to her full band set on the Big Top a couple of hours later, her outlandish attitude had only increased, but found a more natural outlet in the roaring rock that the live trio produced.
Those who stuck around on the Garden Stage got to see an irresistible performance from Stella Donnelly, who was luminous as she sang, played and danced her way through hits from this year’s debut album. Her antipodean contemporaries The Beths drew a surprisingly big crowd over to The Woods stage shortly after, who delighted in the Kiwis’ vibrant pop punk and dry humour. They also showcased a bunch of new tracks, which fizzed through the mid-afternoon air with enough potential for me to proclaim that they will be far from a one-album-wonder.
On paper Let’s Eat Grandma seemed like a slightly odd fit for this year’s bill, but the crowd that showed up for their mid-afternoon set certainly belied that. The duo responded by putting on the most effervescent performance of the weekend, their consistent touring since the release of last year’s I’m All Ears having clearly honed them into excellent performers. With no shortage of confidence, Rosa and Jenny owned the stage, running and collapsing along with their explosive future pop, which pushed the Garden Stage’s soundstage to its limits in the most boisterous fashion.
Cass McCombs proved the perfect tonic to Let’s Eat Grandma’s neon energy shot as he followed on the Garden Stage. The legendary troubadour serenaded the picturesque crowd with tales from his latest record, as well as reaching back for old favourites like the loquacious ‘Bum Bum Bum’ and soothing ‘County Line’. Indeed, his set was perhaps the most perfect partnering with the bar’s selection of real ales all weekend, which many took the opportunity to enjoy in the early evening sun.
For those willing to skip over the much-hyped Yves Tumor, there was a gem of set being played in the Tipi, where the inimitable Mary Lattimore was on stage. Utterly mesmerising in her signature playing, she also proved disarmingly personable as she encouraged any and all in the audience to take up playing the harp; her statement of “it’s cool to play the harp” being undeniable after seeing her absolutely dominate the Tipi during her performance.
Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated performances of the weekend was Mitski, especially after she announced that she would be taking an indefinite break from September, this being her penultimate show. If the reason she’s taking downtime is fatigue, she certainly didn’t show any during her performance in the coveted sundown slot in the Garden. She oozed power and sexuality as she performed her professorial aerobic movement routine along while singing hits drawn from her whole back catalogue. Simultaneously intimidating and magnetic, Mitski’s performance showed her intelligence and understanding of pop performance, and her tour in support of Be The Cowboy has cemented her as one of the most fascinating and rounded artists of our generation.
While Michael Kiwanuka made his first ever festival headline performance on the mainstage, this reviewer (along with many others) made the choice of seeing Parquet Courts. Having played EOTR numerous times before, the New Yorkers made clear their delight at being asked to return and headline the Garden Stage by kicking off their set with their signature triplet of opening tracks from debut album Light-Up Gold. This quickly had the huddled masses stirring and jostling like popcorn in a pan, which continued throughout the band's vigorous hour. The crowd was treated to only the second ever performance of ‘Death Will Bring Change’, for which they were joined by local teenage singing group the Honey Hahs, and several other straight-up burners from throughout their ever-extending catalogue, delivered with humour and an enlivening tightness.
The Friday night of the festival was blessed by two great electronic acts in the Big Top. This started with Kelly Lee Owens, who played the exact same stage two years ago when she was starting the tour for her self-titled debut album. This time she announced that this show would be the last in support of that album, and with everything coming full circle, she was just as demanding that the crowd dance as she was in 2017 – while she herself was a ball of pure kinetic energy on stage. For those with any life left in their limbs, Joy Orbison followed, but for this reviewer it was time for bed.
Saturday was kicked off in no uncertain fashion by Durham indie punks Martha on the Woods. With many of their die-hard fans clearly in attendance, the quartet pulled from all three of their albums, producing one of the tightest and most emphatic sets of the weekend. It was a great set up for a day that has started with a disappointing greyness and rain, which Martha latched onto in their defeatist songs and vocal encouragements to protest the Prime Minister (a theme that was consistent throughout the festival).
One person who seemed to enjoy a little rain was William Tyler, who took to the Garden Stage by himself to spirit out some utterly delicious instrumental folk epics. Having proclaimed it the best festival because it "smell[ed] of rain and vegan food,” by the set-ending ‘Highway Anxiety’ his resplendent performance seemed to have single-handedly fought off the clouds and allowed the sunshine in.
It was a perfect time for the weather to dry up, as any hopes of getting into the Big Top to see much-hyped Squid were scuppered by the long lines extending from all of the entrances. But a nice lie down outside in the sunshine, while listening to their racket was enough to be sure that the London band put on a typically electric show.
At the other end of the spectrum was the practically religious experience of Oliver Coates on the secluded Talking Heads stage. Evidently very precise in his practice, the cellist was seen walking back and forth around the stage and the audience for half an hour before his set, ensuring everything looked and sounded just right – which it undoubtedly did. The grazing sheep in the background and the overhanging trees added to the magical atmosphere brought down by Coates and his neo-classical pieces. Although the arrival of Black Midi on a nearby stage did somewhat trample over the end of one of his more delicate pieces, he got his own back by finishing with a surging and savage “death metal” song at the end.
Speaking of Black Midi, they continued to be one of the most divisive and opinion-bating bands in the country with their performance on Saturday afternoon. There was a clear division between those who were enraptured with their howling and whimpering lead singer Geordie Greep and those who were completely bemused. I think we were all in agreement that drummer Morgan Simpson continues to be a force of nature, and the heartbeat that makes the monster live.
Although a late addition to the lineup, Kate Tempest proved to be one of the performances that will live long in the memories of those watching. The fireball performer was in stunning form on Saturday evening, with hers being one of the most mentioned in the “best set” conversations post-weekend.
Meanwhile, on the Garden Stage, those with a more relaxed point of view delighted in the hour-long journey set out by Japanese psych band Kikagaku Moyo. With band and audience clearly feeding off each other’s sheer delight at being in such a perfect setting for a colourful and powerful set as this, it was a truly stunning moment that was a surprise highlight of the festival. It was one of those moments where the sound, atmosphere and audience mood all coalesce perfectly, and this could be seen in the band’s beaming faces as they played and thanked the crowd.
Any people, like this reviewer, who thought they could get across from the Garden to the Tipi to catch Black Country, New Road before the next set were given a reality check when faced with the long line extending from the tent. The word is clearly out about these hotly-tipped young things.
Retreating back to the Garden, veterans and literal living legends Low finished up the night in powerful fashion. Three simple screens shadowed each of the three members, only adding to their colossal stature on stage, which somehow seemed to make their quaking, towering songs all the more grandiloquent. Largely drawing from last year’s career-rebounding Double Negative, Low proved that you can have infinite stage presence merely by being impeccable performers. Steam rolling through the crowd with songs like ‘Nothing But Heart’ and the concluding ‘Disarray’, there was no doubt in my mind that they were the champions of End Of The Road – and a perfect end to the Saturday night.
In a similar move to the Saturday afternoon billing of Martha, Sunday on the Woods stage started with the frenetic Norwegians Pom Poko. Redolent of Deerhoof, the ecstatic band, led by buoyant singer Ragnhild, got many of the aching-limbed crowd up off their backsides and fidgeting along. For those not fancying something so energetic, Jessica Pratt proved to be the perfect counter-programming on the Garden Stage. Cherry-picking the best cuts from her last two albums, Pratt made her bewitching songs seem effortless in the brightness of the early afternoon.
The pure musical pleasantness of Jessica Pratt was continued over in the Tipi where Toronto legend Sandro Perri was playing. Slowly unspooling his patient guitar work-outs, he provided the perfect soundtrack for the subdued audience (which featured the most amount of active readers I’ve ever seen). He and his band wormed their way warmly into the audience’s good graces with his extended cuts, including the near 20-minute ‘In Another Life’, which was truly transportive.
Looking at the lineup for the Woods Stage on the Sunday and seeing Cate Le Bon and Deerhunter back to back, I fully expected to see one guesting with the other or vice versa – after all, Le Bon did produce this year’s Deerhunter album Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?. Sadly they did not materialise on stage together, only blowing compliments to each other when it was their turn at the microphone – but they didn’t need any extra spectacle.
Le Bon and her band banged through all the greats from this year’s excellent Reward, with an extended lineup ensuring that the songs packed their full punch. From the horn-indebted likes of ‘Miami’ through weirdness like ‘Mother’s Mother’s Magazines’ and the unlikely anthem ‘Home To You’, the Welsh singer showed why she’s moving closer and closer to being declared a national treasure.
Deerhunter may not have been the official headliners of the night, but they used their 75 minutes to show everyone why they could easily have done so. The first half of their set relied largely on songs from their latest record, the more poppy and straightforward rock songs easily working their way into the audience’s bones, while the second half focused on Halcyon Digest. With Albums of the Decade lists just around the corner, it’s almost as though the band wanted to remind people that the 2010 album is eligible for consideration, as they played six songs from the record and knocked all of them out of the park. Long time live favourites ‘Helicopter’ and ‘Desire Lines’ were as gargantuan as ever, the former being a lesson in tension and release, while the latter still remains the most anthemic song in their discography. Less expected were the doldrums of slow burner ‘Sailing’, a perhaps-questionable choice for a festival, but the sax-infused party song ‘Coronado’ undoubtedly suited the setting. The Atlanta band’s set culminated in ‘He Would Have Laughed’, the closing track of Halcyon Digest, now expanded and amplified to include an eardrum-shattering noise crescendo in the middle. If that’s not the boldness of should-be headliners then I don’t know what is.
Following Deerhunter on the main stage were actual headliners Metronomy, while Jarvis Cocker provided the alternative option on the Garden. But, for this reviewer it was time to bid adieu to Larmer Tree Gardens for another year, the ringing in my ears sounding sweet to me all the way home.
This article was originall published on The 405 - 6th September 2019