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End of the Road 2011: Day 1 Roundup

By on Wednesday, 14th September 2011 at 2:00 pm

Whether deliberate or not, every day at a festival seems to take on a theme of its own, and somehow this phenomenon seemed more pronounced at End of the Road Festival this year at Larmer Tree Gardens on the border between North Dorset and Wiltshire. Friday was ladies’ day, no doubt about it, with some old codgers thrown in for good measure; not a young man in sight. Against all September odds, Friday morning brought blazing sunshine: the only appropriate response was a trip to the Garden Stage. With its gently sloping natural auditorium, vegetation-tasselled stage, meandering peacocks, and an original 19th century Romantic ‘acoustic stage’ adjacent to the modern replacement, it’s strong contender for the most beautiful stage on the festival circuit.

There could be no act more appropriate for a sit down on some warm grass than the Secret Sisters, equipped as they are with so much Georgian bonhomie that you can almost taste the apple pie. Their love for all things Hank, expressed in old-time country harmonies and slow-burning ballads, sets the tone for the next few hours: laid-back, sultry Americana, and a few new, original pieces which hint at plenty of burgeoning songwriting ability. Caitlin Rose continues the Americana theme with her songwriterly country songs, a bit like a Nashville KT Tunstall. Equipped with a smooth, precise backing band, as the set develops Rose’s diva-ish tendencies become more apparent, digging deep into emotional strands and at moments coming across as a guitar-wielding Dolly replacement.

The girls continue showing how its done with dreamy Californian beach-beaters Best Coast a perfect complement to the cloud-free sky. Somewhat more grunged-up than on record, the essence of their sound remains the dreamy vocals of of Bethany Cosentino; if they don’t deliberately set out to sound as if they’re trapped in a ’50s Venice beachfront diner jukebox, then it’s an amazing coincidence. A quick jaunt back to the wonderful Garden Stage for arguably the highlight of the day, tUnE-yArDs. Essentially the solo project of Connecticutian Merrill Garbus, the set revolves around the live recording and layering of looped samples. But this is as far away from the usual singer-songwriter rhythm guitar/solo guitar loop pedal usage as it’s possible to be. Equipped with nothing more than a floor tom, electrified ukelele and extraordinary voice, the songs start with such random yelps and thumps that the listener’s ear can barely credit that anything resembling conventional music will coalesce. But slowly, like the emergence of a baby platypus from its egg, melodies and rhythms that are not only recognisable, but utterly beautiful and compelling, emerge. A masterclass of microtones and almost infinitely small beat fragments, which perhaps explains the strong African flavour of tracks like ‘Bizness’, there’s plenty to keep both the brain and the feet active throughout the set. Garbus is a quite unique voice in modern music, and hopefully she has a long and fruitful career ahead of her.

Some light relief comes in the form of Joan as Police Woman. Somewhat more conventional in terms of arrangement and song structure, with sumptuous organ tone and soulful material, this is a gentle bump to earth after the craziness that has gone before. Possibly too gentle – this would work as a chill-out set but lacks a certain punch to keep the early-evening momentum going. The pause is shortlived, however; Lykke Li (pictured at top) takes the main stage just as a peachy sunset stretches itself over the Dorset sky. Flouncing around the stage clad in a floor-length black leather dressing gown, the Swedish gothic pixie literally turns day into night. With an epic, drum-led sound, and couplets like “I’m your prostitute / you’re gonna get some”, there’s little time to breathe between one climactic coda and the next. By the time ‘Rich Kids Blues’ turns the stage blood-red, the band are pounding drums with all their might, the air thick with drama. The hours of darkness have rarely been more appropriately introduced.

After such a broad spectrum of female excellence, it would be quite reasonable to wonder what else could there possibly be to add? The answer – the grungy, soulful, sexy She Keeps Bees. At times reminiscent of a slower, female-fronted Nirvana; at others the obvious leftfield-rock-chick comparisons are overwhelming. The music is simple, the focus on singer and guitarist Jessica Larrabee, with a brace of guys for guitar and drum embellishment. The owner of a soul voice of enviable depth, the contrast with the pounding drums and lowest-of-lo-fi guitar is captivating. A brave, perfect a capella ‘Bones Are Tired’, knocked off as the guitarist changes a broken string, holds the tent in silent appreciation. A brilliant climax to a superb run of female performers.

At last, a man! He is Gordon Gano, latterly playing with the Ryans, but formerly of seminal 1980s alt-rockers Violent Femmes, and something of a legend in rarefied circles. His new material is still in the garage-rock vein, although leaning more towards Athens rather than Seattle: the songs taking their time and revealing their beauty carefully and deliberately. The modest crowd betrays the fact that Gano is hardly a household name – until he plays ‘Blister in the Sun’, that is. Track one of Violent Femmes’ debut album is one of those rare songs that is immediately familiar and loveable, but hardly anyone knows what it’s called or who it’s by. Gano is clearly fully aware of its power; he closes the set with a version that’s deliberately drawn out for countless choruses. As people pour into the tent for the very last bit of the last song, Gano gets to play just a few bars to the packed crowd he deserves.

Most of the people who should really have been watching Gordon Gano and the Ryans are taking their place for the Fall; Peel-lemmings meeting their fate. A comprehensive assessment of the Fall’s career to date from the evidence of one performance simply isn’t possible or even fair, so won’t be attempted here. On a simply objective level however, tonight’s gig borders on the unlistenable. Mark E. Smith’s utterly incoherent ramblings add nothing to the conventional rock backdrop produced by whichever band he’s managed to cobble together this week. The tension is barely lifted when his wife Eleni Poulou takes lead vocal for whole songs at a time. Either heavily inebriated or the victim of a massive stroke, only the most passionate of fans would know whether his slurred lyrics hold any great insight, and only then purely from memory. Pedigree doth not guarantee relevance, and with John Lydon doing the naughty old frontman thing with far more coherence, clarity, wit, and musical aplomb, on this evidence it’s hard to see the relevance of The Fall.

As the crowd disperses, there are rumours of nightly forest discos, of secret performances and other curious goings-on. But after nearly 12 hours of music, and a quick sit down to White Denim’s jazzy, hazy rock, it’s clear that sleep is the only option. After all, tomorrow will bring a brand new theme all of its own.


Preview: Electric Picnic 2010

By on Friday, 7th May 2010 at 4:00 pm

Electric Picnic has been regarded by some as Ireland’s answer to Glastonbury. Judging by the line-up released on Wednesday, I’d argue it might have a more interesting bill than Glasto this year. ’70s glam rockers Roxy Music will play their first Irish festival performance ever at Electric Picnic, after having reformed long after we diehards had assumed they’d never play together ever again. I think seeing Bryan Ferry croon his way through ‘Love is the Drug’ and ‘Avalon’ is worth the price of admission alone.

However, if Roxy isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other wonderful acts to ring your bell. London electronica act Leftfield have decided to come out of hibernation to play selected festivals this year, including a headlining set at Electric Picnic; Bristol’s Massive Attack (pictured above) will also headline. Expect an epic dance party with these two along with sets by Booka Shade, Hot Chip, the Bloody Beetroots, LCD Soundsystem, Liquid Liquid, Friendly Fires and the Big Pink. Indie rock will also be well represented by appearances by the Fall, the National, the Horrors, Eels and Modest Mouse.

This year’s festival will take place at Stradbally Hall, County Laois, Ireland, on 3-5 September 2010. Weekend camping tickets are €240 (approximately £206) per adult (up to two children under the age of 14 are allowed to attend per paying adult, and all children must be pre-registered through the festival Web site). Please note that except for children who are pre-registered this way, the festival is 18+ and photo ID may need to be presented on-site. Camper van tickets are €60 (approximately £52). Tickets for the festival can be purchased from Ticketmaster.

Catch the full lineup (so far as of Wednesday 05 May) after the cut…

Continue reading Preview: Electric Picnic 2010


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