“We brought you a mother*cking double rainbow,” Eels frontman E shouts, in awe of the beautiful sight stretching over the Dorset fields and awesome crowd gathered before him.
Despite Eels hardly dipping into their impressive back catalogue, focusing instead on more-recent numbers, the masses stay put at End Of The Road’s Woods Stage, even enduring a splattering of misty rain. It’s very typical EOTR, this: a lot of love for a festival that gets better and better with every year.
Eels represent one of many headline highlights at the eighth EOTR. In matching tracksuits and shades, bathed in yellow light like mini adidas messiahs, they bring some great tunes and lot of laughs to the main stage, from new numbers sounding like the score to a Tarantino film to a mash-up of ‘My Beloved Monster’ and ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’. It’s everything a headliner should be… and they’re not even the main headliners on opening night. This accolade goes to the mighty David Byrne and Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent.
The duo, hair now colour-coordinated silver blonde, are like psychedelic replicants doing ‘the robot’ to a brass band. Their ‘Love This Giant’ collaboration (review) is a brilliant album, but live they’re even better. This is no gig; by any measure it is a show, choreographed to perfection.
Among the delights of their partnership – ‘Who’, ‘I Am An Ape’ the Theremin battle of ‘The One Who Broke Your Heart’ – are solo numbers reworked for brass in a way these ears are unlikely to ever hear again: ‘Strange Overtones’, ‘Lazy’, ‘This Must Be The Place’, ‘Road To Nowhere’.
It’s an epic weekend for the big acts. Saturday night sees Sigur Rós play an impressive two-hour set, sweeping up the crowd into an almost dream-like state with their ethereal and enchanting, massive-yet-minimalist sounds and ending, encore aside, with the beautifully angelic ‘Festival’.
But it’s too much for some, and those who can’t be still on a freezing night retreat to smaller stages. Ed Harcourt charms on the Garden Stage, songs from his wonderful ‘Back Into The Woods’ album (review) appearing beside old classics. He’s a showman, jaunting from piano to guitar to stage front with a vintage mic, and the perfect closer for what is still the best stage at the festival.
Sunday night splits the masses. Belle And Sebastian take over the Woods Stage for a cheery set, spilling over with classics like ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, ‘The Stars Of Track And Field’ and ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’. The stage is packed, but the sound’s a little weak and the vocals a little off-tune in places. While this reviewer finds it a bit dull, a friend declares it the gig he’d waited 10 years for. Dinosaur Jr, on the other hand, take the Garden Stage by storm and play what some say is the best set of their career.
But, as Clash says every year, EOTR is not about the headliners. It’s about new discoveries and a feeling that you’re being treated to the best that music has to offer (in this niche folky arena, of course). It’s why so many artists return year on year.
Not only does the loveable Jarvis Cocker turn up again for a DJ set in the forest disco, but a host of familiar faces return.
Mini Nashville singer Caitlin Rose gets slightly swamped by the size of the Woods Stage, but is adoringly wonderful, playing tracks from new album ‘Stand In’ and old favourites like ‘Rabbits’ and ‘Pink Champagne’. While brilliant in a relatively high-profile slot, she’s even better during a secret slot in the festival’s final hours, despite having pretty much no voice left to sing with.
Shame the same can’t be said for secret closers Palma Violets, whose indie-rock pulls the crowds earlier in the day but fails to impress for what’s usually a raucous festival climax. While literally hundreds danced and sang their way into the wee hours with Snake Wagon last year, only a straggling few stay put for this final set. Well, why would you when the cider bus is playing Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’?
Herman Dune frontman David-Ivar returns as Black Yaya, still recognisable with his Parisian Jonathan Richman style; Allo Darlin’ again bring their cute, kitsch folk; and The Staves, a weekend highlight, wow Garden Stage attendees with pitch-perfect harmonies and lovely chat. These three sisters are just a delight.
But, the standout EOTR veteran has to be the spellbinding Daniel Lefkowitz, now performing as Futur Primitif, who plays at least three shows over the three days. New songs, old songs, covers accompanied by a 12-year-old, songs from his days as part of The Low Anthem: every one is heart-breaking and addictive.
The Big Top – a stage usually reserved for the more punky, garage sounds of the festival – is also fast becoming the stage to see the next big thing. This year it comes into its own with bands like MONEY, Savages and PINS. The tent is dark, oppressive, swelteringly hot at times.
The hype around MONEY pays off and the tent is packed – there are many more here than the 200 or so who made it for Alt-J’s same-stage set a couple of years back. The band’s antics – various snogs, leaps and general bouts of showing off – don’t detract from what is a brilliant set. This lot are definitely ones to watch.
Savages step out of the shadows dressed head to toe in black, apart from the contrast of Jehnny Beth’s white blouse. If the aim is to build tension then they nail it. Elsewhere, Dualogue become an instant EOTR classic in the Big Top, with their fiddle and synths combining over almost house-like beats.
Then there’s Public Service Broadcasting, mixing vintage televised announcements with psychedelic electro. The visuals of stacked TVs and flickering black-and-white projections aside, the noise from this outfit is immense and brilliant, especially the percussion. While this festival will always have a folk undercurrent, these gems remain memorable moments.
There’s so much more that this still-small festival gives: the gospel-laced country blues of Valarie June; the feather headdress-clad soul of King Khan; Daughter and The Ralfe Band and (the actually quite boring) Warpaint; Ethan Johns and throwing balls into tubes in the woods; tales of wild swimming and games of Kubb with strangers; mini scenes of Star Wars in the trees and Labyrinth sing-alongs.
EOTR is what every small festival should be. It brings you the best of what you know and introduces you to the best of what you don’t know. For that, it will always be the best small festival.
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Words: Gemma Hampson
Photos: Michael Parker
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