Monday, September 28, 2009

End Of The Road 2009: Saturday

Yes, there's photos alright.

The Leisure Society
Various forms of the Wilkommen Collective have been semi-regular EOTR visitors, so this year we may as well get the actually to a degree successful version. The Ivor Novello nominated The Last Of The Melting Snow turns out to be the slowest song in a set of orchestrated melancholy that tips its metaphorical hat to Nick Drake or a more fleshed out, less cussed John Martyn. Nick Hemming is a self-deprecating frontman as well as a carefully nuanced songwriter, which isn't always a good thing but makes the Leisure Society that more homely. They finish by covering the Beatles' Something; sadly we miss their Sunday set by the piano, which includes a cover of Cars.

Darren Hayman
Hayman and his Secondary Modern also played a secret set, this time in the Tipi after hours so obviously we were never going to get near that. The closest (apart from Brakes) that EOTR has to a resident, it's a set largely based on this year's Pram Town album, little known cuts and new songs, one of which features the disarming lyric "you look like the lesbian off Brookside". Hayman's affability continues to shine through as much as his small town eye for detail.

The Low Anthem
On record the Low Anthem, apart from when they get their growly blues groove on, are an incredibly hushed, fragile experience. Here, just as much so. In fact, you can't actually hear them at the top of the arena for large periods merely due to ambient noise overtaking them. Get closer over time and something of the hushed melodic nature and acquaintance with a good number of unusual instrumentation reveals itself, but it's still thin enough to get blown away in a strong breeze. Ah well.

The Boy Least Likely To
Rather more raucousness over in the Big Top with a band, or more precisely a charm filled frontman in Jof Owen (who'd been manning the Rough Trade store tent for part of the Friday), who clearly relishes playing the festival as much as he relishes being on stage. Their second album passed by with barely a mention earlier in the year but this set is heavy on the debut anyway with its 'country disco' (their words) bubblegum delights as well as their celebrated cover of Faith, which Jof still can't get through without cracking up.

The Broken Family Band
A band that everyone seems to love in their live incarnation, they're unfortunately inching towards closure in mid-October, this being their last festival. A good excuse then to go back through the back catalogue, starting with It's All Over and cherrypicking from Americana'd debut to rock shape-throwing current. What comes through as the thing which has strung this band's developing style along over the decade is the behatted Steven Adams' great lyrical touch to complement his undoubted way with stage banter. They'll be missed.

Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele
You can't properly hear the ukelele. That seems to be something of an issue, all told. And the songs aren't up to as much as we'd hoped either.

The Acorn
Last year they were a propulsive joy twice over. This year, with a little more attention and a whole hour to fill, the shock of the new isn't as marked but they're still a more than capable turn, lushly adventurous and grand in scope without going anywhere near over the top. There's a new "sexy soul song" that nearly lives up to its billing, Ohbijou pop by on a couple of songs and the general air is one of a band still ready for the big push towards greatness.

Malcolm Middleton
Not missing Middleton at a festival for once, we find him gleefully playing the bonus iTunes track from his last album. That's the spirit. Being the musical half of Arab Strap maybe it shouldn't be surprising that his songs are as much backed by experiments in texture as proper chords and stuff, creating a murky feel that suits his dour outlook lyricism just fine, at least when you can hear it properly. He suits low lit dry ice.

Wildbirds & Peacedrums
That a duo that is essentially a drummer and a percussionist can be so awe inspiringly gripping live is down to the almost feral nature of the husband and wife's playing off each other. Andreas Werliin is either expertly held back or positively Muppets Animal-like at times in his arrhythmic pounding across the kit while Mariam Wallentin stalks the stage, almost daring you to doubt her as she bluesily bellows into the mike before retreating to add her own tribal percussion. An astounding, completely convicting and convincing use of the basic backbone of music to create something thrilling.

Okkervil River
Could Okkervil River ever be a stadium band? They certainly increasingly have the tools to be capable of holding a massive audience in the palm of their hand. In fact, three or four songs in, that's exactly what they do, as everyone but Will Sheff and Lauren Gurgiolo leaves the stage and Sheff, apologising first for trying out a quieter song, leads a mostly acoustic hushed take on the longing A Stone. In the gaps, there is absolute silence. The odd baby or peacock perhaps, but everyone is completely rapt by this song and this vocal performance. The rest of this absolute winner of a set takes a broad sweep back through the back catalogue, heavier on the last two albums, everything greeted with mass adulation - proper fists aloft as John Allyn Smith Sails breaks into Sloop John B, roars for the Unless It's Kicks riff, the works. Are these anthems? They are played with this conviction and passion, as Sheff urges us on to greater heights before chucking the whole mic stand into the empty photographer's pit. This feels like our Moment of the weekend, or at least a close approximation thereof.

The Horrors were due to headline the Big Top, Simon telling all and sundry that Primary Colours was his favourite album of the year and their set was the one he was most looking forward to. However, early on news came through that they'd phoned in sick - to some cheers, it has to be noted, and Tom White the following day wasn't alone in pointing out that they were well enough to play Bestival the night before just across whatever the stretch of water seperating the Isle of Wight from the mainland is called, by all accounts a heavily lacklustre set. It's possible one of them did pick up something, of course, but you heavily suspect it was more pram failing to meet toys. What it did mean was an opportunity to see the sprawling reveries of the Danish collective. They play a fair selection of new songs, which are less digitally inclined and unfortunately seem lesser writter all round, substituting most of the glacial quasi-post-rock harmonics of their work so far for more straight up bombast, which won't do.

Zun Zun Egui
There've been complaints that this year's lineup was less varied and more homogenised than the previous three EOTR outings. Maybe it's the way the musical tides have fallen, but if there's one band that are going to stick out like the sorest of thumbs it's Zun Zun Egui. An extraordinary head-on collision of Afrobeat, Deerhoof-esque avant/Mars Volta-ish noodling, heavy tropical grooves, jazz-psych-rock and lyrical speaking in tongues, it's hard to know what to really make of it having been softened up by everything around it.

Fleet Foxes
It had to happen. There's security on the garden stage entrance for a good portion of the set as it's overflowing. Well, they say it is, but when we do get in there seems to be plenty of room up top, yet when security give up a few minutes later it quickly starts seeming overcrowded. The performance is kind of what you'd expect, in a way - the harmonies are dead on, the playing is borne of a year or more on the road's confidence, it all translates well but not really any more electrically than on record, bar the odd moment of Mykonos/White Winter Hymnal astronomical west coast sweetness. The one surprise is a cover of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams with Robin Pecknold's sister on backing vocals, and they do seem to be enjoying themselves, chatting amiably with the crowd despite clearly feeling the drop in temperature.

Josh T Pearson
As the two sets overlap, Pearson spends the first ten minutes doing a very un-Pearson-like thing; telling jokes. Apparently he does do this on occasion, according to an acquaintance with a bootleg, but you wouldn't think it of him to watch him, cowboy hat pulled low, voice caked in doom, beard majestic, wrenching his soul out through evangelical country-inflected skyscraping. Sometimes he keeps it almost minimal and conspiratorial, sometimes somehow as loud as any noisemonger, totally bewitching. Mike Siddall of the Wilkommen Collective and hundreds of bands besides (Hope Of The States, Lightspeed Champion) joins in on improvised violin for a couple of songs, and he's clearly as much in awe as the rest of us. This is what EOTR is about - the switch from heavenly harmonies to god-fearing existential angst. With a smile.

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