People who go to End of the Road festival are just better than other people. They’re kinder, they’re cleverer, and they have unendingly beautiful souls. Apart from the guy standing next to us at tUnE yArDs on Sunday afternoon who was trying, largely unsuccessfully, to snort coke out of his cupped hands and off his lighter. He was a complete prat. Let’s assume, though, that he’d been accidentally smuggled in in the back of a rubbish truck. Everyone else was effing brilliant. This was the ninth End of the Road festival (my fourth), and it’s settled into consistent excellence very comfortably indeed.
No longer a tent, the cinema now resides in a shiny new building called The Pavillion. We arrived on Thursday to catch the end of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, followed by Richard Ayoade’s excellent The Double, and a peacock was standing artfully beside the building’s sign, a calculating brand ambassador who set the tone for the rest of our beautiful weekend.
Friday morning, and Phox welcomed us to the Garden Stage with a slightly nervous demeanour and some gentle, dreamy country-folk. A sextet who met at high school in a circus town called, rather pleasingly, Baraboo, they make a cacophonous, soulful noise that’s just perfect for a blissed-out summer afternoon.
Peggy Sue graced the Garden Stage for an accomplished, smile-ridden set, the highlight of which was their cover of Ray Charles’ ‘Hit the Road Jack’. Next, Jenny Lewis hit the Woods Stage surrounded by rainbows and killer musicians. Lewis is a consummate pro and a delight to behold live: if you’re yet to see her, shove her on your bucket list.
‘New You’ triggered my first glorious ‘I’m at a festival and everything is wonderful’ emotional wave, which I rode right on through to headliner St Vincent’s bizarre robotics, freak shrieks and massive, hyper-controlled noise explosions. An electro-sprite on an illuminated podium, she closed the first night of End of the Road 2014 with eccentric aplomb.
Saturday was all about the Garden Stage, where sisters Lily & Madeleine Jurkiewicz woke up peacocks and punters alike with their sweet sibling harmonies. Inviting quite reasonable comparisons with First Aid Kit and The Staves, theirs is a simple, crisp approach to folk duets that’s all the more remarkable once you discover that they’re not yet in their twenties.
Next came Lau, whose remarkable fiddle, guitar & accordion arrangements made me long for the Scottish winter – hot chocolates, jumpers and long drives in the rain.
From Scotland to Wales as Sweet Baboo arrived to beguile the audience with his self-assured peculiarity and joyous celebration of the everyday. His set was another gleaming gem at this year’s End of the Road, punctuated by daft chat, misremembered openings and laughter. He was mobbed for merch straight after the show, which showed the audience at the Garden Stage to be very clever indeed.
Mr Baboo, his bass and drum player returned to the stage to form the rhythm section for the magnificent Cate le Bon, dragged through a hedge backwards in a black jumpsuit and raring to be awesome. The sublime ‘Are You With Me Now?’ was another shimmering moment of glory in the festival programme: one that marked a splendid halfway point for the weekend.
Next came Samantha Crain’s set in the Tipi Tent: an American singer-songwriter with a country heart, Oklahoma-born Crain is a compelling live act with strong chat and complex, earthy lyrics.
Then the Flaming Lips in all their mouth-agape spectacular madness: confetti, nipple tassels and a glittering cover of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ topped off day two, abrim with ecstatic craziness.
Sunday morning broke to a monstrous rum hangover that didn’t shift all day, so my final day at End of the Road 2014 was, to say the least, subdued.
Two members of The Melodic had apparently suffered a worse fate than mine, having been kicked off the festival site earlier that morning for an undisclosed misdemeanour. A hastily patched together acoustic set was perfectly-suited to a Sunday morning, though, and the band coped with their adversity with wit, class and excellent tunes.
[Two hours spent lying on my stomach in the Tipi bar, moaning].
Brooklyn five-piece Lucius were a merry surprise who broke through the hangover fug and dragged me, like a greedy boy to bacon, towards the Woods Stage. I’d never heard of them before and I adored them: breezy, beat-driven tracks are lifted beautifully by the interplay between identically-dressed lead singers Holly Laessig and Jess Woolfe. They’re having a bloody awesome time onstage, and their ecstatic demeanour is infectious.
[Two more hours on the floor].
By the time tUnE yArDs came bounding on to the Woods Stage in a flurry of feathers, pom-poms and neon face paint, I am near death and it’s taken me an hour to eat a leaky burrito. One spectacular upshot to my thorough self-ruination, though, is that I managed to turn the superb Merril Garbus into my Sunday headliner by staggering off the site straight after.
The tUnE yArDs set was an astounding way to end the festival: rambunctious, grinning from ear to ear and flanked by a pair of awesome backing singers, Garbus glugs down water between songs because she’s essentially doing a full aerobics workout onstage – leaping, crashing and stomping her way through an hour of high-octane perfection.
I was ecstatic when I turned my back on the stage and made for the car park to drive home through the sunset, already second-guessing the plans for End of the Road 2015 – it’s the tenth anniversary, and you just know they’re going to get that party right.