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Gig Review

End of the Road Festival 2013, Friday
David Byrne & St Vincent, Eels, King Khan & The Shrines, Pins, Parquet Courts, Savages and more Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset

Article written by Various Writers - Sep 24, 2013

David Byrne & St Vincent
It is that time of year for a field in Dorset to host 200,000 visitors for a long weekend of “nostalgia and entertainment”; an event that is now entering its 45th year and shows no sign of losing public enthusiasm. It is, of course, The Great Dorset Steam Fair and it means, sadly, miles of traffic and a guaranteed late arrival to the End of the Road festival, currently in its 8th year, in the neighbouring Larmer Tree Gardens.

The total festival capacity is currently around 12,000 and a full-price ticket costs a hefty £175 but, at its current, inflation-busting rate of increase, will reach £250 in a mere five years time. Here’s hoping some common sense, and some common people, will enter the organisers’ minds soon, otherwise the event will become nothing but the exclusive preserve of the rich; and judging from this year’s crowd, the usurping of the hitherto stalwarts of the festival (the twenty-something musos, the chin-strokers, the bearded CAMRA members) has already begun.

Altering demographics aside, this year remains set to be another corker; with an encouraging weather forecast, a tasty array of ales at the bar and, most crucially, another storming line-up.
There has been a last minute adjustment to the schedule, resulting in the fabulous Widowspeak performing at noon in the Big Top; annoyingly we have missed them (thanks, Steam Fair patrons) so our festival begins instead with Manchester four-piece, PINS; luckily, that’s no bad thing at all.

Their fuzz and reverb-heavy guitar pop may be found in countless contemporary bands, but PINS possess a warmth and tunefulness that so many others lack. Songs such as ‘Say To Me’ swagger along nicely with almost effortless allure, undoubtedly aided by their confident, charismatic singer Faith Holgate. It’s a fine opening performance; and one that actually makes the dark, sweaty Big Top preferable to the gorgeous sunshine outside.

Sadly, the exact opposite is true for the next act; over in the Tipi Tent, Filthy Boy’s plodding tales of illicit sex, stalking and mental illness make baking in the Sun a desirable alternative. It isn’t just the insipid and murky sound (something which admittedly may not be the musicians’ doing) but the dullness and limited imagination of the supposedly dark lyrics, not to mention their even duller delivery courtesy of front man Paraic Morrissey. For wit-drenched debauchery and depravity, stick to the ever-brilliant debut album by David Cronenberg’s Wife; something Filthy Boy should be forced to listen to while sitting in the wet patch.

Just enough time for a delicious, if overpriced, curry before returning to the Big Top for Braids. The Canadian dream popper’s biggest trump card is the vocal power of Raphaelle Standell-Preston; shame then, that for most of the set, her voice is lost amidst the woozy synths. Musically, it’s only sporadically engaging due to everything being so polished, polite and undemanding and today’s performance sees far too many laptop-led lapses into melody-free dreariness. It’s a shame because there are elements to Braids that hint towards something much more enticing and far more emotionally satisfying.

King Khan & The Shrines
Rain has unexpectedly arrived but so has the fun; truckloads of fun; delivered here by a shiny-shirted, feather-head-dressed soul belter and his motley crew of party-obsessed bluesmen: King Khan & the Shrines. It’s the performance that brings this festival to life; away go the annoying picnic spreads and the twee conservatism and, for the first time this year, the Woods Stage is actually filled with those wanting nothing but music - daft, hilarious, exciting, catchy music at that.

When Khan isn’t treating the crowd to the greatest evil laugh since Count Von Count during ‘Shivers Down My Spine’, or showcasing an unconventional approach to romantic lyricism with ‘Took My Lady To Dinner’ (sample line - “it don't matter that her ass is the size of New York”), he’s busy cranking out a rollicking blend of garage rock and 60s soul – something which is aided immeasurably by a backing band who rival their singer on both talent and antic fronts; at various points, a guitarist feigns death, the keyboardist decides to play in the crowd, and there are a few attempts at synchronised dance routines – all add to the party mood and, more crucially, only serve to enrich the tunes; amazing entertainment from start to finish.

Forty-five minutes later and the odd rain shower and sunny period has resulted in a beautiful double rainbow appearing above the Woods Stage – “How’d you like our motherfucking rainbow?” yells Mr E as Eels take to the stage. As well as repeatedly vying for some credit for the wonders of nature, the swearing remains constant throughout an impressive, rocking set which includes a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ and a closing “mash-up” of ‘Mr E’s Beautiful Blues’ & ‘My Beloved Monster’.

Parquet Courts
The loud guitars continue over in the Big Top, only now with an added streak of anger. Parquet Courts are responsible for one of the best albums of the year and, now, one of the most charged, enrapturing sets of this weekend. The three-guitar front line of Savage, Brown and Yeaton thrash out gems like ‘Careers in Combat’, ‘Master of my Craft’ and ‘Borrowed Time’ in the only way punk rock songs ever really should be. They’re purposeful, tuneful, and utterly brilliant.

Dizzy and half deaf, it’s time to venture back out into the rain for the headline extravaganza that is David Byrne / St Vincent (see below).

After ninety minutes in the cold and rain, the warmth of the Big Top serves only to induce tiredness, rather than anticipation for Savages. Sadly, this must be the case with the majority of the crowd and as a result the atmosphere is muted and blunts the impact of Savages’ visceral set. It’s been almost two years of non-stop touring for the London four-piece and therefore the music is unsurprisingly tight and fantastic. Jenny Beth is also ramping up her onstage performance / persona, strutting around with an almost permanent glare and an added sense of drama. The band warranted a better audience; nonetheless they provide a thrilling end to the first day. (by Pete W)

We arrive at Larmer Tree Gardens in bright sunshine, to the 70s sounds of Steam FM, and find that End of the Road feels bigger than before, with more famous headliners and a more sizeable crowd who seem much less fervent than in the past. Blink and it could almost be Latitude. While festival finance means there’s always a compromise between our fantasy line up and what the organisers judge will attract the maximum number of people, this year’s list of performers doesn’t impress in the same way as past years; yes, there are lots of highlights, but this year there are more longeurs (especially on Saturday).

Black Yaya
On the bright side, there’s always Shepherd’s organic ice-cream, an orgasm in a cornet, and on Friday there was some great music. Black Yaya is David-Ivar Herman Dune gone solo and playing a more Americana-influenced set of story-songs about Texas Rangers, open prairies and hard life on the road. It shows the influence of Dylan and (especially) Springsteen, with a nod to Buddy Holly in a splendid cover of 'Rave On'. This isn't a world away from early Herman Dune tunes but the new set of darker, lonelier themes brings out the classic songwriter in David.

The rain falls, and it's hard, cold and miserable, but it's easy to ignore once David Byrne and St Vincent take the stage. The set is a flawless blend of choreography, involving all the brass players, as well as star turns from David Byrne and Annie Clark, performing her weird moonwalking ambulation. It features material that they’ve written together and apart; there’s a great version of the one-off ‘Lazy’ that he sung for the dance music duo X-Press 2, and – to the great pleasure of the crowd - various Talking Heads songs: ‘Burning Down The House’, ‘This Must be The Place (Naïve Melody)’, ‘Wild Wild Life’, for which each member of the band in turn gets lines to sing; and a riotous Road To Nowhere, which is their final song and sees them marching off stage, still singing and playing. It’s almost impossible to look away from the stage for the 90 minutes that it’s occupied, as so much movement and music is taking place. The night isn’t over – we still have Savages to see – but we know that we’ll be talking about this performance for a long time. (by Ged M)

More photos here: or click here: Flickr page


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