Wednesday, October 01, 2008
End of the Road Festival 2008 – Saturday
Saturday started off (almost) where Friday left off when the Family Growl arrived, through the mud for the last couple of songs of Devon Sproule on the Garden Stage. The Garden Stage and the surrounding garden area was much easier to navigate than the glue-like mud in the adjoining field, so we hung around there for a while and The Baby Growl got her first proper taste of a festival (last year doesn’t count – too young). Perhaps it’s no surprise that she seemed to like Noah and the Whale, what with their bouncy pop tunes and up-tempo jigs, and she moved around as best as she could, joining in happily with the applause. Me? I liked them too. I’m not going to be sniffy about them because of recent chart success – I find their songs just too hard to dislike, and they seem well-suited to the bigger stage. Sunny weather and happy families it may have been, but all good stuff.
Half an hour and another Toad meet-up later, The Young Republic had graduated to their biggest stage of the weekend. What a difference a year makes. Not only has their line-up changed, but so has their entire set. 2007’s EOTR saw them playing largely songs from their 12 Songs From Winter City album. The intervening twelve months has seen a major line-up change and a definite decision to break with the past. Not only were all of the songs in their set from their recently-released Idiot Grin EP or even newer, they are definitely now a rock and roll band. None of the sweeping strings and sweet melodies that saw them compared to Belle and Sebastian. This was a country rockin’ band strutting their stuff. Their only concession to older material was the sublime Modern Plays – with an added rock jam ending of course. Julian apologised to all the fans for the lack of 12 Songs material and promised to play any of the old numbers to anyone who requested him around the festival over the course of the weekend. I didn’t manage to spot him though, so my personal performance of Goodbye Town is still outstanding. Next time, hopefully.
The Baby Growl’s teatime had to be maintained, so while I headed back to fill her belly, Mrs Growl stuck around for Bon Iver and one of the most talked-about sets of the whole festival. She and many others later testified to the brilliance of Justin Vernon’s set and having seen them at the wonderful St Giles’ church gig back in June, I have no doubts that they’re all right. This being a festival which also featured Bowerbirds on the same stage earlier in the day, Vernon brought them on to guest on the cover Lovin’ For Fools, which I believe went down pretty well too.
Later we tried to juggle the Baby Growl’s bedtime with Low’s main stage appearance. Being huge fans of the Minnesota couple’s music, we didn’t want to miss them, but getting the small one off to sleep wasn’t easy with all that noise going on. You may not think of Low as being a loud group, but you’d be surprised. She didn’t drop off till near the end of the set, so our full attention was not on the beautiful music coming from the stage, but what he heard was very fine. A Low ‘greatest hits’ set, if such a thing were possible – Sunflower, Dinosaur Act and other old faves were present and correct. The end of the show provided another one of the festival’s talking points. Alan Sparhawk had already complained of having a “crappy day” and seemed in a dark mood, which came to a head in the final song when in a noisy wig-out he attacked his guitar before swinging it and hurling it full-pelt into the crowd. Sparhawk may not be a well man, but this was an inexcusably reckless act which left too many people open-mouthed to muster much applause as the band left the stage. Thankfully it didn’t end badly – no-one was hurt, and one guy has a new, second-hand guitar. It may need some repairs.
Mercury Rev were the headliners, but given that I’m not a huge fan, I wasn’t that desperate to catch their main stage headline show. However, I did wander into the gardens later on and their encore of Goddess on a Highway sounded mighty fine as I walked around the spotlit trees. I’d forgotten what a great song it is.
Two Gallants in the Big Top provided a temporary distraction for me, and again were sounding like they were on good form. It’s easy to compare their drummer/guitarist line-up to The White Stripes, with less virtuoso guitar playing and better drumming, so I will. But the Gallants absorb country as well as the blues and it’s a heady mix, spoilt only by the drummer’s shocking haircut. I’m only familiar with their When The Toll Tells album but a couple of songs from that record got me going for a while before I had to get off to The Local for Shearwater.
Both Toad and I were keen to see Shearwater’s first UK gig since signing to Matador and releasing both an expanded version of Palo Santo and their latest album, Rook. The latter hasn’t quite grabbed me as much as I thought it should, but their live performance was spellbinding. Playing to a packed and expectant tent, they seemed to go down a storm, with Jonathan Meiburg hitting the high notes and the whole band brandishing a range of different instruments, none more so than drummer and multi-instrumentalist Thor who pulled out a bewildering range of (apparently hand-crafted) weird instruments. Despite having relatively short songs, Shearwater always manage to sound epic, and their set seemed just too short. Appetites are now well and truly whetted for future UK appearances.
After that, all that was left for me was some more chat with Toad in The Bimble Inn, with another Young Republic covers set as the background. If (perish the thought) I ever get married again, I’m booking them. As we made our way back to our beds, we ran into a very drunk man raving about Mercury Rev. We were having none of it. It was all about Shearwater.
Download: Noah & The Whale - Shape of My Heart
Download: The Young Republic – Green Hills Mall Blues
Download: Bon Iver – Lump Sum
Download: Low – Sunflower
Download: Two Gallants – Waves of Grain
Download: Shearwater – Rooks
Bon Iver picture (C) Ro Cemm
Low picture by Red_One