Luckily by the time the first bands were taking to the stage it did seem to be brightening up. Brooklyn’s Forest Fire opened proceedings on the Garden Stage with the song ‘Slow Motion’ from last year’s album “Survival”.
The steady, slow pace of their ramshackle alt-folk-rock suited the just-waking-up mood. And the occasional frazzled guitar and shocking red eyeshadow of their guitarist also helped remind everyone of sore heads and how they might look if only a mirror was at hand.
The Tipi Tent was crammed to capacity for the first of the weekend’s performances by Daniel Lefkowitz, the crowds no doubt drawn by the Low Anthem associations of the newest signing to End of the Road Records. With the tent so full I only managed to catch two songs from the back – the VERY back – before returning to the Garden Stage. Here Woodpigeon were replacing the last-minute cancellation from Timber Timbre.
The Woodpigeon-backed-by-Eagleowl set was the same as yesterday’s Big Top set but on this stage the sound was clearer and stronger. And with the sun now breaking through, lying on the grass soaking up this glorious music a second time was an unexpected delight.
Next I caught two songs from Nurses in the Big Top en route to the Tipi Tent to catch the lofi post-folk of Edinburgh’s Eagleowl – now performing in their own right after two turns as Woodpigeon players. Accidentally introducing themselves as “Eaglebowel”, their pared-back and unrushed set was another soothing treat. They introduced ‘Blanket’ as the “nearest we get to a pop song”.
For the last number ‘No Conjunction’, the four piece were joined on stage by members of Meursault, Woodpigeon and Allo Darlin’.
I had heard promising things about Coventry beatniks Don’t Move, a four-piece featuring skinny ties, shaven-headed accordion player and a car-plate registration sign. However my expectation of danceable Mod or Two Tone-influenced sounds was not met – their tense, jittery rhythms reminded me of (not-my-cup-of-tea-at-all) Wild Beasts. For me: it didn’t move.
On The Garden Stage, the Rhode Island five-piece Deer Tick were basking in the now strong sunshine. Or maybe large aviator shades are part of their everyday appearance?
The band play a grizzled, rock-and-rolling Americana that owes as much to The Replacements as to The Band. This was a loud and energetic set that finished with an intense rendition of ‘Mange’ including bandleader John McCauley and his guitar going walkabout into the crowd.
Then back to the Tipi Tent for the first (new to me) Canadians of the day: The Wilderness of Manitoba. With banjos and braces aplenty, the first of their old frontier songs was a quiet affair. The next - “a ghost story” - started to up the volume and included an instrument not seen at End of the Road festival yet – a pair of singing bowls. I’m not sure about the Fleet Foxes comparison but this is a band definitely worth giving more time too.
And at this point the camera batteries gave up. At The Garden Stage I saw the first ten minutes of The Unthanks set I saw a few weeks earlier at Green Man. And again I left. Not because of the band but to check in on Monotonix and the much talked about roaming live sets from these Israeli rockers.
Entering the Big Top stage only minutes after they had started, I fully expected the band to still be on the stage. How foolish. All band members including the drummer were already in the crowd. Up close this might have been thrilling but from the fringes of the crowd all there was to see was a tight cluster of figures and the distant noisy and not particularly attractive punk-metal throb of the music. So instead I took the opportunity to stock –up and then returned to see the closing numbers of The Unthanks set.
This was a winning combination of the rich resonant Northumbrian folk - played beautifully by the elegantly dressed band and string section - and the down-to-earth humour and banter from the Unthanks sisters. Oh and the tap-dancing. I still haven’t stood through an entire set but what I have seen is enough to ensure I don’t make the same mistake in future.
Leaving the Garden Stage, Monotonix were now playing outside the Big Top tent - still in the middle of a packed throng. The singer did not appear to have many clothes on.
At the Tipi Tent the set from Annie And the Beekeepers was interrupted by a power failure so they continued playing their rustic Americana acoustically. Which was no good if you were stood at the edges of the tent and straining to hear. Also by now I had had a bellyful of rustic Americana and was looking for something a little louder and faster.
This came from Brakes in the Big Top stage with their spiky and short outbursts. There was a loyal core following in to watch them but also a much larger crowd (others seeking some noise?). It’s always a surprise how tight and proficient the band are for a group initially dismissed as a joke side-project and that doesn’t seem to take itself seriously either. They got a whooping great reception and the whole set – including one new song about voodoo called ‘Hoodoo’ on the set-list below – was huge fun which even a broken guitar string couldn’t hold back.
After a boxful of veggie curry, I opted for Jonquil in The Local. The six-piece mix subtle Afrobeat flavours with indiepop – as if Vampire Weekend went to Oxford Technical College rather than ivy-league colleges, dropped the pretentiousness and upmarket product placement and wrote better songs. It was a smallish crowd (the band were competing with Yo La Tengo and Black Mountain) but fun and upbeat even if like me you were unfamiliar with the material. The band played a cover of a song by The XX but they should stick to their own material – it is far superior to the disco-lite of tonight's cover.
Then it was over to the Tipi Tent for the three late night surprise slots. The first was announced in rather sombre tones “At 11pm every night a new band is born. It is now 11.15pm”. Were they called Snakewolf? Wagonstage? Or Snakewagon? The name was irrelevant. This was an expanded The Low Anthem featuring ex-member Daniel Leifkowitz and a sixth member on bass playing a none-too-serious but uproarious set somewhere between Americana jam band session and a drunken hoedown. With a backdrop of a beach towel with a wolf on it, a stuffed meerkat on stage plus a ragbag of fancy dress including sacking, German helmets and random pirate outfits, the band ripped through songs of underage love, pretty girls and the laws of inevitability. Towards the end the levels of inebriation on stage became apparent as a drunk Ben Knox Miller attempted to drum using a now empty bottle of Jamieson’s. Fun entertainment that only the most po-faced could fail to enjoy.
Next up was Dylan Leblanc ahead of his Garden Stage set tomorrow. I found the first couple of listens to his Paupers Field album quite unmemorable but recently his rich country sounds had start to earworm their way into my head. However this set, proficiently delivered though it was, became a retrograde step in my appreciation or otherwise of Mr Leblanc. It all felt a bit too somnambulant and lacking in distinctive hooks. It could have been in part the unfortunate sequencing that saw them to go on after such inspired nonsense from Snakewagon. Dylan Leblanc’s attempts to empathasise with the crowd also backfired: “Weren’t that last band GREAT?” he asked us. “Yes” came the reply “Bring them back on”.
The final surprise slot of the evening was from brother and sister duo This Frontier Needs Heroes who have been touring Europe in their own right but also acting as backing band for Kath Bloom (more of her in Sunday’s report to follow). With just acoustic guitar and tambourine accompaniment to beat out a rhythm, the pair used their contrasting voices – Brad’s deep bluesy growl, Jessica’s crystal clear higher register – to sing songs of space babies, reckless girls and war. This was perfect end-of-the-night listening. The only thing that interfered was their rambling banter and tales between songs – definitely likeable and occasionally amusing though it was, I thought their music did all the talking that was necessary.
Not a day with as many highlights as Friday but those surprise slots – well at least two out of the three - had ended the day on a high.