End of the Road 2012 Top Ten

My favourite acts of EOTR 2012, in rough order of preference from 10 to 1.

10.          Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard (Sat)

Jeffrey Lewis and band proved a very pleasant surprise on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Knowing relatively little about him, beyond the odd session track from Marc Riley on 6music, I was brilliantly impressed by the wit, intelligence and recall of the man.  Subsequent research has highlighted his interests in comics, notably Watchmen, and his own work – all of which bears further investigation.

The set comprised a non-stop collection of largely acoustic numbers full of hope, laughter and sadness in equal measure.  Particular highlights included the Mosquito Rap and an example from the developing collection of Sonnet Youth pieces.  He also added to the argument that you can very rarely go wrong with artists modelling both truckers’ caps and beards (see also Jason Lytle closing Sunday night…).

The Garden Stage appearance was followed up by a semi-surprise midnight slot in a heaving Teepee Tent, including a wonderfully lengthy History of Punk.

9.            Graham Coxon (Sun)

Following an awesome set at Reading the week before, we made to the front of the stage (alongside the likes of Jeffrey Lewis, no less) for Graham Coxon (or “Blur, but not Blur”, according to Patti Smith, who would come onstage afterwards – praising his performance).

Despite seemingly damaging fingers on each hand, coming to terms with a new guitar and playing into driving drizzle for most of the set it was once again a brilliant performance.  On a bigger stage than the tent at Reading, and outdoors, the scale and benefit of the touring band was very much apparent – with a big psychedelic sound filling out, in an entirely good way, the skeletal punk-pop from across his solo canon.  I do wonder slightly though how much was lost on the EOTR main stage crowd who, bar a minority at the front didn’t quite seem to get it.

It is brilliant to see Graham so happy and clearly enjoying what he is doing.  Engagement with both band members and crowd was charming and warm – especially given the elements.

8.            The Mark Lanegan Band (Sat)

Mark Lanegan, again as with Reading the previous week, was awesome – both man and band on great form.

I, partly shamefully, left the set early in order to get to the front of the queue at the Rough Trade tent for Lanegan’s signing session immediately afterwards.  Overall I’m glad I did though as fifteen minutes later it was complete chaos when everyone else arrived.  And I got to meet him.  I met Lanegan.  Still a bit in shock about that.  He was much smaller than I imagined in both height and breadth, due to an aural illusion I suspect, although the speaking voice made no secret you were talking to the right man.

7.            Patti Smith (Sun)

The last time I saw Patti Smith I passed out after ‘a bit too much sun’ at Primavera in 2007, only to be awoken with both legs held up in the air by two off-duty Spanish nurses.

No such heatstroke- (or vodka-) related issues on this occasion though.  It had rained on an off for most of the day and I was sober due to having to drive home after Grandaddy later on.

One is never entirely sure which Patti will turn-up or which set she’ll play, which in part adds to the intrigue, although can ultimately be frustrating for those not acquainted with every b-side, poem and other project she’s ever done.  The Primavera set was great – all the hits – while a Meltdown performance a few years ago left the mind and senses utterly boggled.

Another festival though, and another storming performance.  I have to confess to only really knowing the big songs all that well, but I love them, and that is what we got – along with a couple of newies.  With a most-accomplished band behind her, Patti’s delivery was amazing with an energy and voice belying her advancing years – Because the Night, Gloria, Pissing In A River and Rock and Roll Nigger all tremendous.  Neither were we to be denied the odd outburst of commentary and philosophy regarding our lives, her life, that of the earth or the plight of Pussy Riot – all of which added up to the perfect Patti Smith gig.  A brief interlude with her leaving the stage to the band, led capably by guitarist Lenny Kaye, for a selection of sixties and seventies classics including The Seeds’ Pushing Too Hard, was in no way distracting or disappointing.

Outside of headliners, I think surely she got the best response from any crowd over the weekend.

6.            Islet (Sat)

I was encouraged to see Islet by my friend Stephanie who, while unclear as to exactly what they were like, was sure she had seen them at some point and that I would like them.

I’ll be honest, the soundcheck sounded horrendous, even from outside the tent.  A good two minutes of the snare rim being hit really really hard, followed by some very strange vocal exercises.

What followed, however, was forty five minutes or so of brilliant, bonkers, dischordant noise – only occasionally verging into ‘song’ territory in terms of either structure or sense.  Waves of drums, synths and bass washed around soundscapes reminiscent of, yet wildly different to, the likes of At the Drive-In and Crystal Antlers.  Frequently swapping instruments, all four band members displayed boundless energy – matched only by three girls in the front of the crowd who did an admirable job dancing at such an early hour in the day (who claimed they had only had ‘a half’…I since suspect my initial naïve thought they were referring to cider was ill-judged).

Like them?  I absolutely loved it.

5.            Jonathan Wilson (Fri)

Jonathan Wilson, as far as I can tell, is still to become anything like well-known in the UK.  He fully deserves to though and entirely justified it would be.

Far more prolific a producer and supporting musician than as an artist in his own right, Wilson’s part in reinvigorating the legendary Laurel Canyon scene (along with the likes of Black Crowe Chris Robinson) has culminated in the release of 2011’s Gentle Spirit album.  The record is hugely evocative of many of the names associated with the Laurel Canyon of the 60s and 70s without ever falling into pastiche, calling also upon on early elements of Pink Floyd and the British progressive scene.

Live, he was hugely impressive – the songs growing at times into full Crazy Horse mode from the rather more gentle and restrained feel on record.

4.            John Grant (Fri)

John Grant, along with Midlake and Grandaddy, was a big part of the draw for me with EOTR’s line-up this year.  His album Queen of Denmark, backed by Midlake, was by far and away my favourite album of 2010.  I’d seen him twice before, both brilliant performances and had high hopes for this festival set.

For a giant of a man, with an extraordinary voice and no little songwriting talent, John Grant is clearly a troubled and complex character and onstage his lack of self-confidence can be apparent (at least in between songs), if almost endearing, in terms of humility.  At EOTR though he appeared more relaxed than usual from the outset – looking smashing in athletic wear – as opposed to the usual smart dark suit.  He was brave as well in opening with a number of new songs recently recorded in Iceland – all of which bode well for the forthcoming second solo album (and score highly in their very adept use of swearing).

As the set progressed, the confidence and banter grew, in part to a very warm reaction from the crowd – with a noticeable partisan element for a festival audience.  The music as well was wonderful, with Grant ably supported by a violinist-cum-soprano and a piano/synth player.  Favourites from the first album including Sigourney Weaver, Marz and Queen of Denmark were very well received before Midlake joined the action for a cover of an Alice Cooper number I cannot for the life of me remember the name of…

3.            Midlake (Fri)

In ‘Roscoe’, Midlake have written, for me, one of the finest songs of the last ten years and are definitely in my top ten bands of the same period.

Closing Friday night in front of a packed Garden Stage crowd, the band lived up to all expectations with a set largely comprising numbers from The Trials of Van Occupanther and The Courage of Others albums along with some new material.

The whole Midlake package just works beautifully well – harmonies and melodies in perfect collaboration giving a warm and natural sound which allies almost magically with the lyrical matter.  There is in equal measure a strength and tenderness to the music throughout the set, with both elements amplified when the band let loose on numbers like Roscoe and Head Home towards the end.

I hung around for ages afterwards, a little bit overwhelmed by it all, watching as band and crew dismantle everything.

2.            Toy (Sat)

Toy were without doubt the ‘find’ of Reading Festival the week before and a must-see at End of the Road.

One of the great achievements of scheduling across the stages at End of the Road is the overlap (or rather lack-of between bands.  Yes there are inevitably clashes to deal with over four stages, however each one empties to virtually nothing after a band has finished – allowing fans of the next act, if so inclined, to get as near to the front as possible.

So I did.  At the barrier, dead centre, and boy was it worth it.  Watching them set up, I’m not sure where they got their kit from but there’s some lovely stuff onstage, including an awesome, battered, Fender Jaguar.

The gig, as at Reading, is a triumph – improved only in volume and sound terms by my advanced position in the crowd.  Alejandra Diez’s keys wash over increased depth of colour and noise across what would on its own be a ferocious shoegazey attack of guitars, bass and drums.

It’s worth noting as well that Toy are really lovely people, as evidenced by another encounter at the Rough Trade signing desk, almost to the point of being a bit over-awed by the pace and scale of their burgeoning success.  Quite how they are dealing with the torrent of attention they’ve received since the festival I don’t know…I hope they are enjoying themselves though and that they make the most of it – on recent initial showings they certainly deserve to.

I very much look forward to seeing them again at Heaven in October.

1.            Grandaddy (Sun)

Grandaddy were the reason I went to EOTR this year.  The line-up looked impressive beforehand but the day they were announced was the clincher in persuading me I could do two festivals within a week of each other – both financially and physically.  I’d seen Jason Lytle solo before but never the band as a whole and had become pretty much convinced I never would.

News of their reformation had been thrilling enough, but the chance to finally see them generated and sustained schoolboy levels of excitement for months beforehand and I wasn’t let down.

A last minute failure of the backdrop visuals did nothing to dampen what was an amazing set, finishing off a brilliant weekend.  Lytle and co confirmed their position somewhere way beyond ‘just’ Americana – weaving in ethereal and cosmic elements to lyrics and tunes painting the great American landscape.  A.M.180 was glorious to the point a very much sober me very nearly (and very embarrassingly) lost it in my reaction to the opening bars.  The Crystal Lake one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen or heard and everything else wasn’t far behind.

Special mentions for the weekend also go to…

  • Hannah Cohen (Fri) for a completely beautiful stripped-down cover of Neil Young’s Transformer Man
  • Cashier No.9 (Fri) – for, as I had hoped, a stomping dose of amerindiecana to kick Friday off…
  • First Aid Kit (Sun) for one last ray of (Scandanavian) Laurel Canyon sunshine over the weekend…
  • Woods (Sun) for another complete surprise – stumbled upon them with no prior idea of a band sat somewhere between Buffalo Springfield, Grandaddy, Howlin’ Rain and British Sea Power.  Lovely stuff…

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