Fleet Foxes, Snapped Ankles And More In MOJO’s Best Of The End Of The Road Festival

2022’s edition, fully restored with international acts, featured resurgent headliners and an exciting undercard.

by Danny Eccleston |
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On the End Of The Road Festival’s Larmer Tree site, the weekend’s bill-toppers had things to prove. On Friday there could hardly have been a starker contrast between the divisive indie-prog of Black Midi and the beatific Americana of Fleet Foxes (pictured above), finally able to play 2020’s Shore LP material to a British audience. Saturday was a day for reinvigorated legends, with Pixies (scheduled to play last year, before pandemic-related travel restrictions intervened) pitted against Stephin Merritt’s Magnetic Fields. On Sunday, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst glossed over a decade of relative inactivity and hints of retirement. But as ever, the undercard was extremely strong, and it was there that MOJO found the majority of its 5 Favourite Things...


Snapped Ankles

(Boat Stage, Friday 8pm)

The evolution of Paddy Austin and Snapped Ankles’ arboreal krautrock is perhaps more disguised than it might be by their, well, disguises. Another year, another gig, they don the hairy ghillie suits and make like overgrown Ewoks electrocuted by music. Last year’s Forest Of Your Problems album saw the group’s elastic rhythms, blurting synths and wry, distorted Fall/Vegavox spiced with a richer blend of modern anxiety and atavistic frug, but this show was the group in pneumatic party-starting mode on a stage too small for their ideas and an arena too cramped to contain a combination of the committed and the curious – the audience stretched back out of sight. Rhythm Is Our Business and Shifting Basslines Of The Cornucopians achieved third-eye-opening intensity, while I Want My Minutes Back’s spiralling 303-tweaked heights inspired the only crowd-surfing MOJO saw all weekend. All this and a theremin made from a cleft stick.

Fleet Foxes

(Woods Stage, Friday 9.30pm)

Robin Pecknold’s periods outside of the spotlight – voluntary and not, including a period reprising college studies, 2014-16, and the pandemic-enforced delay in touring 2020’s exquisite Shore LP – have made it easy for non-fans to wonder where he’s got to. And EOTR attendees who remembered the underpowered shows of Fleet Foxes’ first-album flush would have been forgiven for feeling some pre-show unease. But the contrast between then and now could not be more blinding. Fleet Foxes 2022 are a powerhouse, with massed voices, trumpet and two trombones bringing throaty heft to songs formerly so delicate they were in danger of floating away. Thus the ecstatically ascending Can I Believe You and Third Of May/Odaigahara evinced the anthemic qualities ideal in a headline act, without swamping what’s quirky and original in the group’s vision. Somehow, above the elegant hubbub, Pecknolds’s voice still sat supreme. He’s still not one for the banter, but seems to know himself better and is happier to give what his audience wants. Odd to say after four consecutive LPs of sustained excellence, but this feels like a second wind.

Alabaster DePlume

(Garden Stage, Saturday 2.30pm)

The sense of being in an unrepeatable moment – the essence of jazz at its best – was writ large over charismatic Scot Angus Fairbairn’s (aka Alabaster DePlume) uncategorizable set, as his lyrical, gossamer-soft tenor sax blowing (he favours a 45 degree angle – considerably north of Charles Lloyd or Lester Young) punctuated his spoken poetry, sometimes wry, sometimes inspiring, sometimes both. I Was Gonna Fight Fascism, which he recorded with Soccer 96 in 2020, has lost none of its power to prick liberal pretensions (“I was gonna fight fascism / But honestly I had so much on”), and here, fired by Sarathy Korwar’s drumming and empathetic backing from Rosetta Bass (bass), Momoko Gill and Donna Tmompson (b.v.s/percussion) plus Conrad Singh (guitar), it took on an extra precarious intensity. Vaguely Balkan Song Of The Foundling made you feel DePlume should play more sax as he led his band into spaces you felt not even he could have foreseen. Later, he told MOJO the show was “another case of improvisations leading into and out of compositions, the tunes being used like spices in a curry”. Are we ready for the spiritual jazz Ivor Cutler? We’d better be.

Kevin Morby

(Garden Stage, Saturday 7.15pm)

Another artist transformed as a live performer in the last few years, Lubbock’s Morby was once known for skulking around his amps, but has recently accrued a kind of Elvis Springsteen stage persona – epitomised by a new gold fringed jacket – and a soul-rock revue delivery for his quirky, deadpan-Dylan songbook. Both suited the wise fervour of his latest (and best) album, This Is A Photograph – with A Random Act Of Kindness’s “sun comes uuuup!” refrain hitting a euphoric high – and splashed new colours on old favourites including City Music, I Have Been To The Mountain and the foundational Harlem River. While drummer Stephen Patterson gets props for driving everything along, pugnacious sax-playing Dap-King Cochemea Gastelum, with slicked-back quiff, is the most transformative addition, threatening to swing any Jets v Sharks rumble depending on what side he was on. A Kevin Morby show as good to look at as to listen to? Surely another step towards the A-List.

Jake Xerxes Fussell

(Garden Stage, Sunday 1.30pm)

A vast nation’s folk memory packed into one generous frame, Fussell cast one of the festival’s most complete spells, bringing a hush down onto the Garden Stage and silencing even those most bent on volubly comparing hangovers. The Georgian has a voice like hickory smoke, a Telecaster set to sizzle and drone, and a kind of Zen calm that allowed the ancient stories he dipped into live simultaneously in the now. In The River St John’s he hawked mullet to the ladyfolk of Sumter, South Carolina echoing the words of an early 20th Century street vendor recalled by a certain Harden Stuckey and recorded by song collector Stetson Kennedy in 1939. It’s a poetic brag – “I’ve got fresh fish this morning, ladies / They are gilded with gold, and you may find a diamond in their mouths” – and anything but a work of dry social history, the way Fussell relished it. His cover of Jimmy Lee Williams’s Have You Ever Seen Peaches Growing On A Sweet Potato Vine warned against too Quixotic an approach to life, yet Fussell’s joyously ringing guitar refrain told another tale – one where, whether by luck or grace, such a wonder might one day be stumbled upon. Miraculous.

Fleet Foxes photographed by Burak Cingi

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