IT COSTS NOTHING TO BE NICE, advice bestowed by mothers the world over. The motto makes extra sense at End Of The Road Festival, the traditional closer of the UK festival season held at Larmer Tree Gardens near Salisbury – this year, over the weekend of August 31-September 3.
Here, warmth and politeness held sway among fans and bands, and even the controversial new ‘long-drop’ loos – compostable, hence eco, yet noisome – failed to sour the mood. It may not be the Aquarian exposition of a Woodstock – no-one was getting loose and naked, thank you very much – but as a blueprint for a better world it’ll do fine.
As has become traditional, MOJO reflects on the five acts that impressed us most…
(Woods Stage, 9.30pm, Thursday)
Wowing MOJO twice in a week is no mean feat, but Wilco are pure quality, with a catalogue of songs of rare richness and a luxurious live sound pivoting on the poles of mainman Jeff Tweedy’s assured phrasing and guitarist Nels Cline’s spiky strangeness. Hence, the troubled grace of the Wilburys-ish Evicted, from their upcoming Cousin LP, beguiling as effectively as the hypnotic rock of opener Handshake Drugs or the intense boiling maelstrom of Being There’s classic tantrum, Misunderstood. It could be said that End Of The Road is an easy festival to play, especially for up-and-coming bands – audiences are receptive and curious – but a hard one to headline, as the ‘big’ acts can rarely expect a critical mass of hardcore fans. Ergo: the baffled shrugs greeting Cruel Country’s gnomic I Am My Mother (“How is he his mother?”), but whoops as Tweedy, Nels Cline and Pat Sansone passed the guitar baton, Grateful Dead-style. Ultimately, as Krautrocking flameout Spiders (Kidsmoke) sent the crowd into the night, Wilco reigned: a modern classic band still at the top of their game.
(Garden Stage, 3.00pm, Friday)
Horse Lords’ dizzying polymetric workouts amaze on record, but live they’re more mind-boggling still, as the Baltimore-bred, but now largely Germany-based four-piece build fugue states out of repetitive latticework that mulches jazz, prog, Krautrock and Saharan blues. At the Garden Stage – surely one of the best places to watch music in Europe – MOJO scratched its head in wonder as guitarist Owen Gardner and bassist Max Eilbacher rhythmically criss-crossed and saxophonist Andrew Bernstein blurted and droned. Highlights, surely, were the spangling Afro-psych of Mess Mend, from last year’s Comradely Objects album and the Terry-Riley-on-steroids rock-mantra that is Against Gravity, from 2020’s still-classic The Common Task. Aptly, escape velocity was achieved.
Panda Bear & Sonic Boom
(Big Top, 11.00pm, Friday)
Animal Collective’s angelic, Wilsonian singer-creator, Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox, and the one-time Spacemen 3 man Peter “Sonic Boom” Kember both live in or near Lisbon, Portugal and collaborate regularly, though never more symbiotically than on Reset, one of MOJO’s albums of 2022. This year they’ve been playing their album, live, from start to finish and encoring with choice cuts from both artists’ solo catalogues. That makes their shows sound schematic, but MOJO’s experience is of an ever-evolving presentation, growing more powerful with every visit. Beginning with samples from (by and large) early ’60s 45s in the Boom collection, their Reset songs become epic blooms that channel the innocence and minimalism of early rock, finding a seed of psych in each and coaxing it into full flower. Their late-night End Of The Road set was the festival highlight of most who saw it. “Everly Brothers on acid!” said one sparkly-eyed convert. Although hallucinogens may have been ingested.
(Woods Stage, 7.30pm, Saturday)
The penultimate set of the festival’s main stage bill on Saturday evening had been ringfenced for a Mystery Artist – and the secret was well kept until early afternoon on the day. End Of The Road plays a part in the Wet Leg story, as the idea for the band was hatched by its main protagonists at a previous EOTR (co-writing guitarist Josh Mobaraki also hails from nearby Salisbury) – of which main singer Rhian Teasdale reminded us early doors, after apologising for a very heavy cold.
But actually, Wet Leg needed no apologies. With more buzz, charisma, fun factor, breadth of appeal and recent album sales to Wet Leg’s name than more or less any other act appearing over the weekend, MOJO felt sorry for The Anchoress, whose set overlapped in the Big Top tent, and Future Islands, obliged to headline the Woods above them. And that was before they proceeded to dispel any lingering impressions of them as novelty lightweights. Saw-toothed, well-drilled, loud and heavy, they sounded more like a top-drawer early-’90s grunge-pop band than their records suggest. While their quirks (when guitarist and co-writer Hester Chambers sang verses, she covered her eyes, as if blocking out the crowd) reminded us that, in many ways, there’s never been a band quite like Wet Leg.
Alogte Oho & His Sounds Of Joy
(Garden Stage, 4.30, Sunday)
MOJO’s World Music correspondent David Hutcheon had urged, “Whatever you do, don’t miss Alogte Oho,” and we were wise to heed his advice. Northern Ghanaian Oho is a gospel man, with much pointing to the heavens to make clear the inspiration for his songs, but there was no need for a pre-existing religious bent to feel saved by his mid-afternoon set on the festival’s final day. Reggae, soul, funk (A Lemine Me gave off hints of Curtis Mayfield) and highlife melted together in a high-energy cocktail founded on drums and bass-synth, fired by inspired saxophone and trumpet duelling, and brought home by the laser intercessions of two female co-singers with the most insane time-keeping imaginable. Meanwhile, When the spirit moved him, which was often, Oho would spin around and his pleated tunic would lift up like a rah-rah skirt. The stereotype of the End Of The Road audience as attentive but polite was overturned, as rump-shaking abandon of all sorts was observed. Again, not quite Woodstock, but not a million miles away, either.
Wet Leg photographed by Chris Juarez