END OF THE ROAD 2017
This past weekend I did something completely unrelated to theatre. I went to a music festival. After Edinburgh, this was a gift and a sanctuary of hedonism and tents. It wasn’t perfect, nothing is, but it was a rest for my weary heart. It reminded me why I love music, especially live music, and why I love the people who watch it. No one is really there to be cynical, because what’s the point? You’d just go see another gig. It reminded me why I love writing about music. It’s a mixture of joy, escapism, spectacle, and romance.
I have made this post fun and interactive! There’s a playlist to go alongside your reading. It features some of my favourite artists from the weekend, and I’ll talk about all of them on the post, so you can get a feel for what and who I saw.
It’s embedded and everything. So fancy.
Before I start, I will also be mentioning someone called Tilly during this post (which as you might’ve already guessed, is going to be quite long). She is one of my most lefty right-on pals. As well as being caring, incredibly intelligent, and totally funny (in the least arrogant way possible), she is also just great fun and lets me dance my silly little heart out. I love her a lot and so should you. It was also her birthday over the weekend, so that’s fun too. Here is a little picture for reference:
Tilly and I arrive with high spirits and also actual spirits, hidden in our bag. Turns out they didn’t need to be hidden as this was the most relaxed festival I have ever attended. We were allowed to bring whatever we wanted from the campsite onto the festival grounds. This meant no buying expensive beers and overpriced shots and especially no binge drinking shitty wine at 3pm, which is SUCH a rarity in any festival now. The stages are small, adorned with green leaves and wooden signs. Everything looks like it was made by a woman draped in scarves, probably in her back garden. I went to another festival in America earlier this year, and the screens beside the stage were as wide and as high as the stage itself (which was massive). Here there are no screens at all and yet really good sight lines. End of the Road is tucked away in Larmer Tree Gardens, just outside of Salisbury. It’s known as music’s best-kept secret. It could be a country fair, with its cruelty-free alpaca jumper stall and ‘Vegan Junk Food’ line stretching far beyond any other beside it. The crowd is divided into families/older fest goers, and young things like us. Think lots of boys with nose piercing and dungarees, lots of girls with pink hair and cardigans. Everyone was beautiful. The first two days are perfect. The temperature is hot, but not so hot that I wanted to sweat my entire skin off. Tilly and I switch between floating dresses and high waisted trousers, but always accompanied by glitter.
First day, first gig. We had a little bit of inside information and had heard that Mac Demarco, the Canadian born indie rock star, would be secretly interviewed for a podcast on the Comedy stage at 1pm on Friday. We arrived there at 12, to find the longest queue in the world waiting for us. Clearly not that secret. No matter though, Tilly and I are intrepid women so we ran down to the front of a huge grassy slope to a sit in front of a very small stage. Mac did indeed arrive at 1, and was incredibly charming. His demeanour was soft and he almost recoiled from the crowd at times. He played ‘This Old Dog’, off his new record, and ‘Still Together’, an older song from 2, his second album. His stripped back acoustic guitar matched his retreating personality. He was apologetic of some bum notes, laughing with us at the long, high wails of ‘Still Together’. Afterwards, we met him and obviously both froze, because what do you say to the coolest guy ever?
We leave a little flustered but just totally happy. End of the Road was kind to us in the early hours of that first day. Later, we see Parquet Courts and Real Estate in a double bill on the main stage. Both indie folk bands have a weird appeal that made us stay. Real Estate are a band I’ve known about for a while, but have never really appreciated. ‘Talking Backwards’ is a song from my Vampire Weekend days and it was actually excellent live. Martin Courtney has a bashful smile that guides him through each song; lilting twangs bumble along into catchy choruses. They seem quietly happy to be there, grateful of our dancing and the sunset. Alex Bleeker, who looks like a cool and charasmatic dad, leads us in a unified farewell to the sun as it sets over the trees. These songs are like coronas; crisp and light. You don’t feel too heady afterwards.
If Real Estate are a light beer, Mac Demarco and his headlining set is the Jameson whiskey he swigs in between songs. Tilly says Jameson whisky is ‘top class’, and so is Mac’s set. He swaggers on stage with his band and he opens with ‘On a Level’ from his latest record, arguably a much more mature collection than his previous works. Somehow a crowd of sweaty teenagers find they can jump around to Steely Dan style guitar and crooning lyrics. It’s pretty great. His stage persona is like a different person to the shy guy we saw in the afternoon earlier that day. He is more drunk, more sweaty, more carefree. He covers ‘A Thousand Miles’ but only repeats the first line; Making my way downtown, over and over. It’s sarcastic, ironic, cynical. Everything End of the Road isn’t. But it works, and his genuine love for his craft is glimpsed in songs like ‘The Stars Keep on Calling My Name’ and ‘A Heart Like Hers’. There is a generosity in his performance, as he accepts a cigarette from a fan, as he talks about Kiki (his long time true love), as he praises EOTR for its kindness, as he crowd-surfs across the crowd and all the way to Pond. That takes a certain kind of trust and love and irony to let your fans do that. He loses a shoe along the way. It’s fairly brilliant, really.
We reach Pond. That is, me, Tilly, Mac, and the whole of his crowd reach Pond all at the same time. Still on a high from Mac’s set and after-set-surf we get quickly absorbed in Pond’s psychedelic durational indie-rock. A band that has titles like ‘Man, It Feels Like Space Again’ and ‘30000 Megatrons’ have got to be incredibly annoying, right? Well, they aren’t. They’re again pretty humbled and have the best light show of the whole festival. It’s funky and dirty under your nails, clouded by Tame Impala-ish riffs.
First up on Day Two is Moses Sumney. A recommendation from my dad and an excellent one at that. Sumney is iconic; dressed in reflective sunglasses and high waisted linen. He quips that he’s going to play more ‘sad, boring songs, sorry’. We don’t mind. His set is intricate and experimental. He sings a lot about death and recycling. It’s giving and also very private. We are allowed glimpses into his process and his humour, but it is soon masked by his loop pedal chords and piercing vocals. Tilly says he’s like Bon Iver, but way better. She’s right of course. He is way better, and he hasn’t even released his first album yet.
Then we head to Alvvays, a high school sweetheart Canadian band, and it’s pronounced ‘always’ by the way. We got it wrong, too. Their set is so cute. We dance along to lyrics about Canadian streets and prom queens and matrimonial harmony. I haven’t been able to get ‘Party Police’ out of my head. It’s the one on the playlist, so do be warned before you listen, that it will probably be stuck on a loop. Also, it’s where the title of the post comes from (sort of).
You don’t have to leave, you could just stay here with me
Forget all the party police, we can find comfort in debauchery
So I thought Friday couldn’t be topped. We met Mac DeMarco like HOW could that be topped?
Turns out it totally could be. We head back to the stage where we saw Moses Sumney and settle ourselves into the third row for Car Seat Headrest. Fronted by Will Toledo (who had released eleven(!) full length albums on band camp before being picked up by a record label) Car Seat Headrest are an oxymoronic cocktail. The lyrics drip with pretentious authenticity and the music is both incredibly inventive and soulful, as well just being angry noise a lot of the time. Over the past year, I have listened to their album most. It has stuck with me and I’m not really sure why? It’s just very good. The song ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ is my favourite and it was like a spiritual experience when I saw it live. Everyone around me loved that band as much as I did, and we let them know. We danced and pushed and shouted and laughed in the night.
Then we run to Father John Misty. Tilly hates him. She has hated him ever since I played his second record in our dorm at school in December of 2015. She was determined to see Ty Segall instead. But I drag to the first half an hour of Misty, promising she will at least be able to laugh at him. Once she sees how hard I scream when he comes out on stage, she decides we should stay. I lost my voice during this set. FJM is such an asshole. His stage personality oozes cynicism and the gloating misogyny that follows some of his lyrics make me want to hate him. But all rational thought leaves my brain when his songs start. I know every single word and it annoys everyone around me. Tilly loves this and joins in when she can (luckily she doesn’t have the same obsessive personality I do and everyone around us was a little bit less annoyed with her). He begins the set with tracks from his third album, ‘Pure Comedy’, where he tries to distil modern hopelessness with cackling irony. He wades so deep in sarcasm in those songs that it seems like he is stuck there, and can’t return to the humour and love of Fear Fun or maybe even I Love You, Honeybear. However, as much as these songs frustrate me, I still sing along. Then he finally gets onto songs like ‘Nancy From Now On’, and ‘Strange Encounter’. He thrusts his skinny body around the stage and throws his sweaty hair about. As ironic as Josh Tillman wants to be, his sets still give people unadulterated joy.
Third day. So. Much. Rain. Like, So Much.
We take shelter in the Tipi tent, it is warm and comfortable and has some lovely folk bands hiding away. We arrive to see the end of Allison Crutchfield and the Fizz, afterwards taking a nap on the woven flooring. It smells damp mostly, so that’s a little unpleasant but we get over it because we’re pretty damp too. Next up, Spook School. They are an incredible queer punky indie band. Tilly and I dance harder with every song. They sing about being non-binary, about abusive relationships, and about bisexuality. It’s clever, anarchic pop and we dance so hard. It’s so much fun.
We move outside, to see Perfume Genius, another incredible queer artist. Mike Hadreas is a sexy, leather trouser wearing, beautifully and unashamedly camp performer. His elegance and intensity is matched by the sharp skills of his band. We watch as he pulls himself in and out of shapes around the stage, contorting himself to fit different patterns and move outside of defined rhythms. His voice is beautiful and clear, cutting through the rain to the back of the crowded garden.
And that’s it really. It was a weekend of indulgence and pleasure and beer. There were only around 9000 people there. We saw all the same people at the same gigs, including two very young girls with very good music taste, who liked being on the barrier no matter the consequences. I find myself reaching back to certain moments. To the mornings of sausage and egg baps, to the shared laughs between artists and crowds, to humbled smiles from smaller artists given big stages, to the free plate of roast potatoes drowned in gravy. It was really fun to write this long and indulgent post about something I really love, even if no one reads it. Festivals feel like a place where I can let go of everything else, and just kind of enjoy having no real concept of time except to see the next set, and not eating real food for a couple of days, or sleeping in a real bed. It’s a pocket of nowhere and it’s taken down when we leave. It’s a small imagined community of sound and creation and I love it. I felt like this one wasn’t too capitalist either.
Thanks Tilly. Thanks End of the Road. Thanks Mac and Josh.
I’ll now go back to my blankets of hibernation.