Finish of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire/Dorset, UK — review

Jehnny Beth of Savages at the End of the Road Festival © Richard Gray/EMPICS Entertainment

All the speak was of the climate. We knew that rain would arrive, but when? In the occasion, the precipitation arrived in earnest on Saturday, but it was not enough seriously to dampen spirits at a bijou three-day occasion that has become a single of the jewels in the festival calendar. Ask Finish of the Road regulars why they maintain coming back and you are probably to hear the very same answer: it is all just so effortless. The environment is pretty, also: peacocks roam the grounds, pausing to pose for photographs, and there’s space to pitch your tent with out becoming also intimate with your neighbours’ breathing patterns.

Crucially, End of the Road is also extremely nicely curated. This year’s gave an exceptionally broad sweep of music, with a welcome emphasis on female performers. The opening day, for instance, provided Anna Meredith. Meredith is mostly a classical composer but here she presented a cross­over project with a band that included drums, guitar, tuba, two cellos, and her own keyboards and clarinet. Crescendos, chromatic scales, the repetitive patterns of minimalism: these components coalesced to form some thing complicated, layered and bold, with hints of Meredith’s native Scotland in the chiming guitars and chords. And the sight of this infectiously enthusiastic performer banging on a drum with the energy of a schoolchild was invigorating.

So too — even though in a quite various way — have been Savages, the UK-based band who performed on the major stage in the early evening. The black-clad all-female band roused the crowd with a bracing blast of precision-tooled noise and hollering. Savages are frequently described as “punk” or “post-punk”, but here they showed that they owe a debt to heavy metal also, with their alterations of pace and churning, cathartic riffs. Rabble-rousing French-born singer Jehnny Beth went walkabout on the shoulders of the crowd — obligingly removing her vertiginously higher-heeled footwear beforehand.

Friday’s headliners had been an odd bunch: Animal Collective are the Baltimore electronic experimentalists whose music veers from squelchy avant-gardism to bubbly dance-pop. Right here, on a stage decorated by three grotesque giant sculptural heads and accompanied by a hyperactive frenzy of lights and projections, the shadowy foursome presented a coherent, expertly segued 90 minutes of music the like of which no a single else is at present generating: burbly, elastic, chattery, skittish, danceable, undanceable, listenable, practically unlistenable, and with weirdly overlapping nerdy vocals.

After, for a joyous couple of minutes, the crowd were dancing and singing to “Flori-Dada” largely, this was music for the head as much as the legs. Strange, and memorable.

Swedish band Goat on stage at the End of the Road Festival © Richard Gray/ EMPICS Entertainment

Considerably of my very first afternoon was occupied with attempting — and failing — to get to see Stewart Lee on the comedy stage. The stewards told these waiting in the huge queues that we had no hope of getting in but still we queued — a phenomenon that this caustic comedian would certainly have had something to say about. On the comedy stage on Sunday, though, I saw Josie Long, who delivered a beautifully crafted piece which veered — inevitably, provided Long’s political leanings — towards Brexit. She discovered fertile ground among this predominantly middle-class audience for her despair over the vote, but also posited the importance of hope and reconciliation. Extended is a classy comedian she can “do” the silly voices, she can “do” the gags, but essentially she is a teller of really funny, thoughtful and nicely-crafted stories.

Saturday’s highlight — and maybe of the weekend — was a set from Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop. Beam is the US singer who otherwise goes by the name of Iron and Wine Hoop is the California-born singer and songwriter who recently collaborated with Beam on an album, Adore Letter for Fire. Their duets had been exquisite factors, their voices dovetailing immaculately, their harmonies close and unexpected they sang songs of love while the wind blew a parting in Beam’s beard and parrots flying overhead deposited “gifts” on the audience.

Beam and Hoop sang two startling cover versions: “Islands in the Stream”, in a minor crucial, and Eurythmics’ “Love Is a Stranger”. They have been funny, too. “Sorry about the rain,” said Beam. “It’s your fault for living right here.”

Goat are a Swedish collective who preserve anonymity behind exotic masks and play music that is tribal and hypnotic. Afrobeat, west African highlife and psychedelia combine in an intoxicating brew. The two frontwomen in their robes and masks sang and danced themselves into oblivion, shamanic go-go dancers surrounded by thumpingly very good musicians.

Bat for Lashes at the Finish of the Road Festival © Richard Gray/EMPICS Entertainment

Saturday’s headliner was Bat for Lashes, the singer otherwise recognized as Natasha Khan, performing right here in a wedding dress and bridal veil in maintaining with her recent album The Bride — the sorry tale of a woman who is about to get married when her groom dies in a car crash. A lot of her set was sparse and rather bleak but Khan redressed the balance with a far more cheerful concluding half-hour, which includes a touching cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy”. Her set also featured a heart-warming on-stage marriage proposal from a pal of Khan’s (“I consider we’re alone now,” he mentioned to his partner as thousands cheered she accepted).

On Sunday, the Malian/Algerian Tuareg band Imarhan got the crowd moving with their hypnotic, churning desert grooves, powered by a deliciously dirty guitar sound, circular vocals and insistent rhythms. A a lot appreciated early-afternoon sharpener.

Later the identical day, the Thurston Moore Group showed just what can be achieved with six metal strings and a plank of wood. Assisted by his ensemble, the former Sonic Youth player wrestled all manner of sounds and noises from his guitar, from delicate harmonics to buzzsaw growls. He is a excellent guitarist, but not in the tradition of Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck his skill lies in exploring the textures of the instrument, the way guitars mesh, clash and spiral on tracks such as the beautiful “Aphrodite”. Their set, although, ended abruptly right after 45 minutes. I’d been expecting, and anticipating, far more.

Section: Arts