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End of the Road 2016 Festival Review: The 20 Best Moments

Joanna Newsom, The Shins, Savages and many others highlighted our weekend in England

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Crowd // By Lior Phillips

    Photography by Nina Corcoran and Lior Phillips

    While we can all argue about which festival books the best lineup until we’re blue in the face, it’d be hard to argue that there’s a festival anywhere that pays attention to the little details the way that End of the Road does.

    The Larmer Tree Gardens scenery — lush greenery, grotto, roaming peacocks — was breathtaking. But then add in attractions like papier mache sculptures of badgers and foxes, crafting workshops and yoga classes, a Secret Postal Office for delivering private messages, and a “photo booth” in which a quick-sketch artist drew portraits among many other treasures hidden in the woods.

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    Photo by Lior Phillips

    That diverse set of charmed and enchanted experiences was curated likely because of the family nature of the crowd, ranging from a few months old (so many babies!) to a large proportion of those that’d be deemed “too old” at many other festivals (so many Baby Boomers!). Need to keep the kids busy? Take them to the croquet station or the “Best Stick” competition. Feeling like you can’t keep up with the stage-bouncing? Lock down a seated spot at the Comedy Stage or the hidden Piano Stage, essentially a living room plopped in the middle of the woods at which intimate, surprise performances from elsewhere on the lineup were held.

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    Speaking of surprise, there was quite a lot of room for it on the lineup, several question marks left prominently at the end of the day throughout the weekend. Some were filled by second performances from the likes of Ezra Furman, Flamingods, and Weaves, while others featured unbilled additions like Wild Beast and Jon Hopkins. While it’d have been damn near impossible to catch it all, those lucky enough to chase the mystery were likely happy with the results.

    Nina Corcoran, End of the Road, Crowd 14-6

    Photo by Nina Corcoran

    There were also plenty of artists making their UK debut (Pinegrove, Lucy Dacus) or returning after long absences (The Shins, Broken Social Scene), meaning there were plenty there to find out exactly what would happen. This was a festival fueled in large part by curiosity, and the intricate details and musical magic found therein were an amazing reward.

    –Adam Kivel
    Executive Editor


    The Shins

    The Reclaim of Fame

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    Photo by Lior Phillips

    “We are really, really happy to be here,” James Mercer said as The Shins took the stage, headlining the first day of End of the Road. Their set burst with genuine joy, but that first moment summed it all up. The Shins’ sweet, anthemic songs — most touched with a hint of melancholy — fit the festival perfectly, the damp woods of Larmer Tree Garden not too unlike their base in Portland, Oregon. “I was walkin’ around earlier and saw lots of little children around,” he added. “That’s always a good sign.”

    Mercer and the band seemed in genuine warm spirits, eager to be playing their first show in four years. Whether relating a story about being asked where he stood on a scale of “one to Chris Brown” when looking sick or debuting new, Smiths-y tunes like “Dead Alive”, the Shins seemed to have grins permanently stuck on their faces. There was no rust on classics like “Kissing the Lipless”, “Caring Is Creepy”, or “New Slang”, and a triumphant “Simple Song” sing-along closed the set on a sweet note. “Cheers, guys. I hope you’re having fun,” Mercer smiled. “We’re having fun.”

    Despite the massive crowd, the big stage, and the long time off, The Shins seem to be completely ready to reclaim their spot at the top of the indie game again. —Lior Phillips


    Pinegrove

    The Adorable Stage Banter

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    Photo by Lior Phillips

    It doesn’t seem like it’ll be the case for long, but for now, Pinegrove have been slotting into early afternoon performances at their festival stops. “We’re peppy for the early crowd,” grinned frontman Evan Stephens Hall; and he was ready to prove it, turning even a line like “Do you want to die?” on the ensuing “Size of the Moon” into an upbeat anthem.

    The New Jersey outfit tore through a good deal of the excellent Cardinal, including a track from the “UK reissue bonus disc,” the excellent “Paterson + Leo”. Throughout the set, Hall fought through a cough (“I have allergic bronchitis; I’ll tell you more about that later if you want to know”) to hit all the highs in the group harmonies on tunes like “Aphasia” and “Old Friends”, further proving their cheery attitude and musical muscle. —Adam Kivel


    Ezra Furman

    The Sad Songs Let Out of Their Cages

    Photo by Lior Phillips

    “When I play as I do with my usual band, we want to have fun — which is why we don’t play soul-crushingly depressing songs,” Ezra Furman said in a low-slung waver, though smiling. “Which makes me soul-crushingly depressed when I think about it.” He proceeded to play a song he insisted was so sad it’d make many people cry or leave. “Watch You Go By” (from last year’s excellent Perpetual Motion People) indeed brought more than a few tears, but no one was going to leave while this song remained.

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    Though he performed with the Boy-Friends on the big Tipi stage for a Thursday surprise set and Saturday at the Garden Stage, he popped up for a third performance at the all-surprises Piano stage, standing alone in the charming living room-esque space. Furman also compared his songs to children that he unfortunately has to keep in cages, some longer than others because they don’t fit the settings. He has enough stunners to unleash three completely unique sets, letting the right kids out of the cages for his surroundings. And in the subtle, resonant, acoustic set at the Piano Stage, his saddest, sweetest, most intimate children ran free in the charming, old living room in the woods. —Adam Kivel


    Broken Social Scene

    The Masterful Declaration of Return

    Photo by Lior Phillips

    “We’re Broken Social Scene and we’re coming back!” Kevin Drew insisted multiple times during the band’s set. That proclamation was partially tied to the fact that the band hadn’t played the UK since 2011, but also to the fact that they’re preparing for their first record since 2010.

    The crowd showed the appropriate level of appreciation for their return, roaring for tracks like “Fire Eye’d Boy”, “Ibi Dreams of Pavement”, and “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl”. Brendan Canning high-kicked around the stage, Justin Peroff smacked away at the kit, the wall of guitars clashed and harmonized, and the horn section hit hard. But Drew and co. were interested in more than getting attention for themselves, repeatedly insisting that they were here for the audience, not the other way around.

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    “This is therapy time, you got a problem you’re gonna leave it here, you got issues you’re gonna leave it here,” Drew proclaimed, leading everyone in a group scream … or roar if you did it like me. Though I’m sure expelling the political and financial angst of the moment was important for the UK residents, the crowd didn’t need much encouragement to scream, as excited as they were for the return of Broken Social Scene. Coming back? They never left. —Lior Phillips


    Anna Meredith

    The Swarming Electronic Symphony

    Photo by Lior Phillips

    The crowd grooved ecstatically under the Big Top circus-like tent as Anna Meredith and her band layered orchestral bombast and cheerful group-singing on “Taken”. But listen closer and all wasn’t as bright as the smiling tuba player might suggest.

    “What seemed a good idea has fast become a fraying waste of time,” they sang in unison. That kind of contradictory, massive feeling isn’t out of the ordinary for the one-time composer in residence at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The six-piece — the aforementioned tuba, two cellos, guitar, drums, Meredith on clarinet, synths, and drum — layered sweeping sounds like Beach Boys harmonies at one moment, transitioning to electronic glitch at another, all while watercolor animations of cute animals spread across the screen behind them (the smiling slug was a personal favorite). Seeing them all chant out “Taken”, though, hit the mark, intricate and emotionally resonant. —Lior Phillips


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