End of the road festival | Pop review

Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset

There are times when one longs for something with a little more oomph at End of the Road – this is a ­festival whose booking policy ­concentrates on what might be called the spectral and haunting at one end, and the grizzled and rootsy at the other. So one can stroll 100 yards from the ­twinkling candy pop of Soy un Caballo to see William Elliott Whitmore singing a cheery number about digging graves – seemingly a thematic trope of the weekend – and feel one has got the gist of things within five minutes.

But End of the Road crams in an awful lot within that narrow span. Swedish husband-and-wife duo Wildbirds and Peacedrums' sensual, percussive set exists at the surprisingly attractive ­junction of tuneless and mesmerising. The Low Anthem play an afternoon set of captivating acoustic folk-pop to a main-stage crowd sprawled across enough folding furniture to stock a garden centre. The Broken Family Band return at times to the Anglicised country they played before their conversion to full-blooded rock. Okkervil River prove their burgeoning reputation to be ­justified, even if singer Will Sheff carries himself like a man convinced he's the only ­interesting person at the party.

What is lacking in this procession of the endlessly civilised, however, is a ­festival moment – the sense of a band seizing the occasion to propel ­themselves to something greater. The main excitement surrounds a band who already embody the event's ethos – the crowd to see Fleet Foxes' Satuday night headline set is so large that the main stage area is closed, and even drummer J Tillman's solo set earlier in the day sees queues outside the tent, and ­security out in force for the only time all weekend.

Perhaps aware of the bubble effect of so much cosiness, the veteran ­campaigning songwriter Steve Earle brings a welcome dose of charisma and the outside world to Sunday evening. Introducing a ferocious Copperhead Road, he warns the crowd not to "throw the baby out with the bath water" when they vote in the next general election. They raise their Fairtrade falafels and organic cider in salute.


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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