End of the Road festival review – expertly curated indie rock

Larmer Tree Gardens, Wiltshire
American upstarts St Paul and the Broken Bones deliver a stupendous set, while indie darling St Vincent triumphs

There is a moment in the middle of St Paul and the Broken Bones's set at End of the Road when singer Paul Janeway unleashes a howl so electrifying it seems to tear right through the drizzly Wiltshire sky. Behind me, the crowd for the Alabama band's Saturday mid-afternoon performance has swiftly quadrupled. People are dancing, a woman is cavorting with a Hula Hoop and one couple has launched into a spontaneous make-out session. Proof, if it is needed, that this is one of the most stupendous live acts around.

End of the Road has grown steadily in the past eight years, in confidence and maturity perhaps more than size (capacity has been steady at about 11,000). Its calling card remains the impeccability of its lineup, a selection process that begins each year with co-founder Simon Taffe simply scanning his record collection.

The calibre of the headliners remains steady, too. This year brings magnificent sets from St Vincent, the Flaming Lips and the Horrors, but as St Paul and the Broken Bones testify, making perfect picks is also about placing faith in young bands. Alice Boman, Benjamin Booker, Adult Jazz and Benjamin Clementine also deliver career-firing performances. The intimacy of Taffe's curation means you trust this lineup the way you might rely on a particular friend for musical tips and so it remains one of the jewels of the festival calendar.

The festival, of course, isn't solely about the music. A substantially expanded literary stage hosts the likes of Mark Ellen and Viv Albertine, while a comedy stage deep in the woods welcomes Mark Watson and Knightmare Live, a cinema screens films from Harold and Maude, to The Lego Movie and Pulp: a Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets, and a workshop area that tutors in the art of poco drum and qi gong. That's not to mention the array of DJs, peacocks and pop-up gigs, Q&As, and the admirable food-stall selection (including Tibetan momos, or dumplings).

End of the Road's charm is also about the crowd. There is something wonderful about festivalgoers who seem so much invested in the acts they watch, delighting in St Vincent's triumphant Friday-night set, or the newfound bombast of Perfume Genius, willing on Cate Le Bon, John Grant and Wild Beasts.

Saturday night carries a mood that is perhaps the alt-equivalent of primetime light entertainment. Gruff Rhys employs PowerPoint and a felt puppet of Welsh explorer John Evans to present the story and songs of his American Interior album – a charming set that is the perfect combination of ramshackle presentation and polished pop. The night culminates with the Flaming Lips' particular brand of bubble-rolling psychedelia playing out to a rapturous crowd.

But if one performance sums up End of the Road's place in the musical heart it is surely the Gene Clark No Other Band, a supergroup featuring members of Beach House, Fleet Foxes, Wye Oak, Fairport Convention, Grizzly Bear and Celebration, who come together to recreate the songs of Gene Clark of the Byrds. It's an extraordinary display of talent and what feels like a truly special musical celebration.


Laura Barton

The GuardianTramp

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