“When I first came out, there was no one here, just a peacock,” says Rosali Middleman of Philly, gazing at the utterly relaxed crowd on camp chairs and blankets spread out on the idyllic lawns of the Garden Stage. . A sigh: “pretty magical”. It’s as succinct a version of End Of The Road’s unique vibe as you’ll hear, and Rosali makes the music par excellence to open a scene intended to lull us into the weekend proper. Alone with her electric guitar, she weaves a chiming, gossamer alt-folk full of silent agonies.
Londoner Naima Bock, the next, seems even sweeter, as it brings a full band but an equally restrained tone. She strips away the electronic, percussive and orchestral layers of tracks such as “Giant Palm” and “Working” to expose snow-sweet pastoral folk songs adorned with understated saxophone and peppered with explosions of Celtic chorale. Later, Anais Mitchell takes over beatifyingly with the maritime Americana of “Ships”, the soul scraping folk of “Young Man In America” and the New York feistian pop of “On Your Way (Felix Song)”.
On the Talking Heads stage, a solo James Yorkton gets even more raw and intimate, sitting in front of a keyboard playing soul-folk laments for his disappointing album charts and poetic anthems to “teacup-sized towns.” As he begins to sing “cocaine-fueled electronic cabarets” in “Woozy With Cider,” he channels the same sparse magic as Lou Reed and John Cale’s Songs For Drella.
Back on the garden scene, it’s Brighton’s boiled radio to prepare EOTR for the chaos to come. Their feverish and passionate post-punk has melodies to seduce, but also a cult air, especially when their violinist waves branches in the air as if to ward off the famous elves from the woods of Larmer Tree Gardens. In quirky stakes, however, they are bound to be monumentally eclipsed.
There is a point, just a few minutes after midi black set of titles, where you’re forced to give up hope of consistency and just go with the manic flow of it all. The opener “Welcome To Hell” – the doubts and discharge of soldier Tristan Bongo, taken from the maniacal rock opera album Hellfire which dominates the set – lives up to its title. For 75 intense minutes, screaming punk jazz gives way to hardcore thrash, devilish math-prog and, in the case of “The Defence”, a piano song by Billy Joel, often with no warm-up or warning.
When the singer geordie greep doesn’t seem to babble in tongues, he barks random pop culture references (“Honey, I shrunk the kids!”), asks the crowd to vape in unison for a smoke machine effect, and yells about deadly boxing matches (“Sugar/Tzu”) and a philosophical music-hall entertainer exploding on stage (“27 Questions”). As a jazz rock or prog band, they are particularly limitless; as post-punks, they go to volcanic places Fontaines DC wouldn’t dare.Rosali’s peacock doesn’t know what hit him: welcome, if you can bear it, to the age of insane things.