When a massive band like Vampire Weekend drops off the radar, it can be easy to forget just how important their contribution to ‘the scene’ has been. Already this summer we’ve seen Friendly Fires shake their hips through a triumphant return, even as they celebrate ten years of their debut LP. Performing in the UK for the first time since Reading & Leeds 2014, afrobeat-indie heroes Vampire Weekend are undoubtedly the star attraction at this year’s End of the Road.
Vampy Weekend may have lost founding member and guitarist Rostam Batmanglij since their last appearance, but in his place, they’re supplemented by four musicians including an extra drummer. Opening with a fitting ‘Holiday’, Ezra Koenig and co. immediately inspire joy as the field explodes into carefree abandon. Drawing liberally from all three albums, the New Yorkers revel in their return. From the giddy falsetto of ‘White Sky’ to the frantic ‘Cousins’, they have Larmer Tree eating out of the palm of their hands.
‘Diane Young’ still rips, a frenetic blast of YOLO energy that elicits frenzied dancing and everybody’s favourite singalong to that weird auto-tuned breakdown. There’s room for a Peter Gabriel homage in the middle of ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’, the snippet of ‘Solsbury Hill’ nodding to Gabriel’s cover of the VW song. Ezra apologises that the band don’t have any new songs to play tonight, but responding to a heckle from the front row, reveals that a new album is “done”, and that they’ll be playing songs from it next time they make the trip over the Atlantic.
Songs from 2013’s ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ make the biggest impression. ‘Step’ and ‘Unbelievers’ taking their trademark afrobeat and slowing it down slightly into more considered airy anthems. No matter how much we all love Vampire Weekend’s parade of hits, there’s one moment everyone has been waiting for. Hot on the heels of ‘Cousins’ and ‘Diane Young’, ‘A-Punk’ is an eruption of chanting, bouncing, skanking and general glee as the band take a victory lap through their breakthrough hit. A few years away, this welcome back party is no more than this band deserve, with Ezra visibly moved by the reception afforded them by a UK audience who’ve been patiently waiting four years to see them again.
Nestled in the Larmer Tree Gardens Estate near Dorset, this is the kind of festival you can bring your mum to, replete with wooded areas for artists to do pop up sets (sad song supergroup boygenius make their live debut on Friday sans Phoebe Bridgers), secluded yoga workshops and art installations. There are even band names for sale. If anyone fancies Wet Bap, Little Bishop or Totally Dog, you’ll have to move fast.
Friday sees St Vincent bring her full band to the Woods Stage for a set that closely mirrors her triumphant evening at All Points East earlier in the summer. Rocking an orange latex suit that matches her custom-built guitar, Annie Clark is an artist totally in control as she wows the Wiltshire crowd with a set that is carried by tracks from her brilliant recent album ‘MASSEDUCTION’.
Screaming Females lay waste to the Big Top tent early on Saturday, with a blistering set of hulking alt-rock. Bandleader Marissa Paternoster cuts an imposing figure, tightly curled over her guitar, hair over her eyes as her commanding vocals project to the back of the starry ceilinged tent. They dart between brooding grunge and turbocharged indie, with a dash of pixies punk thrown in for good measure. It’s a fairly mellow crowd at EotR, but they offer appreciative applause nonetheless.
Boy Azooga‘s Davey Newington has been having the time of his life this summer and is typically overjoyed to be back at EotR playing on the picturesque Garden Stage to a crowd who offer him lots of applause but maybe not quite the boisterous response he’s used to at his own gigs. Anyone who writes a Costello-style song about cops on the beat in Cardiff’s Splott suburb gets our vote. A friend of the festival, Boy Azooga will surely be back.
Julien Baker, up next, is a different affair. The Memphis singer glides through a spellbinding set that has the garden in a reverent silence. Alone but for a few contributions from violinist Camille Faulkner, Baker exudes an authority that belies her youth, making the Garden her sanctuary for an hour of looped guitar, heart-wrenching guitar and raw confessionals. Baker’s live show might not seem the obvious fit for a festival, but it’s perfect for this one. Building on a superb debut with an assured follow-up and collaborating with some of our favourite artists left right and centre, JB is doing things her own way and smashing it in the process.
Shame bring a couple of new songs with them for a riotous afternoon hour of power on the main stage. They’re in typically boisterous form, throwing themselves about the stage, into the crowd, into each other and their music. The brash post-punk of ‘Songs of Praise’ isn’t remarkable for its subtlety, but the absolute commitment this bunch have for their art is something special.
Rounding out the festival, Plastic Mermaids are brilliant, bonkers and a perfect Sunday pick-me-up as they bring their steam-punk space-synths to the Woods Stage. Clad in tinsel capes and firing off sparklers and party poppers in place of pyro, they’re a captivating live act with a knack for a big beat and funky bassline.
Closing out the Garden Stage, White Denim do what White Denim do. Dipping into their extensive back catalogue, they pull out bluesy guitars and T-Rex grooves that they’ve made their trademark. Idles are on a victory lap as they roll-out their self-released second album ‘Joy as an Act of Resistance’. They don’t know it at this point, but it’s headed for the Top 10. Combining politics, power and polemic, Idles are one of the most important bands in the country right now, and the anger they bring to End of the Road is just what’s needed.
This weekend belonged to Vampire Weekend, though. In uncertain times there’s so much to be said for a band that for 90 minutes put smiles on faces, get a field dancing and banish the blues away. Closing their main set with the jubilant commune ‘Ya Hey’, they’ve considerably raised the hype for their upcoming album by reminding us just what we’ve been missing. A final gallop through fan favourite ‘Walcott’ caps one of the summer’s best comebacks. As the band themselves intone on ‘Diane Young’, “Baby, baby, baby, baby, right on time (time, time, time, time, time).”
Words: Dillon Eastoe