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All photos © Eric Swedlund, 2010.

The road from Bruges to the Larmer Tree Gardens in rural southwestern England is indeed a long one. First, there’s the prying away of two beer fanatics from the limitless flavor and quality of the Belgian brews. Next, there’s winding out of the narrow and confusing streets and finally hitting the open road. And negotiating through a bit of France to the port of Calais. There’s the buying of the over-priced ferry pass, the loading on and off of the ferry and in between, the nice bit of relaxation whilst crossing the Channel. Then, of course, there’s the six more hours of driving, mostly through the dark, for those optimistic idiots who way – waaaaay – underestimated the distance.

But there it was, as promised, the festival at the end of the road. Thankfully the folks running the show didn’t shut the gates at 11 p.m. as outlined on the website, because Cory & I were never sure whether the GPS’ time of arrival estimate was on continental or UK time.

My first taste of England, outside of the rest areas and the ever-present strangeness of left-side driving, was this dark, expansive countryside, with more grass than ought to exist in any one place, at least in the skewed mind of this desert rat. We pitched the tent unknowingly in the family area, but figured it would be fine and ultimately quieter than the general camping area.

It was well after purchasing the tickets that we realized the festival was limited to 5,000 people and had such an “Americana” niche, both surprising elements for England, with the sprawling wildness of its Glastonbury fest and its current music scene, a sort of art/dance hybrid area of rock. But it was a perfect fit for both my type of festing, which focuses on chilling out, and my type of music, that vaguely defined Cosmic American soundscape embodied best at the End of The Road by Wilco, the best working band in America and one I’d rank below only Dylan and Springsteen among my personal favorites.

We walked the festival grounds to get a sense of things in the Thursday night darkness, stopping by the beer tent to test out whether this funny looking paper known as pounds was an actual currency. Sure enough. And if (like me) you’ve ever been charmed by a cute girl with a British accent, that charm only grows when she’s giving you a Guinness. And another one or few…

We woke up Friday and after having a cup of coffee drove into Blandford Forum, the nearest town, to buy supplies for the festival, hoping to cut the cost on food and beer by bringing in all we could. And, of course, we were lost in varying degrees for most of the time we were gone, trying to rely on the GPS that was at its wit’s end figuring out the winding backcountry roads. But we returned to the End of the Road in plenty of time to make some sandwiches at the tent and meet some of our camping neighbors before making our way to the tent stage for the Ruby Sons, a Sub Pop band from New Zealand that struck me as a tiki-inspired take on Animal Collective’s electronic rock.

The day really got going with The Mountain Goats over on the main Garden Stage. I’d been steadily falling into Mountain Goats fandom since my brother moved to Tucson with a career-spanning mix that I listened to relentlessly and then promptly lost. John Darnielle and Co. (including Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster) opened with one of my favorites, “Going to Georgia,” and played a high-energy set, drawing largely from the band’s best record, The Sunset Tree. It was a great live introduction to The Mountain Goats.
DOWNLOAD: The Mountain Goats – Going To Georgia (live 2010-12-01)

Wolf Parade leaned heavily on new record Expo 86, an album I never got to catch up with during my summer of working every day (to save up for all that European galavanting, including of course, the End of the Road), so it was a different experience than when I saw then tour years ago in Tucson. It’s weird, though, that despite the fact I didn’t know the songs beforehand, I had every certainty during the show that this new album is the band’s best. Whatever Krug and Boeckner are doing with their other projects seems to have an continually positive effect on Wolf Parade’s music.
DOWNLOAD: Wolf Parade – Ghost Pressure

Modest Mouse is a band I never saw live when I should have, when the band first started mattering to me, when The Moon & Antarctica shook me up with its mix of what I considered late-night driving music and frantic, yelping tunes that never seemed to lose their melodic core. I first saw the band instead in 2008, after Johnny Marr had joined the band and the chaotic, drunken shows had become a thing of the past. And Modest Mouse is an excellent live band, despite the obstacle of having to reproduce Isaac Brock’s alternately whispering and yelling vocals live. I was suitably mesmerized, as most of the End of the Road crowd appeared to be. But something still had me longing for a small club show, not knowing whether the singer was going to fall down drunk or deliver an uplifting set. In growing professional, they left behind some of that exhausted passion. It’s the sort of trade that’s at the heart of rock ‘n’ roll, for both its performers and its fans. But there’s still those crowd-sing-along moments that make it all worthwhile.
DOWNLOAD: Modest Mouse – Gravity Rides Everything (live 2009-09-02)

With the Garden Stage wrapped up for the night, Cory & I walked back over to the Tent Stage to catch the New Pornographers, who I’d decided against seeing just weeks earlier in Tucson, knowing I would have the band at my disposal in England. And it was worth the wait. Even without Neko Case and Dan Bejar, the New Pornographers are a force live, playing an impossibly energetic and catchy rock and roll that loses nothing from the studio to the stage. I was thrilled with the songs from the excellent new Together album, and definitely interested in taking another pass at the underrated Challengers. But the band’s best was definitely the encore song: the buoyant and transcendent “Bleeding Heart Show,” which stands as one of the absolute highlights of the entire festival.
DOWNLOAD: New Pornographers – My Rights Versus Yours

 

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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