It’s midday on Sunday at the bijou Piano Stage. For those feeling a little discombobulated and sleep-deprived, Cassandra Jenkins can empathise. She hasn’t been getting much sleep recently either. “But not for the reasons you think,” she explains. “I was asked to write an essay about my favourite movie – turns out I have a lot to say about Wayne’s World…”
Her raconteurial gifts also inform her gorgeously slow-burning, consoling songs. Accompanied here just by a saxophonist and a giant dragonfly who keeps divebombing the audience to much amusement, it really feels like a special moment, particularly when Jenkins follows her own “Hard Drive” with a cover of the equally poignant Evan Dando song of the same name. Even more impressive is that when she reappears with a full band on the Garden Stage two hours later, she manages to retain the warm intimacy of the earlier stripped-down set.
Jake Xerxes Fussell is another performer who manages to make it feel like he’s playing in your living room, with his unshowy but mesmeric folk fingerpicking. “Have you ever seen peaches growing on a sweet potato vine?” he sings. No, but at this festival, we’re not ruling anything out – after all, we have just seen a parrot and peacock hanging out together on a tree behind the press cabin.
Jana Horn also plays solo, though not by choice: her guitarist was held up at the airport, necessitating an even more minimal set than usual. Visibly trembling with nerves, she admits that this is the biggest show she’s played since singing at a police officer’s funeral. On some songs she doesn’t even play chords, tapping out single notes to accompany her wan vocal melodies. It makes Jake Xerxes Fussell sound like Muse by comparison. But songs such as “Optimism”, sparse and simple as they are, have a strange, hypnotic allure.
No reticence from Ryley Walker. “Siiiick!” he yells, after successfully negotiating a particularly knotty prog-noise coda. “The surcharge on your ticket is for extra psychedelia!” As part of a virtuoso trio with Andrew Scott Young on bass and the astonishing Ryan Jewell on drums, Walker’s certainly got chops, adding a jaw-dropping free-jazz freakout to the middle of “The Halfwit In Me”. But for the most part his songs are more thoughtful and nuanced than his exaggerated party bro persona suggests. He’s also smart enough to know exactly which county he’s in, taking a very respectable crack at “Knuckle Down” by local heroes XTC.
It’s about as frenetic as Sunday gets. Ethio-jazz legend Hailu Mergia helms a hugely agreeable set of languid, organ-driven funk. Kurt Vile locks into a mellow mid-tempo groove with “Mount Airy Hill” and stays there for 75 minutes. As always, the moment when you start wondering if it might be getting a bit boring is swiftly followed by the realisation that you’d be perfectly happy for him to carry on choogling forever.
Aldous Harding is another less-is-more advocate. Her songs can feel light as air, but anchored by unsettling, cryptic allusions. She’s a captivating presence, even when she’s sitting stock-still holding an acoustic guitar; when she gets up and starts artfully bashing a cowbell for “Old Peel”, it’s like a piece of avant-garde ballet. But what does it all mean? Harding gives nothing away, which ultimately makes it difficult to really fall in love with what she’s doing. At this stage in proceedings, a more unequivocal emotional connection is required.
So the festival gets a fitting send-off down on The Boat stage, deep in the heart of the woods. Standing opposite each other like duelling warriors, saxophonist Waclaw Zimpel and modular synth shaman James Holden summon a throbbing, elemental jazz-techno maelstrom. “This is a tune we wrote yesterday,” declares Holden. But it could have been written 1000 years ago. At the end of the set, a man dressed as Catweazle raises a giant wooden staff to the sky, a salute to the ancient sonic gods. Our quest has indeed reached the end of the road; we have become one with the forest.
Catch up with the rest of Uncut’s End Of The Road 2022 coverage here:
Khruangbin, Sudan Archives: End Of The Road Festival 2022 – Day 1
Black Midi Q&A: End Of The Road Festival 2022 – Day 2
Naima Bock, James Yorkston, Black Midi: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 2
Tinariwen, Fleet Foxes, Beak: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 2
The Weather Station Q&A: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 3
The Magnetic Fields, Kevin Morby: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 3
Pixies, Margo Cilker, The Weather Station: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 3
Kurt Vile Q&A: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 4
Yard Act, Bright Eyes: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 4