“I don’t think we’ve ever played this early in the day before,” muses Konnor Whitney, kicking off Sunday’s proceedings on the Boat stage. But no matter that the crisp, urbane choogle of his band Whitney K is more suited to 2am than 2pm; he seems like the kind of guy who gets straight down to business with the minimum of fuss. One of their best songs sounds a bit like “Sultans Of Swing,” so obviously it’s simply called “Dire Straits”. It’s also full of great lines. “Shouldn’t have bet on rock’n’roll / To save your soul,” Whitney observes drolly in the chorus. Too late!
It’s a family affair on the Garden Stage with Joan Shelley appearing alongside her husband, the equally talented Nathan Salsburg. They hope that their infant daughter may soon be able to join them too, but for now they tell her favourite joke on her behalf (“a duck walks a bar…”). It’s a touching moment in a set full of them, not least when Shelley instigates a gentle singalong to “Like The Thunder”. “I was turned off by Pete Seeger singalongs when I was a kid because they were meant to change the world and didn’t,” she reveals. “But then I realised they can be really good for you.” And she’s not wrong.
Alogte Oho & His Sounds of Joy may be the most aptly named band at the festival. The colourful Ghanaian troupe deal in infectious, uptempo, gospel-infused Afrobeat – with a side order of reggae – complete with a potent brass section and funky synth solos. Oho himself is a relentlessly upbeat presence and by the end of an exhilarating set, he’s made himself several hundred new friends.
Staying in that part of the world, Fatoumata Diawara is a fine ambassador for West African music in all its many forms. Highlife, Afrobeat, desert blues… Diawara (and her terrific band) can do it all, and in a variety of extravagant headgear. Her ‘magic hour’ set on the Woods Stage is pure bliss.
And finally, the big blowout we’d all been hoping for. “Weathered festival friends!” roars King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s Stu Mackenzie, looking suitably crazed in dungaree shorts, no shirt. “Let’s give it one last launch.”
There’s no denying that the Gizz are now a bona fide phenomenon, turning a whole new generation onto the joys of gnarly psychedelic rock. If there is still a whiff of wackiness about them – that name, those mullets – it’s instantly dispelled by a stupendous salvo of face-melting prog-funk brilliance. These boys can really play, but it’s not just pyrotechnics; there’s an unexpected soulfulness at times, particularly when the band’s secret weapon, keyboardist Ambrose Kenny-Smith, unleashes his bluesy croon. In general, the first portion of the set is a lot more Allman Brothers than you might expect.
Obviously that’s followed by an intriguing electropop diversion and a daft ode to a favourite dog. And then, “Time to get heavy!” as recent thrash metal homage “Gila Monster” unleashes absolute pandemonium. The crowdsurfers pour over the barriers in torrents, some barely into their teens, others old enough to know better. But in a lovely touch, a friend of the band hands each of them a breadstick as they are bundled back into the throng. This moment nicely reflects the band’s mission: to play intense, heavy music but with zero aggression, only pure joy and love. Like almost everything else at this incredible festival, it’s a genuinely life-affirming experience.
Catch up with all of Uncut’s coverage of End Of The Road 2023 here.