The Comet Is Coming, Jonny Greenwood: End Of The Road Festival 2021 – Day 3

Plus Field Music, Hen Ogledd, Kiran Leonard, Modern Nature and Giant Swan

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Three days in and it’s time to disrupt End Of The Road’s hitherto cosy vibe. Handed the unenviable midday slot in the Big Top, knotty post-rocker Kiran Leonard responds in typically uncompromising fashion with a set of largely new material, drawn from his upcoming double album, Trespass On Foot. The subject matter is not cheery – one song appears to be about a man dying of organ failure – but Leonard’s pained, intense performance is compelling.

Modern Nature, too, have decided to chance a set of all-new songs. Looser and jazzier than before, with John Edwards providing a subtle swing on upright bass, they suit the lazy afternoon sunshine perfectly – although sinister currents continue to move just beneath the surface.

Anteloper are a great new discovery, a joyous experimental duo of crack drummer Jason Nazary and avant-jazz trumpeter Jaimie Branch. Wearing a baseball cap and a glorious multicoloured cape, Branch actually spends much of the set triggering ripples and gurgles from a desk of electronic gizmos that also appears, from where we’re standing, to include a giant tomato. When she does eventually pull out the trumpet, it’s a piercing, imperious sound, like an elephant about to stampede.

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Hen Ogledd are also in receipt of the capes memo: Richard Dawson wears a blue one while his bandmate Rhodri Davies sports a magnificent yellow number, decorated with what looks like an ancient fertility goddess. Collectively they look like a troupe of medieval sorcerers who’ve accidentally magicked themselves onto the Woods Stage from the 13th century. They sing enthusiastically and in an array of British accents about role-playing videogames, intergalactic golf and a cat called “Trouble”. The latter may even be the purest pop moment of the whole weekend – and certainly the only one to feature a bass and harp solo.

Whereas Hen Ogledd are fantastical, Field Music fixate on the ultra-normal, with exquisitely crafted indie-funk songs that muse thoughtfully on getting old, paying the bills and how to be a good person. As ever, the joy in their performance is watching the Brewis brothers crack each other up with moments of ad-hoc musical dexterity. When David adds a particularly excellent guitar solo to “Disappointed”, Peter (on drums) even lets out a whoop, before laughing at himself for doing something so ‘rock’. Then they swap instruments – via a bit of fraternal banter about leaving garlic breath on the microphone – and do it the other way around. You can see why Prince dug these chaps, although the purple one never tried to rhyme “democracy” with “fiscal bureaucracy”.

Instantly, The Comet Is Coming cast a very different spell. The cosmic synth-jazz trio are all dressed in vests and combat trousers – ‘King Shabaka’ Hutchings also accessorises with Wayfarers and a white headband – as if they’re the last survivors of an apocalyptic ’80s sci-fi horror film. They certainly play as if their lives depend on it. “We’ve been developing a sonic DNA massage,” admits keyboardist Danalogue, although evidently it’s the type of massage where someone pummels your back into submission. Their set has the geometry of a EDM rave, a series of endlessly roiling peaks. Exhilarating stuff.

Things are altogether more sedate over at the Garden Stage for Jonny Greenwood’s rare solo set. Hunched over his Ondes Martinot, he plays a selection of music from his soundtracks to films such as There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread, accompanied by a small chamber group. The music is pretty, gently involving and occasionally disquieting, but ultimately might have been better suited to an early-afternoon slot. There is a gasp of anticipation when Greenwood picks up his guitar, but it’s to play Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint – impressive, but not the secret Radiohead encore many were hoping for.

Instead, it’s left to Bristol noiseniks Giant Swan to put the seal on proceedings in the Tipi Tent. The duo, one of whom immediately gets shirtless and starts ranting maniacally into the mic, pump out a unique brand of pulverising industrial techno that seems initially combative but quickly becomes strangely euphoric: think Sleaford Mods meets Fuck Buttons at 6am in Berghain. It’s fantastic. Cosy? Not any more.

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