“Welcome to the Sahara!” With the ground still dry and dusty underfoot, Tinariwen’s greeting feels less of a stretch than it might do at a typical rain-soaked British festival. In these conditions, with a light breeze blowing across the main stage arena, the band’s traditional Touareg robes may prove to be the ideal End Of The Road attire.
They begin at a gentle pace playing songs from their recent album Amadjar, which despite its crop of special guests felt like a return to the band’s roots, recorded as it was on location in the western Sahara. Bandleader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib is in his sixties now, a fact betrayed by his greying mop, but the most thrilling moments still come when he straps on an electric guitar and plays those biting, quicksilver runs. Gradually the beat quickens and the crowd begin to sway along, copying the band’s dance moves: arms outstretched, bodies twisting in time to the infectious, undulating rhythm, which it’s hard to believe is being tapped out on a single drum.
Sadly there’s no cameo from Warren Ellis, one of Tinariwen’s Amadjar collaborators. But Ellis’s old Dirty Three bandmate Mick Turner is here, with his new band Mess Esque. It’s probably no surprise to learn that they are slow and mysterious, Turner stroking his guitar cryptically stage-right. But thanks to keyboard-playing frontwoman Helen Franzmann, some impressive songs begin to emerge from the murk.
They lay the groundwork in the Tipi tent perfectly for Skullcrusher – the misleading nom de plume for a skinny American called Helen Ballentine – who is even slower and more mysterious, playing desolate mini-epics in the vein of Grouper or Galaxie 500. Her songs are hazy and vague, briefly snapping into focus before crumbling apart – everything feels, as she sings, “just out of reach”. Ballentine seems genuinely overawed that so many people have turned up to watch to this minimalist performance, but given the way she creates something compelling from the barest of ingredients, she might have to start getting used to the attention.
Nigerian-born singer-songwriter Uwade holds them similarly rapt on the Talking Heads stage, although this may be more down to her engaging presence than her actual music. Playing solo on an emerald-green guitar, her voice is stunning but her songs of unrequited crushes are a little sappy and generic.
She makes a more telling contribution later in the evening, boldly singing the opening to Fleet Foxes’ first song, “Wading In Waist-High Water”, before the full band crash in, to euphoric effect. Robin Pecknold has smartly augmented his band’s sound with a New Orleans-style brass section containing not one but two trombones. They even have their own name – The Westerlies – and when they attack the coda of a song such as “Third Of May/Ōdaigahara” or the closing “Helplessness Blues”, it’s a with a tremendous woozy rush of sound that you wish was permitted more often in the set. But Pecknold is also keen to remain true to the sparse, mountain-song strangeness of the early Fleet Foxes material, and hearing those four-part harmonies ring out with perfect clarity across the field really does take your breath away.
For those seeking gnarlier thrills before the night is out, the music continues in the tents. The Big Top hosts Battles, now reduced to a duo, but making up for their lack of personnel with a relentless rhythm assault. Drummer John Stanier is the star, whacking out tough, complex beats with almost unbelievable precision, like some kind of extreme sports challenge. He pauses briefly to chug a beer – to cheers from the crowd – and then continues on his singular, pummelling mission. He’ll surely sleep well, airbed or not.
And to finally dispel Fleet Foxes’ wholesome vibe, heeeere’s Beak. Or as Geoff Barrow spits, “Hi everyone, we’re fucking Mumford And Sons”. In between complaining about Londoners, or Louis Theroux’s snoring, or having to play too quietly to avoid spooking the horses in the next farm, they play a set of brilliantly curdled kraut-rave, even encouraging an outbreak of righteous air-punching on a monstrous “Alle Sauvage”. However reluctant they may be to entertain, they get the job done.
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
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
10 Highlights From End Of The Road Festival 2022 – Day 4
Yard Act, Bright Eyes: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 4
Aldous Harding, Ryley Walker, Cassandra Jenkins: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 4