“We are all here together on this little blue marble spinning in space…” As is the way of many long, lost weekends, in the closing hours things get deeply philosophical. Particularly when intoxicants have been imbibed. Unsteady on his feet and noticeably slurring, as Bright Eyes’ Sunday headline set storms roughshod towards its climax, singer Conor Oberst stops writhing and gyrating like a melodramatic Thom Yorke and engages the crowd in a rambling discussion about the bonding nature of human pain and how “most people I know are pretty wonderful, how did the maniacs get in charge of everything?”
End Of The Road 2022, too, appears to be hurtling towards its end with unpredictable hands at the helm. Like Bright Eyes’ set, it’s clearly fraying at the edges. Mid-afternoon, New Orleans’ Hurray For The Riff Raff confront issues as serious as domestic sexual abuse on “SAGA” (“there is a life after the worst thing that’s ever happened to you,” singer Alynda Segarra says) and institutional racism on “PRECIOUS CARGO”, a semi-rap about the inhumanities Segarra witnessed while visiting a for-profit prison for asylum seekers. Yet, out in the field, a caped wizard goes into ritualistic paroxysms, driven to delirium by the band’s scorched Patti Smith folk-rock and chiming electronics that sound simultaneously ultra-modern and a little bit Enya.
Later, in the Big Top, Bristol’s Scalping concoct some of the most gruesome rave maelstroms of recent years, accompanied by unsettling visuals of crawling insect armies and deformed CGI faces. And here, delayed by a sudden electrical storm closing the tent, Yard Act will close out the festival with a brilliantly malformed display, singer James Smith toasting the crowd with a sick bucket and generally coming on like John Shuttleworth fronting PiL, or a spoken-word Babybird. His motormouth poetry detailing the effects of instant wealth (“Rich”) or weaving surreal capitalist metaphors (“The Trapper’s Pelts”) can shift from intimate recital to babbling yowl, as his band flicker between shoegaze grooves and ramshackle funk-punk. Let’s call it wails of the unexpected.
They’re in good company. Arriving to a psychedelic swarm of home-recorded voices, Bright Eyes throw themselves into a headline set which even they don’t seem sure will stay on the rails. This is largely due to the woozy state of Oberst, declaring “I’ll be John Dog if it’s nice to see you guys”, losing himself in elaborate dance moves that James’s Tim Booth might consider over the top, and attacking the graceful agonies of “Dance And Sing”, from the grief-stricken 2020 comeback album Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was, with such intensity that, for a whole verse, he doesn’t notice he’s shaken his microphone lead loose.
Though he’ll stumble over stage equipment, miss sections of the railroad country track “Another Travellin’ Song” and drift off into self-deprecating admissions of his lack of breakthrough success (“all the managers say ‘this one’s gonna be as big as Taylor Swift’, but it’s never happened”), it adds to the sense of unstable elemental chaos that powers his songs, as much unhinged forces of nature as Oberst is himself. Tornados of anguish, political disillusionment and brutal introspection, as soon as they kick in he’s naturally swept along by them, usually towards some howling emotional crescendo of brass, strings or sweeping alt-rock noise.
“Lover I Don’t Have To Love” is a dark soul hymnal that builds grand edifices of brass; “An Attempt To Tip The Scales” essentially the sound of an acoustic ballad exploding. Powerful melodic rock tracks from Down In The Weeds… such as “Mariana Trench” more than hold their own against cloudbusting I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning favourites like “Poison Oak” and Iraq War lament “Old Soul Song (For The New World Order)” and, by and large, Oberst holds it together with a slightly befuddled charm.
He admits to having wept through Hurray For The Riff Raff’s set before inviting Segarra to duet with him on the glam pound of “Haile Selassie” and finds a bar stool profundity in one last between-song ramble, about how “my pain is your pain, your pain is my pain, and we’re all here together on this marble.” It cues up a final “One For You, One For Me” – “the one song that actually means something to me” – condemning the selfishness that emerges from dislocated and unequal societies. Similarly, Bright Eyes themselves are a thing of barely controllable enormity tonight. All we can do is just dance on through.
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
Aldous Harding, Ryley Walker, Cassandra Jenkins: End Of The Road 2022 – Day 4