on form Mercury Rev deliver a once in a lifetime performance

End Of The Road 2008 review

published: Thu 18th Sep 2008

Mercury Rev

Friday 12th to Sunday 14th September 2008
Larmer Tree Gardens,Tollard Royal, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5PT, England MAP
weekend £105; live-in vehicle £30; under 12s £15 - SOLD OUT
last updated: Mon 1st Sep 2008

Absentee
Absentee kicked things off nice and early on Saturday over at the Garden Stage with their rugged bluesy love songs sung by indie's deepest voice Dan Michaelson and were well received by a reasonably sized crowd for a midday start, keyboardist Melinda Bronstein seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the gathering, maybe now is finally the time for one of indies greatest underdogs over the last few years to shine through. Performing tracks from their forthcoming sophomore album Victory Shorts the biggest reception was saved for Something To Bang, a minor indie hit back in 2006, where Michaelson's gravelly voice hit it's high (or low).

Bowerbirds, who we are later to learn are Jason Vernon's (a.k.a Bon Iver) favourite band, are next on. Their genteel North Carolina folk is very easy on the ears and the girl/boy harmonies are gorgeous. The melody of My Oldest Memory flutters around my head for the rest of the day.

Canadian/American blues influenced folk singer Devon Sproule continues the vibe with her sophisticated majestic songs before a big crowd gathers for current press darlings Noah & The Whale.

Noah And The Whale
Although completely inoffensive, for what must have been only a 20 minute set, I felt entirely underwhelmed by the performance. It did only seem to be me that felt this way however since the massive crowd positively lapped up the top 10 single 5 Years Time. I'm not sure if it was singer Charlie Fink's understated vocals or the band's displeasure at such a low billing but something just didn't work for me... hearing the constant whistling refrain of 5 Years Time for what seemed like the following 24 hours coming from the pleased punters didn't help, I would be more than happy never to hear that song again in my life (even if it does feature the splendid Laura Marling, who sadly does not appear on stage with the boys). Still, lots of people like them, it doesn't matter that I don't!

Bon Iver
One of the performances that I had been most looking forward to was definitely that of Bon Iver. A huge amount has been talked about how For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver's debut album, was conceived and it has received almost blanket acclaim from the press. The record itself is a beautiful affair and I was desperate to hear how it would come across played live. Skinny Love was undeniably the song of the weekend with an amazing rendition, but it was the jaw-dropping The Wolves that provided the real festival moment with the crowd joining in with "..What might have been lost.." to end the tune. For Emma was another gem, and new song Blood Bank suggests that there is more to come from Bon Iver. Vernon describes the day as "Probably one of the most beautiful days of my life", and he is not alone, the show that we had all just seen was one of those special performances that you just don't forget. Completely magical.

British Sea Power
British Sea Power, no matter how much I like them, struggled to match the poignancy of Bon Iver. They always seem a bit hit or miss, they have provided some of my favourite gig moments over the last few years, but also some of the most disappointing. Today they were straight down the middle, not dull by any means, but not at their most inspirational. The foliage was out amongst the crowd, with even a mini Yoda getting in on the act. British Sea Power didn't play their usual festival setlist, probably due to the expectant large number of their own fans at the festival, and for them to hear early tracks such as A Lovely Day Tomorrow and A Wooden Horse alongside current album favourites Waving Flags, Canvey Island and No Lucifer would have been a joy.


Kurt Wagner
Kurt Wagner announced himself on stage with an A Cappella version of Give It, a hit for X-Press2 on which he did vocals. The Lambchop man was performing a rare solo acoustic gig in The Big Top and his hushed vocals soothed the atmosphere. After each track he pegged the sheet music on a line in front of him gradually obscuring his face as the gig went on. News travelled around the site of an unfortunate incident over at the Low set on The Garden Stage whilst Kurt Wagner was performing, and after hearing of it I decided that I had done the right thing opting to see Wagner.

Ever since peaking back in 1998 with the perfect Deserter's Songs I had gradually held less of an interest in Mercury Rev with their melodic, sometimes psychedelic pop, so although looking forward to their headlining performance on The Garden Stage I was not expecting to be blown away. My expectations were incredibly shattered as Jonathan Donahue strutted around the stage like a wizard to what was an absolutely spectacular performance. Deserter's Songs received a lot of attention with Tonite It Shows, Holes, Endlessly and Opus 40 all aired, however it was a stunning The Dark Is Rising with intermittent crashes of brilliant sound and light that sealed it for me, although that too was topped by the encore of Goddess On A Hiway, a beautiful and perfect way to end the night. Tracks from forthcoming albums Snowflake Midnight and Strange Attractor where also included in the set with Senses On Fire, in particular, sounding like a real return to form. A chorus-less cover of Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads was thrown in for good measure.

Mercury Rev
review by: Richard Stevens

photos by: Sarah Stevens

Friday 12th to Sunday 14th September 2008
Larmer Tree Gardens,Tollard Royal, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5PT, England MAP
weekend £105; live-in vehicle £30; under 12s £15 - SOLD OUT
last updated: Mon 1st Sep 2008


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