Brooklyn’s Geese don’t have walk-on music – they finish a ramshackle soundcheck in the Big Top and just, well, crack on – but if they did it should probably consist of the announcement “previously on Rock Music…”. Hitting the stage early on the final day, their 45-minute set is a valiant attempt to summarise the entire history of alternative music.
A minute or two of psych-blues unexpectedly gives way to some weightless indie arpeggios and David Byrne hooks, then howling soul. “Disco” flits at will between Seattle grunge and New York garage rock, like a collaboration no-one ever previously conceived between Pearl Jam and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. There is a country rock rebel song, an alt-country pop lark called “Cowboy Nudes” about dancing around a submerged NYC, and it all descends into an experimental jazz drawl with singer Cameron Winter intoning “Jesus Christ” ahead of a screamcore finale. Up to speed? Then we’ll proceed.
She too may seem to lose her mind at times – when asking the crowd to scream out their favourite Muppet, for instance, or when dedicating a song to a party clown called Jingles she remembers from childhood – but Caitlin Rose provides a reassuring Garden Stage set. “I buried my head in the sand for ten years and you’re all still here,” the Nashville singer exclaims (her 2022 album Cazimi arrived after a nine-year gap), and her songs return sounding luxuriantly upholstered and cushioned. Between thumping country rattlers like new track “Nobody’s Sweetheart”, she deploys beautifully tranquilised balladry in “Blameless” and “Pink Champagne”, the latter perfect accompaniment to the rather magical sight of a motor-glider sailing above the stage.
Allah-Las are similarly comforting, but with Geese’s flashback mindset. Their gentle retro rock revisits and recasts all manner of the alternative’s more languid moments, be it The Byrds guesting with The La’s (“Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind)”, a psych-beat Kinks (“Had It All”) or the brighter acoustic bits of Pixies’ latest album Doggerel (“Sandy”). There are tracks resembling REM playing a laid-back “La Bamba”, and when frontman Miles Michaud hands vocal duties to his more baritoned bandmates – on, say, “The Stuff” – they even start sounding like The Velvet Underground had they hung around long enough to become a new wave band.
Any particularly chill vibes they summon are swiftly dissipated upon the arrival of Ezra Furman. Edgy, intense and suffering severe shaky hand syndrome, she storms and lurches across the Garden Stage with “catharsis coursing through me”. Though a song like “Train Comes Through”, from her brilliant latest album All Of Us Flames, is subtly cast here, the energy is typically febrile and rammed with drama.
“These are our songs of love and war,” Furman declares. On the battle-front assemble Morricone funeral anthem “Throne”, ferocious radio rocker “Suck The Blood From My Wound” and fightback anthem “Lilac And Black”, introduced with a quivering yell of “Trans power!” In matters of love, she shimmies exuberantly through the graceful electronics of “Point Me Toward The Real”, a tentative tale of post-institution uncertainty, delivers an “I Saw The Truth Undressing” that sounds blown by galactic winds and unleashes drone bombs on a prom night slow-dance on “Dressed In Black”, “one of those destroy-the-world teenage love songs”.
“There’s no plans but this,” she explains of this last foreseeable gig, and goes out all rock guns blazing: a crazed cover of Patti Smith’s “Gloria” and a final boogie-rock freakout on “What Can You Do But Rock’n’Roll”. It may not be in such a literal a sense as most Reading & Leeds weekends, but End Of The Road 2023 undoubtedly goes up in …Flames.
Catch up with all of Uncut’s coverage of End Of The Road 2023 here.