Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Cass McCombs: End Of The Road 2023 – Day 2

Sylvie are demob-happy. It’s the last date of a long European tour and as soon as they exit stage right, they’re “going to a spa to get back massages”. But if they’re feeling ragged and worn-out, you’d never tell. Now a seven-piece, complete with pedal steel, their ’70s Laurel Canyon homages are pristine and note-perfect. Bandleader Ben Schwab formed Sylvie partly to pay tribute to his dad’s sunshine pop band Mad Anthony, who never made it out of their garage back in the day. Here, they give one of his old songs the audience it deserves, alongside a stunning rendition of their own instant classic “Falls On Me”.

A quick detour via the sylvan harmonies and box-of-wine anecdotes of Lilo on the Piano Stage brings us to the loquacious art-rock racket of Blue Bendy in the Folly. They’re one of those groups where each member looks – and sometimes plays – like they’re in completely different bands. But in a good way, obviously. In his long coat and baseball cap, singer/ranter Arthur Nolan holds forth in the grand tradition of wayward indie bards like Gerard Langley and Julian Cope. Even if the finer details of his wry declamations are often lost in the chaos, you’re behind him all the way.

Post-rock party band Horse Lords are two chaps in smart shirts and slacks, a shaggy haired saxophonist/percussionist and a drummer resembling Garth from Wayne’s World. One tune starts with what sounds like the piano riff from Happy Mondays’ “Step On” before mutating into a manic Celtic jig. In 7/4 time. Others come on like Trout Mask Replica (the !!! remix). People don’t quite know how to dance to it, but they dance anyway. Tremendous stuff.


Sessa brings a touch of Brazilian flair to the Talking Heads stage, playing solo and acoustic save for an occasional female vocalist. In true bossa nova style, his songs present as urbane and breezy, but passionate currents whirl beneath. At the end of a starkly brilliant version of Helene Smith’s southern soul swooner “I Am Controlled By Your Love”, he resorts to swatting his guitar wildly before composing himself for one final, beautiful chord.

It’s a similar scene at the Garden Stage, where Cass McCombs responds to a somewhat restless early-evening crowd by seeming to play more softly, more intently, forcing you to really lean in and listen. You’re rewarded with picaresque tales of Greek goddesses and “a tremendous harmonica player whose name now escapes me”, as well as gorgeously restrained all-timers like “County Line”. But eventually the sleeping volcano must explode: towards the of set, without warning, McCombs and his band unleash a three-minute torrent of noisy Electric Miles weirdness – no lyrics required.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra are determined not to play a clichéd festival headline set: no guests, no gimmicks, just Ruban Nielson and his supremely tight four-piece band, silhouetted against their own band logo. For all the apparent worldliness detailed in songs like “Multi-Love”, there is an appealing vulnerability to Nielson’s voice; he’s the kid stumbling into the adult’s party, both perturbed and fascinated by what he finds. This innocent quality even pervades crisp upbeat numbers like “Hunnybee” and “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone” (which is easy enough, given there’s no reception here anyway – and, hey, there’s a near-full moon to gawp at instead).


But for the full Peter Pan experience, look no further than Panda Bear & Sonic Boom, the space cadets who never grew up. It’s hard to hang on to your idealism, but by reaching back to the pre-rock era for inspiration, the duo have come up with something totally fresh and life-affirming. They cleave closely to the tracklisting of last year’s excellent Reset, but have begun to toy with the songs a little more, teasing out moments of pure, uncomplicated euphoria, accompanied by primary-coloured visuals and retina-scorching strobes. Who needs a rave tent?