Saturday dawned grey and wet, not a good combination, but hey there was rock to be had and we had our trusty ponchos, is it socially acceptable to wear a plastic poncho outside a festival site?
The morning got off to a good start, breakfast with an old friend I hadn’t seen for far too long (Hi Rick!), I then had an early afternoon appointment with another man I hadn’t seen for years in the shape of ex-Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley.
After a couple of cancelled shows at the Hard Rock Hell festival in recent years I was hoping that Ace would make this show but I needn’t have worried. Out promoting his latest album ‘Space Invader’ Ace and his band strolled on stage, he strapped on his custom Les Paul and with a swift ‘1,2,3,4’ the band launched into ‘Rip It Out’ and made me a very happy man, I am easily pleased!
Vocally Ace may struggle a bit, to be fair he always has, but his guitar work is as good as ever. His choice of setlist was also inspired, a good mix of his solo material and Kiss classics that kept everyone happy. ‘Parasite’, ‘Cold Gin’, ‘Love Gun’, ‘Shock Me’, all classics that remind you of what an important part Ace played in Kisstory. He also brought things bang up to date with ‘Toys’ from his latest album. Finishing off the set with ‘Deuce’, complete with his trademark smoking guitar, the Space Ace proved that he can still cut it live, Gene and Paul please take note…
As the drizzle continued to fall the second stage was transformed into one of the best stage sets of the weekend as Testament pulled out all the stops. The thrash legends know how to put on a show and they didn’t disappoint. Sticking mostly to old school thrash classics like ‘Rise Up’ and ‘Practise What You Preach’ the set was aimed to please the diehard fans.
Chuck Billy was clearly loving every minute as he headbanged and air guitared his way through the set. He dedicated ‘Native Blood’ to his native indian family and sang the lyrics from the heart. The band finished the short set with ‘DNR’ which, ironically, was a killer track to round things off. An excellent set then from one of thrash metal’s finest.
Andy was also back in the rain to catch Mr Frehley after which he sought the shelter of the Jake stage…
I made a brief trip to the fourth stage to see The Struts, about whom there has been some hype. Singer Luke Spiller is a flamboyant frontman, combining the looks of the mid-seventies Freddie Mercury with some of Justin Hawkins’ arch mannerisms. Their music was very accessible, indeed perhaps too pop-oriented for Download’s tastes. However their promise was undermined by an unnecessary cover of ‘Get it On’ only three songs in and the way their own songs were dragged out by excessive audience participation.
It was then back to the second stage for Black Star Riders who entered the second stage dressed all in black with Ricky Warwick sporting a radically short back and sides. Opening with ‘Bound For Glory’ was a sharp move, reminding us that they have moved on from Thin Lizzy days while carrying the band’s trademark sound of romantic imagery and harmony lead guitars into their new material (to me it sounded like a fusion of the ‘Black Rose’ songs ‘Got To Give it Up’ and ‘Waiting For An Alibi’.)
The casual fan was kept satisfied with some Lizzy hits in ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Are You Ready’, with great solos from both Scott Gorham, surely one of rock’s coolest elder statesmen, and Damon Johnson but the focus was on both their own albums with ‘Soldiers Town’ and ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ capturing a real celtic flavour.
From an unfamiliar opening ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ generated a mass communal singalong from younger and older fans alike, but ‘Finest Hour’ with its catchy chorus and refrain went down almost as well , as indeed did the title track from the new ‘Killer Instinct’ .
Frustratingly they only had 45 minutes to do their stuff so the usual call and response of ‘Rosalie’ was omitted, but made up for by a memorable closing rendition of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, and again it was party time with the whole crowd whipped up by Ricky but needing little invitation to sing along and even hum the guitar melody.
Their hard touring (this was the second of four shows I am already scheduled to see this year) has turned BSR into a masterful live band perfectly suited for festivals.
I wandered round to the main stage where Faith No More were second on the bill and a few minutes into their set. Image wise they could not have been in sharper contrast to 90% of the bands all weekend, clad head to toe in white robes with a matching stage set bedecked in flowers, making it look like a far Eastern funeral parlour.
They are a truly unique band in other ways, having been influential pioneers in bringing the rhythms of rap into what later became the dominant strand of metal, and yet at other times going completely off piste in a smooth jazz or easy listening direction. Both elements were often on display, even within the same song.
A great version of ‘Epic’ brought together all their influences, topped off by a piano coda from Roddy Bottum, and both that and ‘Mid-Life Crisis’ brought back memories of my days at rock clubs in the 1990’s where they were dance floor staples. ‘Easy’, meantime, achieved the improbable feat of having a field full of metalheads swaying their arms to a Commodores classic.
Yet they were also unafraid to heavily promote their comeback album ‘Sol Invictus’ with set closer ‘Superhero’ being particularly satisfying. The biggest black mark for me though was quite how unattractive a figure singer Mike Patton is, with his incessant use of the ‘F’ word and berating a drenched and bored looking girl at the front in a manner that came over as too close to bullying.
Confirming their contrary reputation, they came back for an encore with another mellow number before finishing back where it had all started with breakthrough song ‘We Care a Lot’, which sums up their influence on the next generation better than any.
Whilst Andy was on his travels, we stuck it out at the second stage where we witnessed one of the aforementioned ‘next generation’ bands. I can only surmise that Black Veil Brides were above Black Star Riders on the bill as it was done in alphabetical order, it definitely wasn’t done on talent! Perhaps I am too long in the tooth to ‘get’ BVB as most of the crowd was made up of adolescent teens. I missed the opening couple of numbers but what I did see didn’t impress.
They did try and put on a bit of a show with flames shooting around the stage but it was akin to putting a cherry and a cocktail umbrella in a pint of flat lager, it may look better but it’s still piss! However they did put in the effort and they did go down well with the converted, to me though there was no substance to the performance and in my opinion they had a billing well above their level of talent. The future of rock, God I hope not.
What we needed after that was some real rock from a man with a reputation built on shock and controversy, step forward Mr Brian Warner or Marilyn Manson to his friends. I hadn’t seen Manson live prior to tonight and after reports of his last Download performance I wasn’t sure what to expect. However the self proclaimed ‘God of F**k’ was in fine form and turned in a great set.
Musically Manson’s industrial metal barrage is either something you will love or loath, that coupled with his persona tends to make him a bit of a Marmite character. What no one can deny though is the man knows how to put on a show. With the stage swamped in dry ice Mason appeared through the fog looking every inch the other worldly character you would expect and launched into ‘Deep Six’.
The set was again mostly of the greatest hits variety and ‘Disposable Teens’ and ‘Obscene’ followed with Manson commanding the front of the stage. The band take very much a back seat in terms of on stage presence but they make their mark with solid bass grooves and jagged guitar riffs aplenty.
Mason’s recent single ‘Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge’ was up next and that was followed by a menacing version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ which would leave you with anything but! There was some chat in between songs but most was done in character and was the inane ramblings of the unhinged Manson. He did drag Ice-T, who was watching the set from the side, out on stage a couple of times and he seemed genuinely delighted that he was there.
Other highlights of the set were ‘Dopeshow’, ‘Personal Jesus’ and the set closer ‘Beautiful People’ by which time Manson looked like he had been in a car crash with hair everywhere and make up smeared all over his face.
This was a masterful display from one of rock’s few remaining characters. Manson still has the power to shock and I can only hope that Black Veil Brides were somewhere in the crowd taking notes. That only left tonight’s main stage headliners to round things off and Andy was in position for possibly the weekend’s most talked about booking.
The choice of Muse as Saturday night headliners was a controversial one. Not on the grounds of their size as a band, as the Devon trio headline their own stadium shows which are renowned for being spectacular and have been multi-platinum sellers for around 15 years. It was just that with a sound that defies pigeonholing, and a fanbase more likely to list Radiohead and Kings of Leon as other favourites than Maiden and Metallica, some felt they fell too far outside a traditional metal demographic.
This was my first opportunity to see them and the one accusation that could not be levelled against them was insufficient heaviness. The rhythm section was loud, discordant and almost industrial metal sounding at times, while complementing his distinctive falsetto, mainman Matt Bellamy is an inventive guitarist, combining speed with some very off the wall sounds, drenched in feedback.
However after the lively opener ‘psycho’, with an almost danceable riff, for the novice such as me too many songs sounded similar and there were no introductions or stories about them. The light show was very impressive, although having heard such hype about their live shows, I was a tad disappointed in the relative lack of other visual elements to their show.
Moreover as their set wore on I became irritated at the almost total lack of audience interaction other than the odd perfunctory ‘thank you Download’. It felt as if we were part of a very passive spectacle whereas my preference is for live acts that draw you in and make every member of the crowd feel part of a shared experience, as Kiss were to do 24 hours later.
I did enjoy a couple I knew in ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ and ‘Time Is Running Out’, which was accompanied by a confetti explosion, but having gained enough of an impression of their show I then decided on an early exit.
Interestingly the sound of their songs, barely indistinguishable from each other, could still be heard loud and clear by the time I reached the transport park a mile away, proving that if loud equates to heavy, then Muse confounded the naysayers who said they were not Download material.
I did catch a couple of numbers of Muse’s set after Manson and came to much the same conclusion as Andy, but judging by the size of the crowd at the main stage the booking appeared to be justified. So day 2 came to a close, perhaps not the best of the three but there had been plenty to keep our minds off the steady drizzle.
Review and photos by David Wilson and Andy Nathan
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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 23 May 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.
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Featured Albums w/c 14 June 2021 (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 TOTO With A Little Help From My Friends (Mascot)
12:00-13:00 DOOGIE WHITE As Yet Untitled (The Store For Music)
14:00-16:00 LAURA MEADE The Most Dangerous Woman In America (Doone Records)
Power Plays w/c 14 June 2021 (Mon-Fri)
BLACK NOTE GRAFFITI Knights (indie)
AMINBA ZARI Addiction (indie)
THEM GUNS Shot In The Dark (Golden Robot Records)
QUEEN OF UNCOOL Fine (indie)
GHOSTS OF SUNSET No Saints In The City (Golden Robot Records)
BASTETTE Talk About It (RPM Records)
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