For any classic rock fan the Sunday line up was not to be missed with Slash, Motley Crue, in their last UK festival appearance, and Kiss all ready to show the young guns how a festival set should be done. Before that though we had a lot of rocking to do and first up were The Dead Daisies on the second stage and early riser, Andy Nathan, was on hand to catch their set.
I was there for an early 1100 start with the Dead Daisies. As with Ace Frehley, this minor supergroup, who have already had several line up changes, had connections with bands on the main stage, bohemian looking singer John Corabi having briefly replaced Vince Neil in Motley Crue and guitarist Richard Fortus and keyboardist Dizzy Reed current Guns’n’ Roses members.
They made a highly impressive start with ‘Mexico’ from their new sophomore album ‘Revolucion’, and were as tight as you would expect from a band with this pedigree. It was the bluesier numbers that made most impact specifically ‘With You And I’ and set closer ‘Lock And Load’, one of the best songs of recent years.
Many familiar faces to me from the melodic rock community then gathered around the stage for the current sensations of the scene, H.E.A.T., given an opportunity to broaden their fan base. Hyperactive singer Erik Gronwall certainly had no problems converting his stage act from the smaller clubs to covering every inch of the Download stage, its sides and the crowd barrier, and though ‘Point Of No Return’ was a relatively low key opening, the chorus to ‘A Shot At Redemption’ rang out massively.
After the more groove orientated ‘Its All About Tonight’, the anthemic ballad ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ with Erik on acoustic guitar and the fun ‘Mannequin Show’ will have won new friends, even if the latter cheekily draws from Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I Did it Again’. My one criticism was whether it was really necessary for both songs to feature taped keyboard intros when they have a perfectly able keys man in Jona Tee.
With a 25 minute set time was short so I was delighted they slipped in my favourite song ‘Living On The Run’, with its massive chorus hook, and when Erik dived into the crowd I just had to move across to join the back of a knot of fans jumping in the air.
Sticking with the second stage, next up we had more Nordic rock from the Von Hertzen Brothers. I caught the band live last year supporting The Wildhearts and was surprised at the power of the set but the performance here lacked the impact they made that night. Opening with ‘New Day Rising’ the band never really hit their stride and delivered the set to an indifferent crowd.
They didn’t really engage with those who had stayed to watch the performance and as a result there was little atmosphere. Even when they cranked out their best known number ‘Flowers And Rust’ there was little reaction other than polite applause. In the right venue I know that VHB can deliver the goods but here today they fell short of the mark.
Staying with the Nordic theme and, unfortunately, the lacklustre performance, next up were Backyard Babies. I knew little about the band but from what I had heard I was expecting a bit of sleaze rock with a punk attitude. What I got was humourless, straight forward rock n roll with not much life about it.
The guys appeared to have a fair sized following down the front so perhaps like the Von Hertzen’s the music just doesn’t translate well to the big outdoor stage in the middle of the day. Guitarist Dregan spun and danced his way through the set which was rounded off with ‘Minus Celsius’ but that wasn’t enough to breath life into the allotted half hour slot. After Backyard Babies it was time to set off in search of some food and some decent rock!
Andy had again been on his travels and he picks up the story…
While others stuck around for the Von Hertzen Brothers and the Backyard Babies, after bumping into fellow scribe Dave Wilson and comparing notes, I trudged through the mud to the fourth tent for a first listen to a new outfit, Brighton-based Colour of Noise, which brings together former Little Angels guitarist Bruce John Dickinson, cutting a dapper, waistcoated figure, and noted singer Matt Mitchell.
On the musical spectrum they lie somewhere roughly between the two bands Matt has fronted, Pride and Furyon, with a traditional feel of bluesy hard rock. ‘Can’t Take it With You’ was one of many songs lending themselves to comparisons to a more melodic Led Zeppelin, ‘Drive It Like You Stole it’ had a heavier feel, and closer ‘Hit Rock Bottom’ had a crisp AC/DC esque vibe to it. Definitely a band worth exploring further.
I then combined food and drink with a wander around the site, catching about 15 minutes of Tremonti, the side project for eponymous Alter Bridge guitarist Mark to show his love of metal. Interestingly, given the way Myles Kennedy shares some of the guitar chores in AB, he was ceding a lot of the guitar spotlight to partner Eric Friedman. Some material was similar to his parent band, albeit less memorable, while other songs had a harder, more traditional, metal bent with Metallica influences to the fore.
It was then time for a trip to the second stage to catch some of We Are Harlot who had been recommended to me, being the more mainstream hard rock project of former Asking Alexandria singer Danny Worsnop. They were perfectly listenable but nothing grabbed me, ironically easily the best song coming as I was making my way back to the main stage, which would provide my focus for the whole of the rest of the day.
Providing a mellower alternative were Blackberry Smoke, the retro southern rockers whose popularity here has rapidly grown. At their previous live shows I had reservations about their static stage presence but they did seem a touch more engaged here.
The music is exemplary for lovers of rootsy Southern sounds and a well-chosen set ranged from the raunchy sounds of ‘Six Ways To Sunday’ and good time anthem ‘Good One Coming On’, to the frantic ‘Leave A Scar’ with singer Charlie Starr’s lead guitar and Brandon Still’s organ battling away, to the more country rock sounds of ‘Pretty Little Lie’ and stripped back ‘One Horse Town’, with second guitarist Paul Jackson on acoustic.
Only once, with ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’, did they meander off into the jams that can bedevil the genre, while ‘Rock And Roll Again’ was a bit too close to Bob Seger’s ‘Old Time Rock n Roll’ for comfort.
They ended with a Black Crowes-sounding ‘Shaking Hands With The Holy Ghost’, then Charlie wryly dedicating ‘Ain’t Much Left Of Me’ to all the divorced people (I am not sure how many of us that applied to!) but, while a sound set, it was greeted with polite applause rather than much enthusiasm. I had a feeling that a slot on Friday’s second stage between the Cadillac 3 and Black Stone Cherry would have played better to their laid back southern charms.
After yet another excellent food stop (chilli in bread, highly recommended!) we headed to the main stage for the remainder of the day. On arrival we were greeted with 80’s icon Billy Idol. For me Billy Idol was not an obvious choice for the Download bill, especially a mid afternoon slot on the main stage, but I thought I was maybe missing something so I gave it a fair hearing.
The main problem I had with the set was that several songs far outstayed their welcome such as ‘Eyes Without A Face’ which seemed to go on forever. Again it was the hits that raised the biggest cheers and with ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’ Billy had two sure fire winners.
The question though still remains, was it rocking enough for the Download bill? Idol had played the Isle Of Wight festival on the Friday, I could see the set working there, but for Download I wasn’t convinced, if I want to see 80’s pop rock I will take in something like the Rewind Festival but keep Download hard and heavy please.
That only left the big three to round off the weekend and things got off to a great start with Slash. Attracting one of the biggest main stage crowds of the weekend Slash along with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators played a cracking set covering all bases.
Opening with the familiar riff to ‘You’re A Lie’ the huge crowd erupted and danced along with the top-hatted one. ‘Night Train’ followed with the crowd singing every word along with Kennedy. Slash strode around the stage wringing every note from the neck of his Les Paul and kept the relentless pace going throughout the set.
With such a wealth of great songs to choose from every one played was a rock classic, ‘You Could Be Mine’, ‘World On Fire’, ‘Anastasia’, all went down a storm. It was the final three numbers though which really cemented the set as a festival highlight. When you can pull out ‘Sweet Child ‘O Mine’, ‘Slither’ and ‘Paradise City’ to close your show you are assured of a huge cheer. You can also leave the stage safe in the knowledge that the set will be a talking point long after the final chords have rung out. Welcome to Slash’s world…
A lot has been written about the end of Motley Crue and the final world tour, the fact that they have signed a legal cessation document proves they mean what they say this time. Judging by tonight’s show though, perhaps the end is a bit premature as the band totally ripped Download apart.
Crue threw everything into the performance and provided the biggest spectacle of the weekend and when you have Kiss on the bill that takes some doing. ‘Saints Of Los Angeles’ kicked things off along with pyro and flames aplenty. Vince Neil may be sporting a bit of a beer belly these days (aren’t we all) but he can still blast out the lyrics. The rhythm section of Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee are as rock solid as ever whilst the guitar work of Mick Mars was stunning, Mars I feel rarely gets the credit he deserves.
‘Wildside’ and ‘Primal Scream’ kept things going whilst the very non-PC female backing singers played up to the crowd. The set spanned the whole of Crue’s career and was aimed to have maximum impact. Again, like Slash, with such a rich back catalogue deciding what to leave out must have been the biggest headache.
‘Too Fast For Love’, ‘Looks That Kill’ and ‘Dr Feelgood’, all went down a storm as did an excellent cover version of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ which was a fair description of the crowd reaction at that point. ‘Shout At The Devil’, complete with the full intro, had the clenched fists flying and the flames spouting from both the stage and above the mixing desk, much to the surprise of a passing bird!
The guys brought the set to an explosive conclusion with ‘Live Wire’, ‘Girls, Girls,Girls’, and ‘Kickstart My Heart’ in quick succession. Add in a ton of pyro and yet more flames including a burning pentagram around the drum riser and you have the set of the weekend, no contest.
The band weren’t finished yet though much to everyone’s surprise. Tommy Lee reappeared at the piano and started playing ‘Home Sweet Home’ which Vince sang along with around 80,000 people in the crowd which was a magic moment and a good way to say farewell to one of the most entertaining bands in rock.
You can only think that Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were watching the Crue set open mouthed and asking each other how they could follow that. A Kiss show is never less that entertaining but today they played second fiddle to Motley Crue which is something I am surprised to be writing. Andy picks up the story of the ‘hottest band in the world’…
If Crue would have been headliners in their own right, I did wonder whether Kiss were a little fortunate to top the bill, and I say this as a fan. They have never been as popular in the UK as they seem to believe (I particularly remember a sparsely attended festival at Finsbury Park in 1997), while when one of the earlier acts shouted the bands who were still to come, they got a noticeably cooler reception than Crue or even Slash.
Well, how wrong can you be? They not only attracted a huge crowd but proved to be the perfect choice to finish the party in spectacular fashion. They may not be the force they were, with two original members out of the picture, Paul Stanley’s voice audibly getting rougher and Gene Simmons doing fewer spectacular stunts than of old, but they still put on the most lavishly produced and fun show there is.
After Eric Singer’s drumkit raised itself above the safety curtain, the gig opened as it was to go on with a barrage of pyrotechnics and swiftly established momentum with two of their very best classics ‘Detroit Rock City’ and ‘Deuce’. But this was a brilliantly chosen setlsist in that nearly all eras of the band’s history got a look-in, not just the original seventies phase.
Paul is a consummate ringmaster even if his between song raps, in his distinctive lisping New York accent and addressing us all as ‘people’, have become something of a self-parody. He even did his Marcel Marceau impressions, cupping his hands and silently orchestrating a contest between the left and right sides before ‘Psycho Circus’ was followed by not one but three songs from ‘Creatures Of The Night’.
Indeed it was great to hear the rarely played title track, reminding me of the time when somehow it became their first ever UK top 40 hit single which I remember hearing on the radio as a 16 year old yet to discover Kiss. Tommy Thayer delivered an excellent solo, before Gene took over with ‘I LoveIt Loud’ and the more rarely played ‘War Machine’ culminating with him taking hold of a flaming stake.
As well as Paul and Gene respectively taking centre stage for ‘Do You Love Me’ and ‘Calling Dr Love’? there was a reminder that they are not just a nostalgia act with the rather dull ‘Hell or Hallelujah’ from 2012’s ‘Monster’ album. ‘Lick It Up’ has over the years been elongated and while the original packed a crisper punch it did feature the spectacle of Paul and Tommy being raised on a platform high above the stage mid-song.
The set pieces continued with Gene spitting blood before ‘God Of Thunder’ while after ‘Cold Gin’ Paul said he was going to join us and flew along a zip wire to the top of the control tower, delivering ‘Love Gun’ from there with spotlights turned on him, and even the intro to ‘Black Diamond’ which saw Eric singing on what was to be the final song of an all too short main set.
Whether a fan or not, you cannot deny that Kiss pioneered some of the best singalong anthems that are loved to this day and the encore saw three of them in a row – ‘Shout it Out Loud’, ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’ where at least the disco overtones are less pronounced live, and of course ‘Rock And Roll All Night’.
There could hardly have been a fan among the supposed 85,000 present that was not punching the air and singing along, and the stage was shrouded in confetti as the band jammed to a climax before a deafening set of pyrotechnics and Gene and Tommy swinging out high above the front of the audience on raised platforms.
Even as the taped sounds of ‘God Gave Rock n Roll To You’ saw people out, they were leaving the arena in communal song. When it comes to large-scale stadium shows, there is still nobody that does it bigger or better than Kiss and this was a fitting end to perhaps the most enjoyable of the eight Downloads I have been to.
The weather may not have played ball but once again Download proved to be a triumph. The fact that the Sunday attracted a crowd of around 85,000 goes to show that rock is alive and kicking in the UK despite what many pundits may claim.
Hats off to Andy Coping and his crew as well for having the nerve to make the site cash free, had the system failed it would have been chaos, but the fact that almost everything ran smoothly and efficiently is a credit to all involved. Now, on to the Download forum for those 2016 predictions…
Review and Photos by David Wilson and Andy Nathan
Additional photos by Rick Platfoot
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