Review of Download Festival, 13/14/15 June 2014
Arriving on the Thursday night at Donington Park in bright sunshine just felt … wrong, somehow. Where was the rain? The mud? Why was I sitting round a BBQ with a beer instead of huddling miserably inside my tent? I decided I would live with it, although I was strangely comforted when I was woken by the sound of rain during the night …
Expecting a sodden swamp, I stumbled out of my tent to find a few clouds but no mud, no rain and it was ridiculously warm. Perfect weather for a beer and some live music so I wandered into the arena just as Miss May I took to the main stage. The American five-piece band brought their brand of metalcore to a bright eyed and bushy-tailed Download crowd who seemed to enjoy the interaction and thundering music on the main stage. I left them to it and headed to the Red Bull Studios tent, which is where I pretty much spent my whole weekend. The first band on that stage were Goldray and I must admit when I saw the guitarist’s spangly jacket, coupled with the long red dress and headdress the vocalist was sporting, I nearly turned tail and walked out. They weren’t bad, however, sort of a less heavy Die So Fluid and the vocalist had good ability.
I found next band, Bad Touch on twitter some months ago and I was eager to see them up close and personal. I have to say they didn’t disappoint, however I found them to be similar to Irish rockers, The Answer. There was a good crowd, however and singer Stevie did a great job of engaging their audience. A short walk took me over to the Jägermeister acoustic stage for Brother and Bones. They had drawn a very decent-sized crowd and were playing out of their skin with their funky, melodic rock. The performance was pretty intense, with the entire band absolutely rocking out and the crowd was lapping it up, totally engaged with the fresh sound. Their set was wrapped up after some first class musicianship and vocals and there was some pretty nice guitar sliding going on too. One of my highlights of the weekend, for sure.
Brother and Bones
Chilling out on the grass with a beer, I managed to catch the set from Mia Klose, albeit from ground level. Swedish Mia’s voice is somewhat of an acquired taste and whilst I can see why the band is generating a buzz, it wasn’t really my thing. I also thought their cover of Guns ‘n’ Roses classic ‘Paradise City’ to be a bit weak. Another band I caught by ear only was They Say Fall – a packed Red Bull tent was chanting for them and their post hardcore style went over very well with the crowd. All I could hear from outside the tent was distorted guitars; I can only imagine how it sounded from the inside.
I headed over to the Zippo Encore stage to meet up with some friends and happened upon The Answer. I’ve seen them before and thought they were really good performers live, however I felt that this set was a little samey, although featuring some superb guitar solos and vocals. There was a decent size crowd to pay homage to their Irish rock roots however and they seemed to go down a storm. The next band had my full attention and they absolutely smashed the Zippo stage. The Temperance Movement gave a stunning performance, although I thought the crowd could have been bigger considering the buzz that the band has been generating over the last eighteen months. The set featured a supremely funky bass guitar solo and last track ‘Midnight Black’ was sublime, ensuring that they ended with rapturous applause.
The Temperance Movement
I thought it couldn’t get much better, but I was proved wrong straight away by Californian groove rockers Rival Sons, who kicked off with a raunchy number and didn’t look back as they grabbed the crowd by their collective short and curlies and took us on a roller coaster of rock. They’ve just released a new album, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ and I’ll be buying it as soon as. Definitely ones to watch – they’re going to be huge.
It’s taken me 20 years to get to see Rob Zombie live on stage and although he was worth waiting for, I did feel that his set lacked a little something. It certainly wasn’t energy; he was running around the stage like a man half his age, chancing his arm by walking along the front barrier in the crowd, collecting a blow up sex doll and taking it back to the stage. My favourite track, ‘Thunder Kiss ‘65’’ was included and an encore brought out the crowd pleasing ‘Dragula’.
At this point, the sky began to darken ominously, right on cue for Avenged Sevenfold. With a theatrical backdrop and pyrotechnics aplenty, this was always going to be a spectacular set given how popular this band has become, with the release of ‘Hail to the King’ cementing their status as one of the decade’s most celebrted rock acts. Kicking off the fun and games with ‘Shepherd of Fire’ from the aforementioned album, the crowd were straight into the performance, all singing along and enjoying a bit of banter from front man M Shadows. The set featured some older material, such as ‘Burn It Down’ from the ‘City of Evil’ album and ‘Buried Alive’. There was an emotional tribute to fallen hero Jimmy Sullivan in ‘So Far Away’, but the set ended on a massive high with yet more pyros and some fireworks, bringing an epic first day to a close.
Everyone was talking about the enigmatic Iceman Thesis on Saturday morning, with rumours abounding as to who could possibly be in the band, as they were playing on two stages simultaneously. Our group split in half and I got to the Red Bull tent to see a mannequin on stage, with a hessian sack over the head, an IT tee-shirt adorning the body. When the band took to the stage, they sported full black face masks so it was impossible to tell who they were. After ten minutes of brutality in a packed tent, the set ended as abruptly as it had begun, with members of the band throwing bits of mannequin and hessian head sacks into the audience. Nobody was any the wiser.
It must have been hard for the next act to follow that, but Cytota managed admirably. Heavy and very popular, judging by the amount of people crammed in to see them, the band had an amazing energy about them and the guitarist got up close and personal with the crowd, demanding that they start a circle. Not a bad start to the day and I can’t wait to see what they do next. Breathe In The Silence followed and it as frustrating that I couldn’t really hear the vocals properly. The singer lost vocals anyway; as he swung his mic round the end flew off into the crowd and he had to wait a little bit before we could actually hear something again. They certainly made up for any lack of substance in enthusiasm and gave a great lesson in how to carry on when things go wrong.
I headed over to the main stage again to catch a bit of Bury Tomorrow. The lead singer was inciting people to start circles, even though technically, that wasn’t allowed this year. I did like the fact that he told us all that the band “don’t take themselves too seriously” and then asked everyone to lie down and jump up at the count of 4. They even had separate ‘girl’ pits and ‘dude’ pits going, which worked for about 20 seconds and was fairly amusing. I left halfway through their set to go and catch Chasing Cadence on the Red Bull stage. Playing to an empty tent is never a good sign, but more people gradually started to drift in as CC got down and dirty on stage. They were very enthusiastic performers with some eager supporters in the crowd and they belted out fan favourites such as ‘A Sight For Sore Eyes’ and latest single ‘Paper Sails’. They also threw some free stuff out into the crowd, which always goes down well. These guys were clearly stoked to be playing Download and that’s what it’s about; a sterling performance from them. Japanese metalcore outfit Coldrain followed and they had the crowd bouncing from the very first scream. I only saw three songs from them, but they were well received and I would like to catch another gig to see them properly.
Killswitch Engage are a band I’ve never really got into, although I‘ve only ever heard good things about them. I always thought they were a bit heavy for me, but I caught most of their set and I loved it. It was awesome the way they incited the crowd to “engage in responsible forms of dancing”, i.e., to get a pit going and look out for one another. The crowd were well into them and very appreciative and they created a good atmosphere.
Although by now I was flagging a bit (not enough beer …), I headed back to my second home of the Red Bull tent to catch Nothing More who recently featured on the Introducing page in Kerrang! Magazine. I thought the sparse crowd were a bit lukewarm, however it did start to fill up quite quickly once they got going. They had a second, basic drum kit at the front of the stage and after the second or third song, the bassist clamped his guitar to a stand attached to it, whilst three of them proceeded to play it. It was a strange set, but the crowd ended up loving them and I think we’ll see big things from these guys. Certainly I would catch them again.
Finally, it was time for the big set of the day for me. I had been looking forward to Bring Me The Horizon for weeks and although they were on quite early, there was still a massive crowd waiting for Oli Sykes & Co. They kicked proceedings off with huge track ‘Shadow Moses’, from last year’s immense album ‘Sempiternal’. The crowd went mad at the front, with sneering front man Oli inciting a wall of death. ‘The House of Wolves’ followed with Oli imploring the crowd to jump. More awesome power tracks from the album of last year followed, including ‘Go To Hell, For Heaven’s Sake’, ‘Empire (Let Them Sing)’ and ‘Can You Feel My Heart’. Oli had everybody down on the floor, springing up to ‘Antivist’, finally concluding a stellar set with ‘Sleepwalking’. This was a set that stuck a middle finger up to the haters and showed the world that BMTH should, and probably will, be headlining Download very soon. In the meantime, we have the massive Wembley show in December to look forward to – a fact that Mr Sykes didn’t let us forget.
Bring Me The Horizon
Penultimate band of the night was electro-punk rockers The Howling, back in the Red Bull tent. Blacky, Rev and the boys were in fine form, opening up a storming set with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller’. Considering they clashed with main stage headliners Linkin Park, they drew a considerable crowd and proceeded to rip through a killer set, with outstanding energy and enthusiasm. I particularly liked the way they had somebody moving through the crowd handing out fake AAA passes, it was a nice touch that ensured people wouldn’t forget their set, but frankly that would have been hard to do anyway.
I couldn’t not head back to catch some of Linkin Park; ‘Hybrid Theory’ was a seminal work that I listened to non-stop when it came out and I was rewarded with just over half the album in all of its live, blistering glory. I still know the words and I sang along quite happily with the rest of the songs. I found the rest of their set a little bit tedious, probably only because I wasn’t familiar with the newer work, but I heard a few mutterings along the same lines as I made my way back to the camp site. Still, it was great to see Linkin Park live as I had never seen them before, so again, I finished the night a happy bunny!
I have to confess, I was feeling pretty hung over on the Sunday morning, so we were late getting into the arena, however operating on the ‘go hard or go home’ theory, I grabbed a beer and headed straight to the Pepsi Max tent to see screamers The Charm The Fury. They’re a female-fronted outfit from The Netherlands and not only is the lead singer an amazing vocal talent, but the musicians around her were also first class. They hammered through a competent set which saw a packed tent showing their whole-hearted appreciation. I stayed in Pepsi Max to see some of The Graveltones’ set, however it wasn’t really my sort of thing so I left after about three songs, but their funky, punk-rock stylings seemed to have quite a few fans in the tent.
Buckcherry were up next on the main stage, just after the heavens opened for a legendary Download shower. They rolled through some of their best songs, including ‘Lit Up’ and ‘All Night Long’, but to be honest, I just wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the thought of going home that night, but I just couldn’t get into them. Likewise with Richie Sambora, I was watching him, but he wasn’t really holding my attention. I found his set kind of mellow and I appreciated the Bon Jovi covers of ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’ and ‘Dead Or Alive’. I also really liked ‘Stranger In This Town’, but I’m not sure I would have chosen to see him outside of Download. Joe Bonamassa on the other hand, had my full attention. I’d not seen him before although of course I had heard about his legendary guitar playing. I also thought he had an awesome voice and I thoroughly enjoyed his set, which included tracks such as ‘Slow Train’ and ‘Who Killed John Henry’.
‘Secret’ band Black Stone Cherry absolutely brought the house down at the Pepsi Max tent. I understand they were a last minute addition to the bill, hence the placing on a small stage. It turns out that there were around 20,000 people in and around the tent for their performance and I can well believe it – I couldn’t get anywhere near as I made the mistake of sitting down for five minutes beforehand. I did hear them though and they completely killed it with tracks such as ‘Me and Mary Jane’, ‘White Trash Millionaire’ and ‘Blame It On The Boom Boom’. All I could see was a sea of hands in the air as the crowd sang along to every track – absolutely awesome.
I almost didn’t head back to the Red Bull tent for the last time, however I wanted to see Canadian Reignwolf. I almost missed them, but I’m so glad I didn’t. I saw singer/guitarist Jordan Cook standing on a branded bass drum at the front of the stage and this seemed to be bluesy, dirty rock and roll at its finest. By the time they were on their fourth song, the tent was well over half full and the crowd were going mad for it. Jordan then decided to play the drums, whilst still playing his guitar – I’ve never seen anything like it. He got short shrift from security though, when he climbed up on the amps to play; they were there like a shot to get him down. The set finished with a track called ‘This Is The Time’ – rather appropriate for Reignwolf, I think.
On a bit of a high, I headed back to the main stage to see my band of the moment, Alter Bridge. I had been waiting all weekend for this and as Myles Kennedy and Co appeared on stage and launched into the opening notes of ‘Addicted To Pain’, I remembered why I come to Download every year. ‘White Knuckles’ and ‘Cry of Achilles’ followed and all I could do was sing along and stare helplessly up at the big screens as the band pumped out one belting track after another as the crowd revelled in singing along with Myles. Halfway through the set he introduced the band, walking out along the barrier, singing to one lucky lady in the front row. A stunning rendition of ‘Blackbird’ followed and I was moved to tears by ‘Watch Over You’. Mark Tremonti did a sterling job with ‘Waters Rising’ and as they brought their set to a close, Mr Kennedy was looking suitably humbled and pleased with such a great reaction. It was a truly awesome set and I found it hard to believe that Aerosmith would be able to top it …
So, we came to the headliners. Aerosmith headlined Donington Monsters of Rock in ’94, which was the last time I saw them. When they came out on stage, I found myself thinking that there was no way these guys could put on a good show – after all, nobody is getting any younger right? So. Wrong. Aerosmith exploded on to the stage with ‘Train Kept A Rollin’; Steven Tyler resplendent in an Indian head-dress and an all-white outfit, still looking every inch the rock star. Hit after hit followed, including ‘Eat The Rich’, the iconic ‘Love In An Elevator’, ‘Cryin’’ and ‘Living on the Edge’. Unfortunately, we had a very long drive back home, so we had to leave at that point, but I could still hear them playing as we headed back to the car and I can only say that, from what I saw and heard, Aerosmith were pretty as much as good live now as they were all those years ago and I’m a bit gutted that we didn’t stay until the end.
Overall, it was a fantastic weekend, with only a few minor band clashes. The toilets were clean, the stewards, for the most part, were polite and helpful and there were only small queues in the beer tents. Download just keeps improving every year and although it will be hard to top the last three years, I’ll still be buying a ticket for 2015. Why? Because it’s where I feel at home, standing in a crowd with thousands of other people, singing along to my favourite songs, watching my idols up there on that stage. As the Kiss song goes “This is my music, it makes me proud, these are my people and this is my crowd …”. So yes, I’ll be back next year for sure. With bells on.