Live Review: Download Festival 2014

The day has dawned. Trudging in their thousands, the throng of Downloadians descend on Donnington Park for a weekend like no other. Laden with bandoliers of beer and knapsacks of […]

The day has dawned. Trudging in their thousands, the throng of Downloadians descend on Donnington Park for a weekend like no other. Laden with bandoliers of beer and knapsacks of non-perishables they scour the terrain looking for a patch of grass to call home at Download 2014. Among them, I dump my unreasonable amount of luggage on a spot equidistant from the amenities and the hot dog stand….yes. I am doing excellent camping. As I tussle with my tent in the rising heat, the booming fuzz of bass washes over the campsite in waves from the arena. Dang it, I need to get into the arena, post-haste!

Dabbs at Download

Friday, June 13 2014

“Are you all alone, love?” my new Liverpudlian neighbour takes pity on my cretinous attempt to pitch my tent alone. “Looks like you could do wi’ an hand”. After 20 minutes of combined industry, her violacious-haired head emerged from my new front porch.

We exchange hurried hugs before I charge off through the heat haze to catch (the ironically named) Tax The Heat. A dapper outfit of brogued chaps, with riffs as smooth as their ironed pocket squares. They make for easy listening with hints of classic Rolling Stones and plenty of 70s distortion. However their distinct image is perhaps a little asynchronous with their sound, which is not yet distinctly their own. ‘Fed To The Lions’ is memorable for being punchy yet progressive – it has direction and the crowd follows with much head nodding, followed by appreciative uproar. It wouldn’t sound out of place backing a TV advert – perhaps an edgy new crime drama.

Next Soundsphere heads East, back to the main stage and the unmistakable sound of Crossfaith. Digitized electro-metal brought to you by a frontman straight from a futuristic edition of Fruits. They are buzzing with melodious feedback and recycling the energy from the swelling crowds. Their sound is a metallic blender of industrial, euphoria and electronic screamo. They seem inexhaustible in their performance – the drummer particularly wild with flaming hair, beating frenziedly like Animal from the muppets! Their savage rehash of The Prodigy’s ‘Omen’ (in broken English) struck a particularly powerful chord amongst the crowd, who were compelled to dance in their forcefield. Humbling, also, to hear how honoured they were to perform at Download; feeling’s mutual, boys.

After an interlude of interviews (hehe) and a nutritious luncheon of energy drink and churros, I think Soundsphere is ready for a change of pace. I now join forces with the indomitable Kyna (she is the Bert to my Ernie, the Sooty to my Sweep and the Richard to my Judy) as the next chapter of our festive shenanigans begins.

From across the arena, the ethereal puretones of Dutch gothic metallers Within Temptation entice us upwind, back to the Stephen Hutton Main Stage. The dulcet vocals interlace with emotive power chords on a background of symphonic metal. For purists and fans on the grindcore end of the metal spectrum, Within Temptation may not hit the spot. However, their accessible and climactic riffs gain a continental elegance when the orchestra kicks in; I challenge you not to enjoy it.

Now onwards! Through a kaleidoscope of tattoos, neon hair and fantasy-wear, we make our way to the Zippo Encore stage where a little slice of Ireland awaits us. Flogging Molly’s front-man greets us with a Guinness and invites the legions of loyal followers to join the jigging and japery. With a banjo, accordion and fiddle in the line-up, you would have to try hard not to get into the Celtic spirit. Fans are not disappointed as the pseudo-Celtic punk anthems ‘Drunken Lullabies’ and ‘Devil’s Dancefloor’ are played with equal gusto as when I first saw them in 2004! Great performance guys – still full of fun and packing a punky punch!

Sure they are a hard act to follow, but Bad Religion fall short of the precedent set by their predecessors. Is it jet-lag or just lack of lustre? Whatever it is, it seems to have sapped the vitality from Bad religion who approach the gig with the jadedness of a cynic approaching retirement. No stranger to controversy, but it is somewhat surprising that this anarchistic punk band should attempt to win back the crowd by dedicating a song to Lady Margaret Thatcher. Needless to say, it further divorces the crowd from their erstwhile entertainers. There are, however, moments of atonement where their former glory is resurrected, in ‘Los Angeles Is Burning’ and ‘Sorrow’. Even the most unforgiving of fans were bob their heads along to these stormers.

From lacklustre to illustrious, The Offspring re-ignite the spark that dwindles in the crestfallen crowd. The twenty—somethings reminisce upon better days as ‘Pretty Fly For A White Guy’ and ‘Why Don’t You Get A Job’ are blasted out faithfully across the arena. Flashbacks of school discos and Top Of The Pops dance in the heads as they chorus, “Give it to me baby! Uhuh uhuh!” They say, “always leave the crowd wanting more” and the crowd are left hungry as ‘Want You Bad’ and ‘Half-Truism’ are notably absent from the setlist. With storm clouds looming, we decide to purchase prophylactic ponchos and head back to shelter for the night. The day has darkened and Soundsphere is snoozing away, ready for Saturday’s shenanigans.

Saturday, June 14 2014

The rising sun smokes us out of our tent and into the day after the night before. We bid our woebegone neighbours farewell and head back out into the arena to forage for food and music. Despite their college-boy-going-a-through-a-metal-phase appearance, Bury Tomorrow make music to annoy their suburban neighbours. Milder melodic choruses are interspersed with fervent, double-time drumming and Winter-Bates’ gravelly roar. They are proficient showmen, firing up the crowd with a crowdsurfing challenge, much to the dismay of security personnel guarding the barrier. Somewhere between a zealous war-cry and brooding teenage screamo, they lure an eclectic following with melodies like ‘Repair the lining’ that bare their particular stamp.

And now for something completely different. Hallo, we are The BossHoss, straight from Berlin, Mississippi. To judge by their ersatz cowboy style, clad in uniform Stetsons and sleeveless denim jackets, The BossHoss seem an unlikely line-up for Download. However, through their unashamed use of a mariachi trifecta of sax, trumpet and trombone (who dance in synchrony with the mandolin), beer soaked snare drumming and horizontally played double bass solos, they win the crowd with their novel charm and mirth. Hoedowns breakout and all around yeehaws are heard, praising the best country-rock punk band in the West (Midlands). Whatever you think of them, they must be doing something right to whip a hard rock crowd into a frenzy with their country cover of Cameo’s ‘Word up’!

Now for a regression session. Through their signature use of rampant innuendo and a staged subplot involving a 9ft inflatable sheep and knight in shining armour, Bowling For Soup unequivocally prove that ‘High School Never Ends’. Jaret Reddick dominates the show with his school-boy wit and conducts the faithful band through their anthemic hits ‘Girl All The Bad Guys Want’ and ‘1985’. You know what you’re letting yourself in for with Bowling For Soup – and they do not fail to hit the spot.

Monster Magnet are a psychedelic pitstop, with their in-offensive fusions of rock and reverb. Veteran rockers sit around, as fragrant wafts of e-cigarette smoke curl through the air. The band steps on the wahwah pedal and takes you through a vortex of 60’s soundbites which suited the crowd.

There is an exodus from Status Quo as, 20 minutes into their set, rival headliners, Linkin Park, clash into action. They blast high-fidelity performances of ‘Hybrid Theory’, keeping on beat and powerfully in tune while Chester Bennington leaps around the stage. The crowd seem unimpressed when the flow of nostalgic hits is interrupted by a protracted plug for their latest album, The Hunting Party. Although barely recognisable as Linkin Park in some places, with monastic bell-tolling and piano breakdowns, it signals a new phase in the band’s sound. The crowd eventually acceded to restart their dancing as Bennington’s signature vocals come through in ‘Guilty All The Same’. There are legendary moments – notably an indefatigable drum solo from Rob Bourdon and Mike Shinoda’s call to “responsibly F@/# S=$@ up”. The crowd disband in high spirits, barely dampened by England’s World Cup defeat against Italy which is magnanimously screened on the Zippo Stage. But as we crawl, defeated, back into our sleeping bags, it strikes me, am I dreaming…..or am I really to see Volbeat playing live in less than 16 hours? No, I am still wide awake, it is to be true.

Sunday, June 15 2014

Supercharged on breakfast biscuits and caffeine, once more Soundsphere breaches the arena, hungry for some new music. Barely have we stepped over the threshold before the sound of 12 bar blues and general merriment lured us into the The Graveltones’ crowd. Where are the rest of the band? How are only two chaps making all this hullaballoo? Jimmy O brings rock ‘n’ roll riffs and torrid vocals to Mikey Sorbello’s fevered drumming. They perform with a panache and talent that is more befitting of the main stage at a later time slot. Watch these guys, they are a cheeky Aussie duo, armed with style and charisma, set to blaze a path.

Life On Standby can be heard like siren song from the fringe of the Red Bull arena. You wonder how such a powerful voice can emanate from such a pretty petite front woman as Erin Donnachie…pure yet powerful. They play with fervour; their passion for performance emanating from all member of this fiery band of Scots. Elements of electronica feed in amongst the powerful vocals and thick guitar backing. A professional outfit and scintillating performance.

Also fresh from Red Bull Studios, the fine gentlemen of Chinese Missy put on a classic rock show. We are lured into their tent by Bello Ingram’s strong but sultry vocals and entranced as guitarist Rich Bond rocks out like Slash reborn. There’s even a circle pit emerging at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon as these guys take hold of the stage. The growing audience are compelled to dance in the phosphorescent light. Their organic enthusiasm to perform percolates through the rain-damped crowd and lifts spirits. ‘Kickin’ About’ causes a particular chaos amongst the audience.

After the honour of meeting the morning’s performers, time has ticked on and Volbeat had ascended to the Stephen Hutton Main Stage. We dodged through the crowd, leaping over partied-out festival goers, weaving our way into a mosh-pit of likeminded fans with which we could share screamed moments of extempore. Former Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano storms through his solos on the thrust stage, lunging at the crowd. The unmistakable Danish drawl of Michael Poulsen channels the spirit of Elvis through heavy breakdowns and melodious hooks. Even skeptics amongst the crowd, were dancing till the showdown. Curiously absent from the setlist are crowd-pleasers ‘Cape Of Our Hero’ and ‘Lonesome Rider’, replaced with a heavier repertoire that left fans wanting more.

Steel Panther behave as though it is still the 80s and they are facing a crowd of simpering groupies. Groans can be heard from those relaxing at a distance but the expansive crowd around the main stage implied that their obscene and egocentric hair-metal is met with fond memories for many. It is our good fortune that, repelled by the profane Main Stage, we are drawn back to the Pepsi Max tent. Their eurythmic punk songs induce us to join the revelry; thus we hurl ourselves around, grinning, to Against Me! Mid-twirl, the dashing Dane Anders (bassist from Volbeat) catches our eye amongst the crowd; apparently he is also a fan of Against Me!, especially their proficient drummer Atom Willard. After much swooning, we go our separate ways, stars in our eyes.

Aerosmith is next. These rock legends bring our sublime weekend to a climax. It will not surprise you to hear that after so many years on the scene, these guys still have it! Steve Tyler is reminiscent of a rakish Jack Sparrow who, outrageously on form, flirted with girls during the set, stealing a kiss from a backstage beauty. Their timeless classics roll out with mastery through the Stephen Hutton crowd. Of note, ‘Crying’ is executed flawlessly; Tyler grasps his mic stand, apparently overcome with lust.

Thus ends Download 2014. The cathartic effect of heavy metal music renders this the friendliest festival of them all. From mosh-pit philanthropy to the humbling gratitude felt by the performers, we leave glowing with nostalgia, yearning for the day to dawn again in 2015. It has been and honour and a privilege, Download….until next time!

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Sarah Dabbs

About Sarah Dabbs

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