We have to be honest, the line-up for Download 2010 wasn’t getting SPHERE too excited, but there was a more than the usual buzz in the air when we arrived for the 30th anniversary of festivals at Donington. The first, of course, was the legendary Monsters of Rock festival way back in 1980. We set up camp in the Blue campsite and feeling rather proud of our tent-erecting abilities we sat down with a couple of beers. It has to be said that at that time it was unknown to us that we were camped right under a busy runway and that our tent would break twice that weekend… but at that time we were very happy with ourselves! Before long, we decided to go explore The Village to see what it had to offer us. With a cinema, multiple fairground rides ranging from a tame-looking fun house to a completely ludicrous fling-you-100-feet-in-the-air-while-you’re-upside-down pendulum ride and of course rock karaoke; there was a lot to keep the metal heads entertained until the bands started. Thankfully, there were a few stalls providing home comforts such as tea in a real mug and crumpets. Needless to say, our first night ended at half three in the morning staggering home from a night partying to rock ballads and the more upbeat silent disco – we were truly in the festival mood.
We were pretty amazed at the sight that we were greeted with when we first entered the arena of not just one main stage at the bottom of the hill, but two. Yes, AC/DC – the rock gods that they are – had their own stage. It seemed a pretty fitting extravagance as they were about to make history, equalling Iron Maiden by headlining their fourth festival at Donington. Pretty exciting stuff as it was also to be their first Donington show since 1991.
Year Long Disaster is the first band we wander over to see and they provide a very a welcome start to the festival reminding us that there was a purpose to the hour it took us to get from the campsite (both walking and queuing) to the main arena. They take to the Pepsi Max stage with confidence and are clearly glad to be there as demonstrated by the massive grin permanently on bassist Rich Mullin’s face. ‘Love Like Blood‘ really kicks their set into life and shows off Davies’ strong yet emotive voice that is almost reminiscent of Robert Plant. Their stage antics are a little cheesy at times but at their best they bring that classic 70s rock sound right in to the 21st century, particularly on songs such as ‘Show Me Your Teeth‘. Towards the end of their set, they cover two songs by Mullins’ other band Karma To Burn, but most surprising of all is when they invite Matt Maiellaro, creator of the Adult Swim favourite ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force‘ to end their set on Black Sabbath’s ‘Never Say Die.’
We remained in the shade of the Pepsi Max stage to witness Sweethead who enter the stage to slinky 40s jazz. This is a band that has no sense of humility; if you haven’t heard of them, well, they certainly act like you should have. Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age) and co. hold the stage with debauched glamour as Serinna (Sims – vocals) angrily struts around in 7-inch glittery platforms with complete ease. ‘Turned Our Backs’ is the highlight of the set and there is some movement in the crowd. This petite blonde has a surprisingly low voice on her but she fails to create a rapport with the crowd with her crazed femme-fatale stage act until the end when she finally decides to tell us she “quite likes” us which gains a cheer but it wasn’t quite enough to convince this reviewer.
We head over to the main stage for 36 Crazyfists the Alaskans look more than ready for this as they stroll out into the unexpected sunshine. Steve (Holt) and Thomas (Noonan) tear into their guitar and drums respectively whilst Brett Makowski looks for all intents and purposes like he wants to break his bass over somebody’s head, but it’s Brock Lindow the crowd are waiting for, and a huge cheer greets his grinning face. It’s a shame that their set is plagued by sound difficulties which mire the likes of ‘We Gave it Hell‘ and ‘I’ll Go Until My Heart Stops‘. However, when the band moves further through its back catalogue (particularly to material from ‘A Snow Capped Romance‘) the technical difficulties are near imperceptible as the crowd are roaring along to every word. The band launch through ‘End Of August‘, ‘The Heart And The Shape‘, and ‘Bloodwork‘, the latter of which Brock spends the entirety of in the crowd; his wild vibrato intercut with the yowls and shrieks of anyone close to the mic. The loudest cheer is reserved for ‘Aurora‘, for which Killswitch frontman Howard Jones joins the fray. It’s a great sight to see two of metal’s most endearing vocalists together, but once again it highlights the continuing technical problems as even Jones’s voice is occasionally lost to the winds. Still, in difficult circumstances Crazyfists do themselves proud, and they certainly won’t have lost any fans off the back of this performance.
Even Killswitch Engage themselves weren’t expecting to be on the line-up for Download 2010 but as they gear up for their second year in a row on the main stage, a beaming Howard Jones announces, “I’m back bitches!” to the biggest roar of the weekend so far. You’d be hard-pressed to find a metal band more suited to such a gloriously sunny afternoon. Couple Jones’ ever-smiling optimism (at one point he calls to the pit for a “wall of life, not death, because nobody gets hurt today”), with Adam D’s relentless charging up and down the stage with his superman cape flapping behind him, and you could easily be forgiven for forgetting that you’re watching a metal band at all. Before we are treated to ‘Rose Of Sharyn‘ Adam D happily informs the crowd that he will “s**t in all of your mouths” whilst the big screen gives us a close-up of Howard Jones rolling his eyes. Metal’s odd-couple are certainly still a potent live pairing, but it’s far from a two-man show. Mike (Di’ Antonio) and Joel (Stroetzel) throw in extra riffs and guitar tricks wherever they can find the slightest gap to do so, and Justin (Foley) is relentless in pounding out the backbone of the set. The sound problems, which plagued earlier sets from Unearth and Crazyfists, are still present though admittedly less noticeable. There are a couple of disappointed folks in the crowd who have turned up with their fists taped up CM Punk-style; clearly hoping to hear ‘This Fire‘ which doesn’t happen. Instead we are treated to a stirring rendition of Dio’s ‘Holy Diver‘. The crowd lap it up and it’s a fitting tribute to a true metal legend. It’s the first of many tributes in a weekend which feels like an epic torch-passing ceremony and it’s easily one of the performances of the festival.
When we check out the Red Bull Bedroom Jam stage, we enter as Heights are ambling around the stage waiting for the go-ahead. Admittedly, the tent does get fuller after they begin, but it’s far from heaving at any point during their 20-minute set. Halfway through we start to wonder wonder whether it is actually possible for a screamo band to have too much screaming, however when they start playing songs from their EP we start to see their potential as the sound progresses from post-hardcore to having a cooler metalcore vibe. These guys are very watchable and definitely have a few dedicated fans in the audience who rush to the barrier as the lead singer comes forward to greet them. Heights get kudos from us for the last song as they all shout in unison “We were the fallen /These words are my everything / Can you hear me now?” and exit the stage leaving us with a slight feeling of awe. We look forward to witnessing their progression.
Staying in the almost deserted Bedroom Jam tent, we wait for The Funeral Party who are a lot more upbeat than the name suggests. This LA-based bunch seem a bit of an anomaly at this festival with their scratchy vocals, funk-inspired bass-lines and intricate percussion (including the singer using a drumstick on everything from the floor to the mic stand) but they provide a refreshing break from Download’s metal showcase with their melodic indie-flavoured rock. They put a lot of energy into this show as if they were playing to an audience of thousands, and we’re not even sure if they think that might be the case when during the last song the singer manages to crowdsurf over 20 people at the front of the stage, attempts to strangle himself with the mic lead, swings it off and exits the stage as though it were the most normal thing he’s done in his life and we wander back into the sun to get a place for Them Crooked Vultures.
TCV open with one of their more up-tempo tracks ‘Elephants‘ and it’s an ideal platform from which they introduce those three members the crowd is really here to see. Dave Grohl throws in extra fills wherever he can and his skin bashing remains fast and hard throughout. Josh Homme swaggers onto the stage so laid back he’s practically horizontal, and still manages to suck back a couple of cigarettes during the hour plus set. Then there’s John Paul Jones who just looks pleased to be there and receives an extra cheer whenever he graces the big screen. They proceed to put on a virtuoso display of musicianship, but it’s difficult to imagine that there’s anyone in attendance who wouldn’t be willing to trade TCV for any of the members’ former bands (let’s face it, the album tracks come across, at best, as mediocre). The real star of the show is unsung hero Alain Johannes whose work on the guitar and keys keeps the set flowing and the crowd clapping. It’s here where TCV are at their best; when they veer away from the material on their debut full-length and indulge themselves in some good old fashioned jamming on stage. It’s here that you get a real sense that there’s nothing manufactured about the group – they’re friends and have known one another long enough that they play off of each other flawlessly. It never feels too self-indulgent and it’s in these moments that they get the crowd whipped up the most. After a brief run through of ‘Mind Eraser‘, they close things up with an even longer rendition of their 8-minute album epic ‘Warsaw‘ which gives them a final opportunity to show what they’re capable of. When Josh Homme announces “I love AC/DC”, as the band take a bow, he seems to have caught the mood of the pit who are already beginning to shuffle to the left toward the adjacent shadow of the devil-hatted stage which awaits tonight’s headliners.
It was already getting rather tight in the crowd for AC/DC half an hour before they are expected onstage, and with good reason. Apart from the fact that every other stage closed down before AC/DC were due to start, the whole day we had encountered guys dressed in school shorts, shirt and tie in homage to Angus Young. Earlier on in the day I spoke to a bloke who had paid over £500 to get to Donington just to see AC/DC for the first time. So, fan or not, everyone was excited to see what they had in store for us.
On the screens we see an animation of Angus and a few devil girls which really rile the crowd up, cartoon Angus gets into the driving seat of a steam train and loses control. Seconds later, a life-sized metal train bursts through the screen and the band crank straight into (you guessed it) ‘Rock N’ Roll Train‘. The crowd are absolutely mental with excited bouncing and frequent “Angus! Angus!” chants in between songs, particularly after the iconic ‘Back In Black‘ is played pretty early on in the set. Of course the stage show is made of pure classic metal with a huge bell lowered for Brian Johnson to ring during the intro of ‘Hell’s Bells‘, a grotesque giant blow-up doll emerges riding the train during ‘A Whole Lotta Rosie‘ and a pneumatic platform with confetti cannons during Angus’ epic solos. With all these extravagances, it’s easy to see why they needed their own stage. New songs from album ‘Black Ice‘, including the title track are received well; there’s nothing particularly new and exciting about the latest material with familiar riffs throughout but as the saying goes, “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”. While the sun sets, the band end on the anthem ‘For Those About to Rock‘ which perfectly sum up the atmosphere at the end of the first day as fireworks shoot off into the night.
The sun has stayed over Donington and Saturday morning is opened in spectacular form by Hellyeah who deliver their dirty southern metal whilst most people are still filing into the arena. Starting the set with anthemic self-titled tune, ‘Hellyeah‘, and intercutting their songs with tales of debauchery and drinking, they’re the perfect way to start a packed day at Download. In case the onstage whisky and beer hadn’t made it clear, frontman Chad (also of Mudvayne) confesses: “We are alcoholics” and it’s in that spirit that they conclude their set with the rousing tribute to drink: ‘Alcohauling Ass‘, but not before Vinnie Paul is given the opportunity to add his brother to the list of fallen heroes who are being remembered this weekend. His tribute to Dimebag gets a stirring response from the hungover morning crowd and it’s very much in keeping with the spirit of remembrance which is laced through Download 2010. Hell forbid the boys ever sign up for AA meetings.
After a short wait at the Main stage we are confused to see a male singer walk out, especially considering it is Flyleaf we’re expecting to see. A few shrugs and confused looks later, we realise that it is actually Atreyu (unashamedly sponsored by an energy drink) that is bouncing around the stage before us. As we can’t wait to see Rolo Tomassi we decide to head over to the Dio stage but not before hearing a few guys in the crowd remark: ‘Wow, I thought Flyleaf was fronted by a female, I didn’t realise they were this heavy’. At least we weren’t the only ones to not get that info.
Rolo Tomassi have spent the past year accumulating gushing reviews for their live shows, so the main question posed today is: will the band, who’ve made laying waste to smaller venues an expectation, be able to transpose that fire onto a grander scale? The second (or Ronnie James Dio) stage is an impressive sight; easily large enough to be considered a main stage at most festivals and the diminutive math-core pushers seem undaunted as they hurl themselves around it. The larger setting offers the group a chance to open out their sound a little and it’s good to see the Brits using every inch of their afforded space. There would always be a danger with Rolo Tomassi playing the same space as Dillinger Escape Plan (clearly a huge influence on them) this weekend that they could come across sounding slightly Dillinger-lite. Fortunately this doesn’t happen and they hold their own throughout; particularly when the crowd get behind them during ‘I Love Turbulence‘ and newer track ‘Party Wounds‘. Eva Spence’s voice is as strong as ever – her gruff bellow swirling from the stage in a wave of aggression, and even at this point in their career we still hear one person say “I thought it was a dude”. They certainly hold their own today but it’s not quite as mind-crushing an experience as seeing them decimate more intimate venues.
On record Sybreed come across as very much a Swiss Fear Factory and, as such, their live sound is something of a surprise. Up close Sybreed’s industrial influences are made secondary to a more traditional guitar sound and in the Pepsi Max tent that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The tent is as full as we’ve witnessed so far this weekend but the crowd seem a little subdued and the band never quite shake them out of it.
‘Doomsday Party‘ gets most heads nodding and their Killing Joke cover ‘Love Like Blood‘ is spot on, but again it feels like most in attendance are just waiting for that little bubble of reluctance to burst before they can properly let
themselves go and it just never quite happens today. That said Kevin Choiral is one of the most punishing drummers of the weekend and the floor shakes whenever he really puts his feet down. The material’s definitely there but today’s show never reaches the heights that it threatened to.
We rush back to the Dio stage to make sure we can get a space near the front for My Passion. They get off to an energetic start with ‘Crazy & Me‘; Jon (Be – guitar) jerking around the stage in the most stylish way possible. It’s easy to see why they have received a lot of flak in the press recently, they look sharp and their performance is slick and way more mature than their years. This is deomonstrated as vocalist Laurence (René, vocals) to thank the audience for giving them a chance saying that they are “just 4 honest guys from Hertfordshire”, which is true. It’s really exciting to see a band like this play bigger and bigger stages, they certainly look at home and use every inch of space they can for high kicks and jumps. However, a few songs later and we learn a lesson from Laurence that heat, high kicks and leather chaps are not the best combination…but in the most amusing and professional way possible, he carries on making moves as extreme, making rips and tears even larger in his trousers! ‘Day of the Bees‘ is the highlight of the set which gets everybody in the crowd dancing to their punky electronic beats.
On the Pepsi Max stage we are treated to a rare UK appearance from Genitorturers and we have been anticipating this moment since their 2009 album emerged after a 7-year silence. Formed in the same era as Marilyn Manson, this self-proclaimed “sexiest band in the world” bears more than a few aesthetic similarities to Brian Warner & co. but somehow they didn’t achieve the same crippling heights so, fortunately, they are still able to put on an impressive show. They kick off with ‘Sin City‘, title track from their 1998 album and there are a few glimmers of recognition across faces in the crowd. Their stage show mainly comprises of two skinny girls in bikinis and devil masks having a lot of fun with Gen (vocals) and a couple of “is that legal” moments. They storm through the set with hard-hitting industrial riffs and deep gravely vocals from their shameless vocalist, all the while proving that these sleaze-rockers are still relevant.
As soon as Lamb of God start ‘The Passing‘ any questions of the sound problems which purveyed the main stage yesterday are put to bed with an axe through the skull. The band are as tight as any group you’ll see this weekend and vocalist Randy is the ultimate festival puppet master; there must be well over 50,000 people at the main stage and with a look or a gesture he gets them to do whatever he damn well pleases. The place is raging by mid-set when they throw in ‘Now You’ve Got Something to Die For‘ which ensures there won’t be a moment’s respite for anyone. Mark and Will’s guitars weave in and out of each other with mechanical precision and there surely isn’t a tighter, or more punishing, rhythm pairing than John and Chris on the planet right now. Penultimate track ‘Redneck‘ gets the loudest response of the set, and before the monumental closer ‘Black Label‘ has finished people are emerging from the pit looking like they’ve just been hit by a truck. It’s true that as one of the biggest metal bands on the planet Lamb of God have a reputation to live up to and today they more than do justice to the expectations on them. A heavy, heavy triumph.
While Lamb of God tear up the main stage, over on the Dio stage, the pairing of three ex-members of Evanescence and American Idol contestant, Carly Smithson that comprises We Are The Fallen really offer no surprises. Yes there are classical, orchestral undertones, yes there are soaring and impressive female vocals and yes, there are riffs Nickelback would be proud of, but haven’t we heard this all before? In fact, they are quite lucky to have Smithson as a frontwoman as she seems to be the glue that holds the stage show together and proclaims how happy she is to be back on the British Isles, near to her homeland Ireland. Admittedly, despite the generic nature of the whole set, they sound good. Carly’s vocals cutting through the air and the classical-inspired hard rock filling the Dio stage. The crowd is definitely enjoying what they hear, and if you like Evanescence you certainly won’t be disappointed, but if you’re looking for something new, move on. The title track from their album ‘Take The World Down’ seems to be the most popular with a huge cheer and horn signs thrown into the air in the final chords. They end their set by taking a photo of the crowd with their middle fingers in the air, once again proving their lack of originality. Having said that, they will most likely be forerunners of the genre in the next few years, but it’s unlikely that they’re going to come up with anything that turns heads.
Volbeat are the surprise hit of the weekend. The Danish four-piece open with the stomp of ‘The Human Instrument‘, and what follows is forty minutes of metal-infused rockabilly played at a breakneck pace. ‘Radio Girl‘ is the catchiest tune of the weekend, and when coupled with the upbeat Johnny Cash tribute ‘Sad Man’s Tongue‘ Volbeat have the entire second stage crowd hanging on their every note. The most remarkable thing about the Danes’ set is how intimate and personal they make the experience. They’ve altered their set to incorporate the likes of ‘The Garden’s Tale‘ because some drunken fans begged them to play it the night before, and when a distinctive yelp sounds from somewhere to our left it’s obvious that they’re genuine. Frontman Michael Poulsen even descends from the stage at one point to give a £20 note to a girl in the crowd just so that she can go and buy a Volbeat t-shirt. Poulsen’s effortless charisma and the band’s unquestionable tightness have no doubt earned them a Viking-boatload of new diehard fans and they deserve every one of them. With tunes like “Still Counting” it will be a crime if they remain neglected on our shores much longer.
The Bedroom Jam tent is far from busy as emo pin-up boys Kadawatha take up their instruments. Fresh from a tour playing arenas with Paramore, the band seem a little static in such a reduced environment. The frontman (Daniel) certainly has plenty of charisma and the meagre crowd is with him, albeit not particularly vocally, and judging by the squeals when he flashes his hips, his image will be adorning many a bedroom wall before long. There’s not much by way of crowd interaction and only one vague clap-along during the short set. With an upcoming tour with New Found Glory and Tegan And Sara, no doubt when Kadawatha return to our shores they will find themselves on a grander stage, but on this showing it’s difficult to judge just how excited we should be about that.
Senser , on the other hand brings about the liveliest crowd we’ve seen in the Pepsi Max tent. Dual vocals from Kerstin Haigh and Heitham Al-Sayed give an exciting dynamic energy that the audience feeds off. It’s amazing that Senser aren’t better known, and even more, that this is their first Download appearance. They have been in existence existing since the early 90s and gaining a lot of attention back then, they prove on this stage that they are still exciting and set apart from anything else on offer in any music scene today. These guys are not just rap-metal. Notorious for being indefinable but frequently found to be described as rapcore, they evade even that label. They mix trip-hop, electronica, metal and rap to create something beautiful and pulsating that attracts fans of all genres into the crowd from punks to metal heads to those you just can’t define. Crowd favourite ‘Age Of Panic‘ takes us all the way back to 1993, but still as energetic and angsty as it ever was. Ending on ‘Eject‘, the 2000-plus audience all sing, punch fists in the air until every last drop of energy is gone and Senser end on the biggest high we’ve had this festival.
It’s great to see the Deftones take the stage this evening. They’re still without Chi Cheng who remains in a semi-conscious state following the 2008 road accident, but Chino is looking his slimmest in years and as they break into ‘Rocket Skates‘ from acclaimed new album ‘Diamond Eyes‘ it’s clear that the band is fresher than ever. They make the most of airing the new material including the likes of ‘CMND/CTRL‘, ‘You’ve Seen The Butcher‘, and ‘Beauty School‘, and it’s well received by the crowd. It’s a true testament to the band that they’ve managed to evolve with each new album; never becoming stagnant, but ensuring their sound is unmistakeably their own. The dreamy metal of the recent albums blends seamlessly with older material, and when the opening bars of ‘Be Quiet And Drive‘ chime into the Donington sky the crowd erupts appreciatively. Chino barely stands still at any point during the set and he and Stephen Carpenter are permanently on the same page, playing off one another with every ethereal twist in each song. ‘My Own Summer‘ still sounds like the relevant metal beast it always was and that sums up the band’s performance. There is one accidental moment of comedy when Chino announces “This is from our first record” and promptly launches into a tune from ‘Around The Fur‘, but any fear that they may have forgotten about their debut ‘Adrenaline‘ are swiftly erased as they close out their bruising set with ‘Root‘ and finally the magnificent, and still savage, ‘7 Words‘. It’s a great end to the set with the thousands on hand to shred their larynxes as they chant the rousing chorus. Apparently whilst this passionate set is happening the England football team are showing a distinct lack of passion against the USA; it’s clear, from the response the Deftones receive, that nobody here feels like they’re missing a thing.
When we saw HIM on the line-up, we were rather unsure about what to expect. As a young teen, this reviewer is rather embarrassed to admit that she owned all their albums right up to ‘Love Metal‘, but hadn’t really paid attention to any of their outputs after 2003 so it was going to be quite an interesting experience.
A smiling Ville Valo (vocals) enters to shrieking girls drowning out the opening chords of ‘Buried Alive By Love‘. Somehow he has managed to evade the effects of all the battering his body has taken over the years and it’s not the sight we was expecting – no chain smoking onstage and only water. The crowd sways as Ville, with an ironic grin, sings ‘Won’t you die tonight for love?’ it’s amazing how a song with such depressing lyrics can still feel uplifting in the warm spring evening. New single ‘Heartkiller‘ delivers familiar riffs with added harmonies at a faster tempo, it’s definitely a song that will be on our future playlists. We’re not sure if their notorious cover of ‘Wicked Game‘ was meant to be an extended version, as Ville exits the stage halfway through mouthing to a confused Linde (Lindström – lead guitar) who holds the stage with a screaming solo until Valo returns with a cheeky smile and does up his flies. They end with a cover of ‘Rebel Yell‘ in anticipation of a performance of the song’s originator the following day. Ultimately, this show has renewed our respect for HIM, but whether they’ll ever be a firm favourite again is left to be seen.
There’s one hell of a crowd for Jared and his well-styled emo crew, 30 Seconds to Mars at the Dio stage. They’re a young crowd but a loud one which is no bad thing and there is a sense of expectation amongst them. The first thing we notice as the band come strutting out is that touring bassist Tim Kelleher is paying a personal tribute to Paul Gray wearing the famed black pig mask; it says something about the audience that it’s greeted more with puzzlement than appreciation. Attention is soon diverted though as the screams from the ladies, and more than a few gents, at the barrier signals Jared has appeared, and in case it was too hard to spot him, he’s helpfully sporting a day-glo red mohawk. Set opener ‘Night Of The Hunter‘ is barely audible over the screaming from the front and Jared struts around like a peacock in a Topman advert wearing gloves to perfectly match his new doo and a rather over the top trenchcoat. By the time they hit ‘Call To Arms‘, the frontman’s dropped his coat to reveal a skimpy blue leather jacket and some truly horrendous studded trousers. However for all the talk of style over substance, that often surrounds this band, it must be admitted that Jared owns quite a set of pipes and he does know how to use them. Set highlight is, hands-down, when Jared stops ‘The Kill‘ halfway through and is joined by Chino Moreno. A good portion of the crowd actually know who he is and respond accordingly. The volume of the fan response here suggests none of them are disappointed in 30 Sec’s performance tonight but unfortunately we are left wanting more.
Rage Against The Machine have always been known for having rough moshpits and, surprise, surprise, they have to stop halfway through third song ‘People Of The Sun’ because people are getting hurt. Zack (de la Rocha – Vocals) tells the crowd to be good to each other and help each other out, a plea greeted by warm cheers. Of course the recent victory show at Finsbury Park is brought up to which everyone screams and cheers as Zack states that it wasn’t an attack on Simon Cowell but what he stands for and applaudes everyone who took part in the Facebook campaign and “Your culture and your desire to listen to good music and to not have pop music shoved down your throats” which aptly leads into ‘Know Your Enemy‘ and then hit after hit. We are treated to ‘Bulls On Parade‘, ‘Bullet In The Head‘ and ‘Bombtrack‘, and that’s just the Bs! Of course, it wouldn’t be a RATM show without a commentary on the current political situation as their vocal frontman urges both the USA and the UK to condemn the blockade of the Gaza strip, a speech which leads into ‘Township Rebellion‘. Surprisingly they cover The Clash’s, ‘White Riot‘, throughout which there are huge grins on all band-member’s faces. They end on ‘Freedom’ and ‘Killing In The Name‘ which gains a crazed reaction from the crowd due to its renewed notoriety. The main thing that this set leaves on everyone’s minds is the question that surely it’s time for a new album now? Please?
After another late night at the Silent Disco and a few dreams of airplanes dropping out of the sky onto our fragile tent we stagger into the arena to see what the final day of Download 2010 has to offer us.
People are still buzzing a little from the Rage set as Dommin creep out onto the main stage. A bleary-eyed metalhead next to us groans “That’s too big a quiff for this time in the morning” as the bluesy goth rockers open the day with ‘New‘. It’s their first appearance at Download and you’d forgive a little tentativeness opening the main stage on the final day, but Dommin clearly want to use their meagre allotted time. Audience banter is kept to a minimal, vocalist Kristofer says: “You guys doing alright so far?” – probably a good idea considering most have barely crawled from their tents (and one chap has turned his into a rather fetching dress for the final day). An inspired cover of Cutting Crew’s ‘I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight‘ makes people, who weren’t already, pay attention. They close the set with ‘Without End‘ from new full-length ‘Love Is Gone‘ which, on the strength of this, is definitely worth checking out.
Nonpoint , on the other hand, certainly doesn’t stand for any excuses of hangovers or sleep deprivation. It’s been eight years since their last Donington appearance and they certainly seem like they’ve been waiting all that time to play this set. Elias (Soriano – vocals) shouts to the audience “During this song, I want everybody to jump and if the person next to you doesn’t, you have my permission to make them!” and they pound into ‘Hands Off‘ as the audience obeys with a renewed energy. “Donington, you’re making me proud!” Soriano shouts. Their Latino-inspired metal is formulaic but a lot of fun, it’s quite obvious that they have a set routine as Elias constantly says “Tonight, Donington…” even though it’s midday. However ‘The Wreckoning‘ is much heavier and more original than the other songs they have to offer Download. They finish their storming set with ‘Bullet With A Name‘, obviously driving getting all their angst and energy into this set before they head over to the acoustic stage later on.
The second stage is still bathing in sunshine when US Christian rockers Switchfoot appear. They get a very respectable turnout and their sound is as big and polished as you’d expect from a group who’ve just released their seventh studio album. Singer Foreman is in the crowd practically from the beginning of the set and the appreciative crowd are responsive throughout, but it all feels a little tepid. At their best on tracks like ‘The Sound‘ it feels like they’re pumping out the soundtrack to the greatest Western never made, but even their well-known cover of Beastie Boys‘ ‘Sabotage‘ fails to really ignite the crowd. It’s an assured and accomplished performance from a team of festival veterans, but when a voice from behind says ‘Who were they again?’ as they wander off the stage beneath the huge Switchfoot banner, it seems to fit the mood.
We thoroughly enjoyed esOterica’s set last year on the Bedroom Jam stage and we wait with anticipation to see how Surrey’s finest progressive metal band fare on the much larger Pepsi Max stage. It seems that the bigger stage only gives a bare-footed Tobias (vocals) more confidence as he spends most of his time harassing a rather unimpressed security guard and dancing at the top of the lighting rig. His voice is perfectly suited to a larger stage with its smooth maturity, particularly on songs such as ‘Life is Lonely‘. The rest of the band also seems a lot more comfortable than the last time we encountered them, quite possibly because the atmosphere in the tent is electric, especially when 100 black balloons get released into the audience. For their impressive cover of ‘Silence’ Tobias brings a friend to meet us, a beautiful live crow, which sits patiently on his arm during the whole song. “How random was that?”, we hear. Well, if you’ve never been to an esOterica gig before, then yes, maybe. But we’ve learned it’s safer to just expect anything from these guys (and girl). For their final song they choose their anthem ‘Don’t Rely on Anyone’ and get their fans who have dominated the front barrier to teach the chorus to the rest of the crowd. We’re slightly curious as to what’ll happen when they’re finally unleashed on a main stage…!?
As we peer out of the Pepsi Max tent, the sky is overcast and there is a chill in the air. We creep down to the main stage for Billy Idol who happens to be 20 minutes late. In actual fact, it’s quite a surprise as most of the weekend has run pretty much to schedule. When he finally arrives with trademark bleached hair and denim waistcoat they kick straight into an unusual choice for first song, ‘Ready, Steady, Go‘. second song ‘Dancing With Myself‘ proves just how much of a natural-born entertainer Idol is, as he declares he’d ask all of Donington to dance with him and just when we think we’ve got Idol sussed, the rain starts coming in. “Make me scream/all night, all night long” he sings as he gets down in the crowd, soaking himself in the rain while greeting elated fans. As he mounts the stage he announces “I can sing, I can f**k, no one can stop me! They tried, you remember?!” The set calms down to exhibit his bluesy punk and we’re not sure if he’s slowed down too soon as the stage is left bare with just himself, Steve Stevens and an acoustic guitar playing the opening bars of ‘White Wedding‘, apparently written for Idol’s little sister. Just when we’ve resigned ourselves to listening to a purely acoustic rendition, the rest of the band appear out of nowhere. Despite the rain coming down hard and fast the set is brought back to life and maintains a steady pace with Billy and the rest of the band obviously soaked to the skin but keeping in high spirits and giving probably the show of their life. Final song is, obviously reserved for an extended version of ‘Rebel Yell‘. Out of all the classic rock artists that are on this year’s bill, Idol certainly steals the show.
Over on the Dio Stage, the dark clouds still hang over Donington and the almighty deluge is still beating down hard. It does feel somewhat appropriate as it greets the unholy mathcore insanity of Dillinger Escape Plan. The weather’s been so kind this weekend that there isn’t a soul prepared for this rain (we’re not talking cats and dogs, we’re talking mammoths and f**kin dinosaurs) there’s two choices: run for shelter or go bat-s**t crazy. Nobody’s going anywhere. ‘43% Burnt‘ is a sign of things to come: the fingers are flying with unfathomable pace and accuracy up and down fret boards, and by the time they hit ‘Black Bubblegum‘ the stage has become DEP’s playground in the rain. Amps are shifted and used as makeshift springboards and every stack has been climbed at least a handful of times. ‘Sunshine The Werewolf‘ whizzes past like a technicolour epileptic fit and suddenly epic final song ‘Farewell, Mona Lisa‘ is closing things down. It takes a few moments before everyone scampers off for shelter, suddenly thrown sodden back to the mud of the real world. Everyone here knows they’ve witnessed something pretty special.
It’s strange how the weather affects these rock fans as we find most of them trying to hide under bins or squeeze too many people under a tiny tarpaulin for shelter. However, a meagre yet dedicated crowd remains at the Dio stage for Porcupine Tree who fills the stage with their various instruments. “So the weather turned to s**t but we’re going to try and cheer you up with some of our wrist-slashingly cheerful music” declares Steven Wilson (vocals/guitar). In all honesty, the bleak weather is the perfect setting to watch these guys. Their choice of opener consists of the first two tracks off their 2009 offering ‘The Incident‘ with dark riffs and darker vocals offset by airy keys and percussion. Indeed, their whole set bar two songs are taken from their latest album, but the committed audience members seem to enjoy their short set. They end on a rendition of ‘Blackest Eyes‘, singing “It’s so erotic when your make up runs” – we are not sure that the crowd, at this point, would agree.
Hearts Under Fire qualified for their slot here in the Bedroom Jam tent as the Wild Card winner of the Red Bull competition, and it’s great that they did. They get the biggest crowd in the tent of the entire weekend although admittedly this is mainly due to the fact that the rain outside is as relentless as a Mayhem album (and even less pretty). Having only heard a little of HUF prior to this performance we weren’t expecting Mary O’Regan’s vocals to fit the rock bill so well, but here she definitely gruffs things up, and the crowd respond accordingly. The girls have a decent batch of songs but they don’t really reach out to the crowd which is a shame because they certainly wouldn’t have expected so many attentive ears this weekend. Drummer Lexi Clark threatens to steal the show from her frontlady with a sterling skin-bashing performance. Definitely a band to watch over the next year.
Stone Temple Pilots are late coming on stage and the crowd has been thoroughly thinned out by the deluge. When Scott Weiland and his band finally do trot out to greet what’s left of the soggy crowd it’s clear that something’s not right. At first, during ‘Wicked Garden‘ you start to ponder whether some of the technical gremlins from Friday have reappeared, but as things stumble further on into ‘Crackerman‘ it becomes sadly obvious the only problem is Scott Weiland. At one point, as the big screen gave us a close-up of his pale face, he reminded me of the poor young man who was left on his own vomiting at the silent disco in the early hours of the morning, a far away stare in his eyes mumbling “I don’t know where my tent is”. That kid wasn’t supposed to be supporting Aerosmith though, and Weiland’s arrogance throughout the set is not the kind of loveable arrogance of Gene Simmons or the deserved swagger of Axl Rose; it’s an arrogance which borders on contempt for his audience. The rest of the band pulls their weight though and, whilst the new material doesn’t really do much to dry off people’s spirits, ‘Plush‘ gets folks moving (though the frontman does his best to cock that one up as well). Set highlight is the Pearl Jam cover ‘Even Flow‘, but it’s all mired by Weiland’s wasted routine, and nobody seems too sad to see them go.
In the echoes of a poor STP performance, even though we are soaked to the bone and freezing, we are on the barrier of the Acoustic stage for this reviewer’s most hotly anticipated set of the weekend… and boy are we not disappointed.
We heard Ginger Wildheart had asked fans on various social networking sites to come and make this the “loudest acoustic gig ever”, and he wasn’t joking. The stage fills up with familiar faces from over the weekend and a few new ones. Dave Kerr and Rich Jones (Sorry And The Sinatras), Billy Morrison (The Cult / Billy Idol), Chris Catalyst (Eureka Machines / Sisters of Mercy) are just a few of the celebrity troop armed with acoustic guitars that accompany Ginger at this phenomenal acoustic set of Wildhearts songs. They thrust straight into ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go‘ as this shapes up to be the most uplifting set of the weekend. Ginger mentions that his buddies onstage had just learned the songs through listening to the CD, “But I’ve decided to go with a slightly different arrangement… so wish them luck!”
‘Suckerpunch‘ is surprisingly good on acoustic guitar, but when there are nine of them playing at once, it’s apparently easier to re-create the bite of the plugged version. ‘TV Tan‘ gets the dripping crowd bouncing around like loons. The most excited sing-a-long of the weekend ends with ‘Geordie In Wonderland‘ during which a seemingly elated Ginger joins the crowd and invites them to sing into the mic. The crowd chant “we want more” almost before Ginger has a chance to exit and we couldn’t agree more. That was definitely one of the best sets we’ve ever experienced.
After the huge success of Slipknot’s headlining show last year, Corey Taylor and Jim Root return to Download with their other band and the crowd has assembled at the Dio stage en masse. It may not be the main stage but it’s still a headline slot and Corey and his boys own the place. New album tracks ‘Digital‘ and ‘The Bitter End‘ get showcased and they are immediate crowd pleasers. In a weekend of emotional tributes the crowd knows exactly what’s coming when the rest of the band leave Corey on his own with a guitar. He just about finishes the sentence “This is for my friend” before his voice cracks on him, and when he strums his way through an aching rendition of ‘Bother‘ there’s not a dry eye in the field, and not just because of the torrent we had been experiencing. Paul Grey’s name is chanted loud and long, and both Corey and Jim make a point of showing that it’s appreciated. Following this up with ‘Through The Glass‘ the emotion becomes almost unbearable, but Corey is a true frontman and he soon has everyone back in high festival spirits. Whether it’s his banter with the cameraman – whom he gets to grab ridiculous hats for himself and Jim Root to wear – or the festival’s most comical moment in which Corey teaches the crowd a dance routine to a song which “makes Lady GaGa look like a real hoofer”. It’s astonishing that Corey manages to move a crowd from the depths of misery to howling with laughter in the space of an hour and a quarter, and he does it not with arrogance but with a genuine ability to make the crowd feel an appreciated and a necessary part of the experience. Stone Sour’s set is closed with a storming rendition of ‘30/30-150‘, and the Ronnie James Dio stage is left vacant, after what, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, has been the performance of the festival, and that is not a statement made lightly.
Final slot on the main stage is left for Aerosmith to fill. A massive banner with a 50-ft image of the famous winged-logo covers the stage before revealing a sequin-covered Steve Tyler (vocals) and co. that kick off with ‘Love In An Elevator‘ for an excitable crowd. Unfortunately, that’s the highlight of the set over and done with. They play largely-forgotten hits and jam creating bluesy rock, and it’s obvious that they have been playing together for almost four decades by how tight and professional they are onstage (there’s even an autocue so Tyler doesn’t forget the lyrics), but at the end of the festival, we really could do with some music that would make us forget how tired we actually are. The song the crowd’s anticipated the whole day, ‘I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing‘ is rushed through “because it’s gotta be done”. It’s no secret that the band are sick of playing this tune. A few covers are thrown in for good measure, again rather obscure – the most recognisable of which is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Stop Messin Around‘. Joe Perry (guitar) takes over lead vocals for this one and shows that he’d be a pretty worthy frontman in his own right.
‘Sweet Emotion‘ starts to kick the crowd back into gear but unfortunately, the set is almost over. The encore is pretty impressive with Tyler and Perry pulling their signature song ‘Dream On‘ out of the bag and of course we get the chance to boogie to ‘Walk This Way‘ but ultimately this set left us wanting just a little bit more.
Overall, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by Download’s offerings and it’s no surprise that the organisers are already hailing it as one of the great festivals to go down in history. If you weren’t there, we hope we’ve been able to give you a taste of what you missed out on.
For more information visit the official website.