Two days of rain and a muddy field, well that’s nothing new for an Irishman to try and cope with, besides I had been at Download 2012 when the conditions were even worse, so I knew what to expect. A very early morning departure was going to mean a long day of travelling and rocking out to some of Rock’s Royalty. Our particular day started out sunny which was great, but sadly some very long queues going in meant that although we managed to hear most of their set, from a long distance away, we just missed The Dead Daises, actually we got over to the Encore stage in time to see John Corabi and the guys say their goodbyes and leave the stage. What we did hear though sounded really good, and definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.
Strange how things tend to work out time wise just as you expected, we had managed to get up to almost the front barrier in the center in time for H.E.A.T., who were one of the bands I most looked forward to seeing, always do, they really are a formidable force live these days. The ability to bring a crowd with you on your journey and an unbridled energy, spearheaded by the constantly moving Erik Gronwall makes H.E.A.T. a band that people really do need to start taking notice of. With only twenty five minutes to impress the crowd they waste no time and get right to it in a set that is heavily loaded with tracks from the new album and they nail every one. The bands progression over the last few years for me can be summed up with the tittle track of Tearing Down The Walls, it shows a maturity and maintains the power adding an anthemic pulse that draws the crowd in, must be a great feeling for one a band early on the second stage to have a considerable number of the crowd singing back to them, only “It’s All About Tonight” and the excellent “Living On The Run” retain a slot in this short but very impressive set, and Erik finds the time to get out into the crowd and help finish the set in style, it won’t be long before this band is back at Download and it would be a surprise if it wasn’t in a higher up slot.
Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers are always like a breath of fresh air, excellent musicians combined with some excellent songwriting makes these guys always worth checking out, and today is no exception. Again it’s not a lot of time for their set but the guys get stuck in straight away, their music evolves with time, yes there is definitely a huge chunk of Prog in what they do, but they are prog, rock, and even a little poppy in places, the new single “Hold Me Up” is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the set, it’s a real cracker of a track with some great energy. The whole sound of the band seems to change depending on whether it’s Mikko or Kie taking lead vocal duties, where Kie leads they take on a more edgy, slightly punky persona, and with Mikko it’s usually the more accessible tracks. As with H.E.A.T. I think VHB will have gained a lot of new fans from their two sets at Download, the tracks from the recently released New Day Rising album really shone, and bizarrely up to now the weather has been great.
Time to push through the mud, which was a bit of a pain in places, and make my way to the Mainstage to catch up with Tremonti, who have just released their second album Cauterize, and although I really like the band there was just something that wasn’t sitting well with me, the playing was as you would expect top notch, Mark is a really good guitarist and the Tremonti Riffs are just piledriving, excellent drumming too, but on this day the band just weren’t connecting with me, new tracks sounded really good and they band sound much heavier live, maybe I just needed some food/drink and I could feel the rain and that didn’t help, so I decided to make my way back over to the Encore Stage a couple of songs from the end of their set, shame as I had been looking forward to catching them, next time will hopefully be a much more positive experience. Tremonti are a really good band so I’m certainly not writing them off on one viewing.
Isn’t it amazing how in a crowd of somewhere approaching 90,000 you always manage to bump into people you know wandering around, and this particular Sunday is no exception, it’s always great to meet friends at Festivals, and it brightens the day.
As the rain began to get heavy again We Are Harlot hit the Encore Stage, and they have definitely got a decent crowd with them right from the start. Fronted by former Asking Alexandria lead vocalist Danny Worsnop, this is a completely different animal to his former band and vocal style, this is a hard rocking quartet that play some pretty classy Hard Rock, modern with definite pointers from the classics of the past. Most of this set is made up of material from the self titled debut, and there are some excellent songs pumping out the the faithful in front of the stage. “Denial”, “The One” and the excellent single “Dancing On Nails” which was superb, throw in a rousing cover of Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” and we are rocking and rolling again, keep an eye out for live dates for these guys.
Next up for me on the Main Stage are a band I had the pleasure, and I really do mean pleasure, to see last October, Blackberry Smoke, now their musical style might not have you automatically picture them at Download, but they really are excellent, so smooth, their set has an almost calming nature, and that doesn’t say that they don’t rock. Another superb, if slightly subdued, performance just enhances their standing in the minds of those that know them already but I am 100% certain that they gained a lot of new fans today, I heard people in different places later in the day discussing this band and how they were a great surprise, the Southern Rock/Americana of BBS is a joy partake, taking a look around me there are a lot of smiling faces underneath hoods, hats and umbrellas, and instead of moshing a spot of light dancing has broken out, rolling shoulders, gentle head movement, a testament to a band at the top of their game, treating the crowd to a fine selection of tracks from their last three studio albums and a lovely cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come”, it really is no wonder that their last batch of UK shows sold out, they are just an excellent band that sound wonderful.
The rain and the stodgy mud trying to get up the hill on the Tent side of the Arena was starting to get me down a bit, sometimes it’s just involuntary and there’s nothing you can do about it, but having grabbed some food and wandering back down the hill it only took a minute of Billy Idol to set the world to rights again, still has a great presence, a sense of fun and just the right bloody attitude. The set was made up of the usual hits from his extensive back catalogue, some Generation X, and I have to say the stuff from the latest album (last years Kings & Queens Of The Underground) sounded really great live. If for whatever reason you have never managed to catch Mr. Idol live, do yourself a favour and get to one of his shows, honestly he single handedly lifted the mid afternoon lull, and you can’t go wrong with tracks like White Wedding and Rebel Yell in your armoury.
Having been promoted from the Encore Stage in 2013 at this stage most people know what to expect from Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators – a really good time, some old classics, and some great tunes from their own albums, and that’s exactly what we get, at this stage in their career I would personally prefer if they dropped the covers – but that just might not be possible, it’s not like the G’n’R tracks don’t still go down a storm and on top of that you have the fact that they do Velvet Revolver’s “Slither” better than that band did it, well what the hell, certainly after their next release a new setlist would be nice. Hearing “Your A Lie” pounding you ears, “Back From Cali” sooth your soul and I stood in this very field 3 years earlier getting goosebumps when the intro to “Anastasia” started up, guess what it still manages to do the trick for me, the band are a well oiled machine at this stage, lots of touring, a good attitude and only fault is that I’ve seen them a lot recently, and maybe a minor wobble from Myles on the first few bars of “Your A Lie”
Being billed as their Final Tour, Motley Crue hit the Main Stage for their last ever UK Festival performance, having sat through some friends video footage from the previous week at Sweden Rock I have to say I wasn’t really expecting too much, and was all set to move to one of the Tents if it all went haywire. But I was very pleasantly surprised that the band were sounding much better, all the Crue standards were here from “Wild Side” through “Dr. Feelgood”, “Shout At The Devil” and “Girls, Girls, Girls”, although for me Vince was never the best Singer in the world, and the last few years have certainly not been kind to his voice, but they still put on a really entertaining show, if this is the last time a lot of people are to see Crue then the memory we were left with was pretty good, nice pyro added into the mix, for me they really shouldn’t have come back out for an encore as “Home Sweet Home” got savaged, still as a friend reminded me not to let one track detract from what had been a really good set, I won’t – Rock On Crue.
For me there really was only going to be one band today, the first band I got into as a kid, they shaped a lot of things for me growing up, to get to see them headline the stage in Donington was always going to be a bit special, it’s not like I’ve never seen them before, or that I haven’t seen them play Festivals before – but something was building in the air, I had that spine tingle about what was about to unfold, this was going to be a massive show, this was KISS. Of course I’m not blinded by being a massive fan, I know the shortcomings, just like Vince Neil, Paul’s voice isn’t what it once was, but I think he makes it work a bit better for him, and besides you end up singing most of the songs yourself and watching the spectacle. The costumes, the risers, the screens (which were also on the roof of the stage), the smoke and pyro, the additional mini stage for Paul to zipline to close to the sound/lighting rig, everything was in place tonight and the sound out of the gate was better than anything that had preceded it by many miles. Although KISS have been essentially Touring a Greatest Hits set for a considerable time now, just revolving around a lot of the more popular tracks and throwing in a couple of curveballs every now and then, this set still sounds somewhat heavier to start with than normal, having “Detroit Rock City”. “Deuce”, “Psycho Circus”. “Creatures Of The Night”, “I Love It Loud” and “War Machine” as the opening third today was just WOW, the usual added extras are all here, fire breathing, pyro etc…. and visually it’s all just stunning to see and be a part of, I’m with a large group of strangers that are all singing and laughing and having an absolute blast, and isn’t that what a live show should be all about, Paul flies out over the crowd for “Love Gun” and the crowd as always laps it up, kicking off “Black Diamond” before zipping back to the stage to join the rest of the band. Gene seems to be on fine form tonight too and Tommy and Eric are always spot on with their parts in the show, there’s plenty of moving parts, the drums heading off to space always looks great, and Tommy firing blasts from his guitar work as well as they always did. Download goes disco as we approach the finale for “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and it feels good, and the ticker tape canons and fireworks bring a great show to a close. The band are often slagged off, still thought of as a joke to many, but if you have brushed them aside in the past for whatever reason just do yourself a favour and get to one of these epic shows, for the visual overload alone it’s so worth the effort.
Thank you Download, after what’s been a very very long Sunday we limp our way back to the buses with joyful hearts, of course the weather could have been nicer, but it can’t dampen the music, a massive massive Festival, which isn’t really my thing, but I always seem to be drawn back by some of the acts on the bill, we will see what next year brings.