Sunday 14th June 2015
Over the years I’ve been to Reading, Leeds and Rewind Festivals – even Chester Rocks. Though I’ve never been to a full on outdoors Hard Rock/Metal festival, much to my regret. Thus when the opportunity arose to get my rockin’ self to Download, the epicentre of all heavy rock fests, I seized the chance with gloved fist. And then did the devil horn salute.
Due to time and financial constraints, it would only be a one day escapade with my buddies Ben the Swede and Coben. Sadly this would mean missing such favourites as Faith No More, Clutch, Judas Priest, COC and many more. But never mind – the gods of rock threw down their gauntlet and we would charge into the melee.
After a right old slog from the car to the main gates, we eventually entered the stadium like gladiators – ready for the first spectacle of the day. The first band we saw were Tremonti, who I’d never heard of before. Halfway through their set, the band were actually heavier than I thought and I enjoyed what I heard. Worth further investigation.
At this point the heavens opened and the rain poured. No matter – we were already making our way to the third stage to catch a “secret” set from The Darkness. It was packed – everyone had the same idea, or at least decided this was better than drowning. The set began with a monstrous riff that went on forever and did a good job of pumping the crowd up. This intro enabled singer Justin Hawkins to make his way from the back to the stage, in true over the top style. The Darkness then delivered a raucous set that roared at the sky – opener “Barbarian” accompanied by a load of Vikings on stage was great. The hit singles “Growing on Me” and closer “I Believe in a Ting Called Love” were real crowd pleasers. “Black Shuck” was my personal favourite, in a set that became the first true event of the day. Not a secret, but surprisingly good.
The next event was witnessing one of my all time heroes, the one and only Mr Billy Idol, live in concert for the first time. I’ve been a fan of Billy for years. In all honesty, many of his songs are too pop for this audience; so hits like “Hot in the City” and “Catch My Fall” (both personal faves) are sadly omitted. However, with old pal Steve Stevens providing the guitar onslaught there’s plenty of rock to be had. “Dancing with Myself”, “White Wedding” and “Rebel Yell” all provide quality entertainment and I have to admit that I was thrilled to see this old warrior in action. A great warm up for the rest of the evening.
Now with four stages and dozens of acts spread across the Download field, the only down side is making tough choices on who to watch if bands clash. Especially as “a quick trip across the field” becomes a gruelling endurance test when it’s uphill in a muddy hell. The first major casualty of the day was Eagles of Death Metal, whom I love dearly and have never seen live.
But I made a choice to see L7 instead of Slash, and boy am I glad I did. Recently reformed, the four grungettes of L7 played a fantastic set. The sound was great on the second stage, perhaps because I was closer? Either way, “Andres”, “Fuel My Fire” and “Shitlist” were truly great. Though “Everglade” was absolutely bonkers. The riff that kills! L7 are heavy! I smiled a lot. “Pretend We’re Dead” wasn’t bad either. Fuck it, band of the day!
I caught the last four and a half songs by Slash. He was pretty cool, but no L7. “Anastasia” is a great song, and I have to say that Myles Kennedy has an awesome voice. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City” were both better with Kennedy and without Axl’s screeching. Can I count this as having seen Guns’n’Roses live, as there’s only Axl left in that band? Why the hell not!
Next up on the main stage was Motley Crue. I wasn’t a fan of the Crue back in their heyday, other than one or two songs. I’ve grown to appreciate them over the last fifteen years or so, much like I’ve grown to love Priest and Maiden. Now on their final tour, the show promised to be big. Motley Crue didn’t disappoint, delivering a punch in the face set that was one of the best of the day. They played their cards right, delivering all the hits: “Wildside”, “Primal Scream”, “Dr. Feelgood” and “Shout at the Devil” were superb. The only less than impressive moment was an unnecessary, but well intentioned, cover of “Anarchy in the UK”.
There was spectacle in abundance – sexy backing singers in tiny shorts; flames that were hot enough to give me a Hollywood sun tan from a hundred feet away; dear old Vince Neil looking less than svelte. “Girls Girls Girls” and “Kick Start My Heart” both built the set to a red hot climax. “Home Sweet Home” was a fitting encore, ending a triumphant appearance.
And so last up we have head-liners Kiss. A band I’ve loved ever since I fist saw adverts for their t-shirts in old 1970’s Marvel comics – though I had no idea if they were rock stars, superheroes, or what. I’d never seen Kiss before so this was something to look forward to. Full make up, all the pyro – I was hungry for the experience.
Kiss explode into “Detroit Rock City” and “Deuce” – songs that lesser bands would have saved for the encore. The show is a visual feast; lights, huge screens, explosions all attack the senses and create Las Vegas in the English Midlands. I get to hear my two absolute total favourite Kiss songs ever – “I Love It Loud” and “Calling Dr. Love”. That was me happy right there.
The Kiss set did wander a little bit though. Obviously gearing their songs to a heavier crowd, we get three songs in a row from “Creatures of the Night” – their heaviest album. The songs “Creatures of the Night” and “War Machine” are great, but not top of the Kiss list. Plus there’s newer numbers “Psycho Circus” and “Hell or Hallelujah” which are just OK.
A little too much solo spot indulgence was my cue to take a comfort break. On the way back, I dived in to catch Suicidal Tendencies on the smallest stage. I only saw five songs, but ST were incredible. “I Shot the Devil” and “War Inside My Head” tore the place apart. I couldn’t make out all of Mike Muir’s between song banter, but he was fired up and intense as hell. Hearing “Possessed to Skate” was an unforgettable moment. Muir dedicated to everyone who skates – thanks Mike – and it took me back to loving ST back in my early skate days. Absolutely mental punk thrash, I need to see Suicidal Tendencies again.
Returning to the main stage area, I caught the last few Kiss songs and was very impressed with what I’d seen. Minor gripes aside, it was a privilege to see the band and experience a Kiss show first hand.
So there you have it. Download 2015 was hampered by bad weather, and a poor layout that abandoned stupid amusement rides in the middle where the bar (and another toilet) should have been. Yet despite being forced mercilessly to choose between too many bands, I got to see some great rock’n’roll and enjoyed a cool, fun atmosphere. Oh yeah, and the festival staff were pleasant and friendly. On the whole a good job.