After the threat of rain on Friday it was a relief to spend Saturday at Download in sunny and calm weather. A little bit of a breeze, along with the odd cloud, kept the heat off the festival throngs as they enjoyed another day of fine music, fine company, and not unreasonably priced beer. I didn't get to see as many bands as on Saturday, mostly due to catching up with friends, but there were still some absolute corkers to bear witness to...
The BossHoss got things rolling with a rock-and-roll fury of big & bad ass guitars, manic keyboards, and southern drawl. They had country music breakdowns, the only double bass of the weekend so far, and touches of nu-metal & hip-hop all blended in with monsters riffs and beats. Delivered with an equal measure of passion and fun their performance didn't get as much of a reaction from the crowd as I felt they deserved but this was more 'rawk' than metal or hard-rock and they did get regular applause and hollers from around the audience at the second stage. One to keep an eye out for, IMO.
Whoever the heck booked Skindred for 2PM on the main stage really didn't appreciate what reaction they were going to get. A sea of people were flooding in before the start of this magnificent set neither the size of the crowd nor the reaction were matched until Avenged Seven Fold five hours later. From the start of 20th Century Fox theme tune intro there was a buzz of something big about to happen, one that was paid off in spades. The metal-reggae-punk sounds exploded over the PA and everyone was bouncing with the joy and the passion of it all. The band were on fire, hitting every note to perfection, and "Pressure", played at the mid point, has never sounded better. Benji was also in fine form and demonstrating how well he can work a crowd: switching the traditional front-man platitude to the crowd for playful scorn then showing appreciation by taking off his ever present sunglasses and then finally singing praise mixed with worlds of encouragement to everyone in the audience in a band. The final master-stroke came during their perfect rendition of "Nobody", introducing the 'Helecopter' to the Download crowd by getting everyone to remove one item of clothing then spin it around above their heads on the count of four. Thousands of people took part, a sea of spinning appreciation that ended with their set being talked about for the rest of the day.
Hollywood Undead had a touch act to follow, and from where I was their rap-rock agro simply didn't cut it. It was good sing-along bouncy cries to anarchy and how hard life is, well performed and with some nice pleasant touches of sincerity, but it just landed a little flat. I was looking forward to checking these guys out but I have an issue with bands who decide to make their first track about how hard they have worked to be where they are today, rather than just going on and proving it.
I will be honest and say that Skunk Anansie have never been a band I've loved. I've liked a number of their tracks, especially the singles which I've made a trek to the dancefloor for on many an occasion, and have never found anything to dislike about the band but I can never say I held a true passion for them. So I cannot comment on their performance as one of the crowd of fans that charged to see their returned heroes, I can only report as a casual observer and as such I can only give it a 'meh, not too bad'. To these ears they sounded out of date and somewhat irrelevant to everything else going on this weekend, something that was not helped by Skin's voice having lost it's previous Grace Jones "kick to the nuts" power & depth and now being replaced with a more delicate Macy Gray rasp. Their new stuff was interesting, and better suited to Skin's new voice, but this didn't kick in till the 4th song so whilst their stagecraft was strong and musicianship fine I can't give them any solid recommendation beyond 'see if you want to relive that part of your youth'.
Bowling For Soup's acoustic set was a bit of a godsend after the previous two disappointments, starting as it meant to go on with the announcement of "we might even be any good" and then hitting the crowd up with jovial, occasionally juvenile, sing along fun. It's not big, it's not clever in any intellectual manner, and you either love songs about beer, girls, not coming first and beer being played on two folk guitars with the audience singing along and swaying slowly from side to side or you are dead inside. Then again after 17 years of the band you'd expect them to be able to get a crowd to move like this, so given that and the fact they have had the same acoustic & main stage slot sequence as Skindred I expect their Sunday electric performance to be fantastic. Or for them to get shitfaced and fuck it all up. Roll the dice.
I heard about 3 songs from Kill 21 whilst hanging around near the Red Bull stage and from what I heard they were rather good. It's young, perky, rocky-punky guitar fun with a lot of musical range and style changes. A little loose in places and in need of some more stage experience but definitely one to keep an eye on. If you spot one of their albums going cheap then grab it and if you see them supporting anyone on tour then be-sure to catch them and let me know how much closer to being the next big thing they have got.
For those who remember Twisted Sister for just wearing over the top makeup and stage costumes I have some bad news: they now wear simple rocker blacks and Dee Snider only has a little touch of eye-liner here and there. For everyone who remembers them as a kick-ass rock band that just hammered out classics then I have some good news: they are still amazing at what they do! Having the balls to use AC/DC as their intro music gives you an idea of how hard these guys are going to go for it. Simple guitar focused rock with a touch of early 80's speed-metal, the lyrics of a less pop orientated KISS, and the balls of King Kong after 5 pints. It's loud, it's dumb, and it's aggressive and it doesn't give a fuck. "I wanna rock" is not the stupid gesture that Dee Snider suggests it is, it's all 60 years of teenager experience compressed into 3 minutes of jubilant, frustrated, inarticulate and pitch-perfect perfection. Okay, so the non 'greatest hits' tracks fell a little flat on the audience but when all four of the band are rocking out in sync it's like the metal world's sunshine buddies parade and the amazing "We're not gonna take it" is a timeless metal-anthem that expresses more in one some than many of the other acts of the event will attempt in their whole careers.
As for Alice Cooper... It's Alice Cooper, what the hell else can I say? He starts his show in a spider costume, he conducts the band with a rapier, he is so utterly confident in his band that he leaves the drummer and bassist to carry the show whilst he does a costume change, he gives you Les Miserables for the generation gap in the execution scene, and he just gives it his all with old and new tracks. He even has a special "new song" jacket so people had notice that he is still writing and recording music, which is not bad for a 63 year old with 35 years in music. It was perfect, it was theatrical without the theatrics being distracting, and it ended on "Elected" with streamers and a lightshow for all. It's a good thing he was on last as no-one would have been able to follow him after that.
Sadly for my Download experience it was System Of A Down that ended up trying to follow him, and having got to their set about two thirds of the way through and what felt like a mile from the stage it came across as a little flat and artsy. A shame, as to this day I consider their first album one of the greatest of all time, but whilst many were digging their intricate and evocative musical ambiance and lyrical mastery I was left cold and untouched by it all. If I get a chance to see them as a full set I will happily give them another chance but based on what I saw I have to accept that for me the fun and splender of this band left years ago when they did the Hypnotise/Mesmerise album. Serj's "we are all cunts of nature" comment left me perplexed rather than intrigued, the quiet lows seemed to go on for ever as banner deserts rather than the gaps between mountains, and all the time I saw them I had the voice in the back of my head going "who the hell let the guitarist sing?". Still they got a big reaction from the faithful and a good time was had by the majority who didn't catch the tail end of it so don't take this as them being out of the game yet.