Review: Download Festival 2011

By Robert Bayley

Now the dust has settled and the tents have been abandoned; sufficient time has passed to properly digest and ruminate on the events of this year’s Download Festival.

The first act of the day saw a crowd-pleasing performance by Puddle of Mudd. Undoubtedly it was due to their decision to throw in covers of AC/DC’s T.N.T. and Black Sabbath’s War Pigs into the alternate rocker’s short set, finishing off with an above par rendition of their signature hit She Hates Me.

A band that would have been wise to follow this model was Duff McKagan’s Loaded. Marred by a static performance and lack of songs the crowd knew; it was apparent Duff McKagan’s band was on the main stage by virtue of his presence alone. That said, the inevitable Guns N’ Roses cover, Ain’t It Easy, topped the show off as the unengaged crowd burst into life. Perhaps it was too little too late.

Thin Lizzy made a much bigger impact on the audience (admittedly their pedigree brings a biased love with it) rattling through a greatest hits set and featuring a surprise appearance by Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell for The Boys Are Back In Town.

A sterling performance by Alter Bridge; whipping up the first of many mosh and circle pits. Myles Kennedy proved himself a brilliant frontman and demonstrated a powerful and skilled vocal performance.

Great as Kennedy was however, he paled in comparison to Justin Hawkins from The Darkness. Murmurs from the campsite and village suggested the reunited band weren’t to be taken seriously. However these were quashed with the first song as they proved themselves to be the real deal. Festival goers who previously dismissed them as a parody of the music they loved realised The Darkness are the genuine article. Hawkins’ animated, individual, stage climbing and talented performance marks him out to be one of the future’s truly, great frontmen.

The Darkness

Headlining the first day on the main stage saw the return of 2009 headliners, Def Leppard. Much of the crowd actually left before the rock band they took the stage, which initially seemed a wise decision. Getting off to a slow start, Def Leppard opted to pull a clear cut 50/50 set list beginning with a solid block of new and obscure material to seemingly get it out of the way. Audience members left as the set progressed. However there was a sharp contrast in reaction as the lethargic crowd sprang to life when they realised Rocket would be followed by equally classic sing-along hits. Testament to the shift in gear was the assorted crowd, all blasting out every word of Pour Some Sugar On Me, Rock Of Ages and Animal. Joe Elliot and co. however, failed to match the energy and verve that Justin Hawkins delivered alone.

Def Leppard

The second day belonged to the second stage even if black metal Thai band Chtonic’s early performance was marred by a murky sound system. Performing later however the versatile funk metal/country rockers Clutch delivered a stomping performance.

One of the true highlights of the festival was reggae-metal act Skindred. The Welsh band exceeded the high level of anticipation, largely due to vocalist Benji Webbe’s hilarious audience interaction, making a colossal concert seem like an intimate gig.

Skindred

It was clear that Dio Disciple’s; the metal tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio would be given a get out of jail free card, no matter their performance. Comprised of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens (formerly Judas Priest), Jo LoMenzo (previously White Lion and Megadeth) and most of Dio’s actual band they provided a genuinely emotionally-charged tribute to the legendary singer. They truly moved the crowd who belted out the likes of Holy Diver, Stargazer and Heaven And Hell with passion.

The most impressive element of Avenged Sevenfold’s set was the stage. The dramatic, gothic graveyard and pyrotechnic display compensated for a perfectly average performance that got the younger and die-hard fan members of the crowd excited but left the older and unconverted, unmoved.

Their set however did have visual range, unlike that of System Of A Down. Serj Tankian and the rest of the reunited clan put on a show that split the audience; some found the selection of older and more obscure songs refreshing and unexpected, while others were disappointed. Maybe believing a reunion warranted more of a greatest-hits vibe. All agreed however that they demonstrated poor showmanship.

Alice Cooper however, is a performer renowned for putting on a great show and didn’t disappoint. The veteran of shock rock managed a far more energetic performance than people on the main stage twenty years his junior.  Backed up by an impressive show that included a giant Frankenstein’s Monster with Cooper biting a woman’s face off, killing her and then being decapitated. This was one of the real highlights of Download.

Alice Cooper

A refreshing moment came from the crowd itself on the third day. Showing surprising generosity to Taylor Momsen’s band The Pretty Reckless, there was a palpable anticipation of jeering and bottles as Momsen’s in-ear monitors repeatedly malfunctioned and the rain poured down. Someone should also tell her never to admit performers on stage can‘t actually hear the audience at large gigs. We all know it, but it does ruin the magic and demonstrates Momsen’s greenness.  Still, despite the set-backs they delivered an admittedly solid and enjoyable set. It would be fair to attribute, however, the crowd’s large number and attitude was down to the fact Momsen is known to, and indeed did, remove her top. Continuous comments from the gentlemen in the audience certainly attested to this.

As the rain continued to lash down throughout the third day it mercifully cleared for the few final acts. The overall set list from Linkin Park was culled from all their albums, a particular highlight being Bleed It Out. Extra points have to go to the only band that came down after the show and spent a good deal of time meeting fans.

The third day ended on the second stage with another absolute highlight, the welcome return of Rob Zombie. Last playing Donington with White Zombie, the spiritual successor to Alice Cooper laid on a truly mesmerizing show with a stage entirely constructed of video screens showing vintage horror, anime, exploitation and Hentai footage. Zombie gave an energetic performance in a stage show that included giant robots, a Frankenstein Jesus, post-apocalyptic storm-troopers drumming to Dragula and plenty of pyrotechnics. Crowd members unversed in Zombie’s brand of horror metal were still greatly impressed with the spectacle and could even sing along as the chorus lyrics flashed on screens.

As his set ended, Zombie atop his bone altar, the whole band in Union Jack coats, so did Download. A year of both surprisingly great and disappointing reunions with the biggest names laid low by smaller bands and second stage shock rockers.

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