Reviews by Paul Quinton
The first day of this year’s Download, and despite a single brief but intense shower, the weather held up, and although some reports had the attendance down on previous years, there was still plenty to tempt rock fans of any persuasion. One o’clock on a Friday afternoon is normally an ungodly time to be watching a rock band fire up, but this is Download, so it was down to GOLDRAY to open proceedings in the Red Bull Studio tent. Formed by former Reef guitarist Kenwyn House, with Leah Rasmussen on vocals, they put a modern take on 60s era psychedelic rock, think Siouxsie Sioux fronting Jefferson Airplane, and have put together a pretty good set of songs. Leah is a hypnotic and attractive stage presence, although she does dominate things a little, tending to make the rest of the band a bit anonymous, but the band gave us a hugely entertaining half hour to start the weekend off.
It was a bit of a surprise to see so well-known a band as TESLA on so early in the day, and with a set scheduled for only 35 minutes, but they certainly packed a lot into their allocated time. Mixing songs from their newly released album Simplicity, including the new single ‘So Divine’ in with a few fans’ favourites like ‘Modern Day Cowboy’, ‘Signs’, ‘Hang Tough’, ‘Coming At You Live’ and ‘Little Suzi’. They got the set list balance exactly right, and delivered a very fine set indeed. Singer Jeff Keith had a huge grin that rarely wavered, guitarists Dave Rude and Frank Hamman traded riffs and licks with practiced ease and all in all the band gave a great performance and a genuine reminder of why they’re a well liked and much respected band. They also created a great atmosphere for a set so early in the day and in the weekend, and like all the best bands left us hungry for more.
Swedish melodic rock singer MIA KLOSE, fresh from her tour in support of Steel Panther, was assigned to the acoustic stage this time around. With a four piece band, including Touchstone/Dee Expus drummer Henry Rogers, she put on a bright and cheerful set, but it really didn’t quite work in this setting. Her songs are fine, but on the day didn’t have enough weight to carry themselves over in an acoustic format, and when she ended her set with what seemed like an interminable cover of ‘Paradise City’, things really began to drag. She’s a very good rock vocalist and has a warm and strong stage presence, but sometimes an acoustic set doesn’t mean to just play your normal set but with acoustic guitars, and I suspect that the band didn’t approach this show in that light. Mia and her band will have much better days in the future.
THE ANSWER are one of those bands that you can always rely on to give you a set of excellent blues based hard rock, and their set on the Zippo Encore Stage was no exception. Opening with two songs from their latest album, New Horizon, they plugged straight into their groove, with Paul Mahon’s guitar having the kind of impact other bands use two or three players to achieve and Cormac Neeson’s classic hard rock vocals filling the further corners of the arena. The set list was an interesting mix of old and new, with three songs from New Horizon and three from their debut, but nothing from in-between, but when they can draw on songs as good as ‘Come Follow Me’ and ‘Under The Sky’, you can understand the thinking. In common with a lot of other bands at Download, the shortness of the set meant there was no room for variety or experimentation in the set, but then when they do their stuff as well as this, you don’t really mind. A quality set from a quality band.
Following The Answer onto the Zippo Stage were another British blues based rock band, THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT, although the latter don’t really fit into the same hard rock territory as do The Answer. Instead TTM take their cues more from bands like the Stones and The Faces, rather than Free and Led Zeppelin. There’s no doubt TTM have some fantastic songs, perfect for driving on a hot day with the window down, but live they didn’t really seem to have a lot going on. Apart from singer Phil Campbell, there’s wasn’t a great deal happening on stage, the rest of the band seeming content to get on with the job of playing, with very little in the way of rock star posing, or even any serious attempt to play to or engage with the crowd. They’re a fine band, but on this evidence far better to listen to than watch.
A few people were making two appearances at Download, usually one electric set and another on the Jagermeister acoustic stage, but DANNY VAUGHN was one of the few doing both on the same day. Firstly on the acoustic stage, he appeared as himself, and although he was only on for twenty minutes or so, he did more than enough to show why his acoustic shows are such memorable nights. Perhaps surprisingly, he gave us some clues as to what Tyketto wouldn’t be playing later on, opening with ‘Walk On Fire’ and cheekily introducing ‘Seasons’ by remarking that now the crowd knew a song that wouldn’t be in the band’s set, but he also made some welcome journeys into his solo career, with ‘Is That All There Is’ and the rarely played ‘Traveller’, then a glorious ‘Last Sunset’. In keeping with the overall atmosphere, there was a light heated closer, a cover of Guns ‘N’Roses’ ‘Used To Love Her’, bringing to an end a really enjoyable set. He remains one of the absolute best rock singers around, well worth seeing no matter what the setting.
WITHIN TEMPTATION are fresh from their European tour in support of their ‘Hydra’ album, and have been playing selected European festival dates of which Downlaod was the latest. They’d adapted their Hydra stage set to suit the Stephen Sutton Main Stage, with the dragon’s head props and video screens and used plenty of pyro during their hour long set. The show was largely based around the Hydra set, with a healthy mix of old songs and songs from the album. On their UK tour earlier this year, opinion was divided on how the new album’s duets were presented live, with Sharon den Adel singing along while the guests were shown on video screens, and the band used the same format for this show. Non fans may have recognised the excellent ‘Faster’ and ‘Stand My Ground’, although what they would have made of Xzibit popping up on screen for the duet on ‘And We Run’, not to mention the Churchill samples on ‘Our Solemn Hour’ is anybody’s guess, but overall the band put on a great show, and they seemed to revel in the occasion. Both Sharon and guitarists Ruud Jolie and Stefan Helleblad made ample use of the runway out into the crowd, and if female fronted symphonic metal remains somewhere outside the mainstream of rock in the UK, Within Temptation did a lot to increase their reputation at this year’s Download.
‘Distant Satellites’, the new album by ANATHEMA has caused a considerable stir in Prog circles, and has been described in various reviews as ‘a sublime masterclass’ and ‘the best thing you will hear this year’, which helped to raise anticipation for their set on the Pepsi Max Stage, but unfortunately, despite the brilliance of the band’s music, this turned out to be one of the few disappointments of the day. Although it was obvious from the start that the band were having problems with the onstage sound, with regular and frequent gestures to the wings from almost all the members of the band, almost pleading for alterations to the mix, out front it seemed to take an age for the sound to be sorted out. Initially the drums dominated to such an extent that Vincent Cavanagh’s vocals were almost inaudible for most of the set, and only when Lee Douglas made her entrance for ‘Untouchable’ was there any attempt to make the vocals easier to hear. In fact, only when Vince made his way to the vocal effects mic near the end of the set for ‘Closer’ were we able to hear his voice with any clarity. It was a shame, because it seemed that, despite everything, the band were playing superbly. ‘Closer’ was utterly mesmerising and stayed in my head for days afterwards, ‘Thin Air’ was a thing of beauty and the two new songs showed that the band were in no danger of slipping from the almost impossibly high standards they’d set in the last few years. If this wasn’t the day for them to be cast in the best light, their UK tour in September should show everyone that this band are about as good as Progressive Rock gets in 2014.
Although their Download warm-up gig in Ipswich the night before had been cancelled, there was absolutely no sign of any rustiness whatsoever when TYKETTO erupted into their set in the Red Bull tent. Following their all-conquering appearance at HRH AOR, it’s obvious that the latest version of the band has become a pretty formidable live force, and while original guitarist Brooke St. Adams is widely admired, it’s clear that his replacement, whether temporary or otherwise, Chris Green, as well as the recruitment of keyboard player and vocalist Ged Rylands, has revitalised the band, and made them as fresh and vital a live unit as they’ve ever been. Opening with ‘Dig In Deep’, the title song of their ‘reunion’ album, and then packing their all too brief set with fan favourites, they delivered a superlative set that had the tent buzzing . The tracks they played from their classic debut album, including ending with ‘Forever Young’ are guaranteed to rouse any crowd, and they really shouldn’t be missed while they’re in this kind of form. Yet another band on the Download bill whose set could have easily have been at least twice as long with no complaints from the crowd, this was dangerously close to sheer melodic hard rock perfection.
Sometimes when you wait a long time to see a band, there’s always a danger that the anticipation will surpass the reality, and this thought gnawed at me as I waited to see the recently reformed DAN REED NETWORK for the first time in 23 years. After all, they recorded one of my all-time favourite albums, and played one of my all-time favourite gigs, there’s no way they could be anywhere near that good again after such a long time away, surely? A low key entrance, with the band tuning and trying to get the sound right, and it was a moment or two before most realised that Reed himself was on stage with a huge smile on his face, the drum machine was triggered, the rhythm section slipped into a groove for set-opener ‘Cruise Together’, and while it wouldn’t be quite true to say that the years just dropped away, this set wasn’t just better than I’d hoped, it was better than I could have hoped. Even the fact that the band didn’t play two of their signature songs, (‘Slam’ and ‘Tiger In a Dress’, if you’re asking) couldn’t detract from what was a sparkling set, with the band playing brilliantly and Reed himself singing superbly and clearly enjoying every single minute he was on stage. The fact that so many people were in the Red Bull tent to see this set and the phenomenally good reception they received, hopefully means this reunion won’t be a fleeting, temporary thing. Dan himself referred to a tour in 2015, so we might just get another chance to see this terrific band live again.