Review by Will Harris
At one in the afternoon, a tent full of eager fans await the three-years reunited earthtone9 who take to the Pepsi Max Stage aiming to thrill, with vocalist Karl Middleton the most intent on doing so, roaring through track after track and continually animated with enthusiasm; behind him sticksman Simon Hutchby fervently pounds the drums. The other members don’t quite share the same ferocious stage presence, but whenever a big riff drops the sound alone is enough to get everyone moving, making for a brief, solid performance that’s lively and energising — a great start to the day.
Over at the Red Bull Studio Stage, Leeds-based Black Moth are just about to power into 30 minutes of darkened desert rock. Gearing between Kyuss-like stoner, Sabbath-influenced sludge and chuggy groove metal, the quintet do a firm if not overwhelming job of rocking the tent: there’s some superb riffage and lead work, but as Harriet Bevan’s vocals glide over the heavy metal of Black Moth’s music, so she gestures her arms around slowly in contradiction to the rest of the band jumping around or headbanging vigorously, a dynamic that doesn’t always work — the bits that really enthrall are when the band are going full at it and she’s not singing.
Back at the Pepsi Max Stage, Seattle’s Walking Papers strike, swing and swagger through their heaviest blues-rock numbers with hard-hitting aplomb and West Coast stylishness in equal measure. Powerhouse drummer Barrett Martin forms one half of a solid and adroit rhythm section completed by a leather-clad Duff McKagan, while Benjamin Anderson smashes the keys next to the cool but compelling Jeff Angell up front. The guitar solos are searing, the beats are punchy, each bluesy riff kicks like a mule: this live show is screaming life, and an example of hard rock at its best.
The audience welcome another Seattle group over at the main stage as Alice In Chains fire straight into classic single ‘Them Bones’ to huge applause. The whole crowd then bounces for a blazing rendition of ‘Dam That River’, before tempo descends to the sludge of new track ‘Hollow’, sounding even better than the record and with a perfect two-part harmony. Throughout, singer William DuVall really steps up in terms of both working the masses and his musicianship; during the uneasy mania of ‘Again’ there’s no doubt that he’s a worthy successor to the late great Layne Staley. For all his excellent stagecraft, though, there’s a feeling that he’s almost over-compensating for the lacklustre and disappointing performance by Jerry Cantrell, who barely moves an inch throughout the whole show. Thousands nonetheless unite in song to Alice anthems ‘Down In A Hole’, ‘Man In The Box’ and ‘Rooster’.
Following them are the mighty Motörhead, who open with the upbeat rock ‘n’ roll of ‘I Know How To Die’, with lively versions of ‘Damage Case’ and ‘Stay Clean’ as hard-and-fast chasers. Anyone who’s seen the legendary power trio in the last few years will know that the same way they’ve found a formula to their albums, their live show too is a matter of routine. ‘Metropolis’, ‘Over The Top’ and a rare performance of ‘Rocket’ are all pounded out with entertaining showmanship and vigour, but nothing is unexpected to the already initiated — though this doesn’t stop the majority of the audience from throwing themselves around to it all the same.
Soon after, Josh Homme, the height of understated cool, casually walks to his guitar behind the rest of Queens of the Stone Age. They waste no time in setting the tone, hitting the staccato beat of ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’ to evoke a roar from the crowd; tensions rise to a head before the cry of “COCAINE!” sees the whole place erupt into a violent, bruising frenzy. Flooring punches of ‘Millionaire’, ‘Sick Sick Sick’ and ‘First It Giveth’ continue the assault, and across the 12-song set the only breaks in punishment are found in the menacing blues of ‘Keep Your Eyes Peeled’ and the opening slow groove of ‘I Appear Missing’, the latter climaxing to an epic crescendo. How do you follow that? Well, with the unrelenting driving rock of ‘Go With The Flow’ and ‘Song For The Dead’, of course.
Another group uninterested in giving anyone time to rest this evening are Norwegian metallers Kvelertak, who’ve more or less packed out the Pepsi Max tent. Before they go on, a large proportion of the crowd are already chanting the band’s name, and from the moment the main riff of their first song kicks in, we’re all theirs. Erlend Hjelvik emerges gesturing melodramatically while wearing a massive faux-stone headdress, while the remaining five members of the band furiously attack their instruments. Through eight merciless songs nearly every head in the tent is being thrown in time, and Hjelvik whips up every soul there too. On their records, Kvelertak successfully meld the volatile energy of punk with the pointed brutality of metal — this combination comes through even stronger live, in a powerfully engaging way.
While metalheads in their thousands watch the legendary Iron Maiden on the main stage, there were, in fact, other bands playing also (say what?), and there were even people around to see them: the Pepsi Max tent was stuffed to the brim for Sweden’s suited-and-booted high-octane garage rockers The Hives. The rallying, repetitive cry of fast-paced intensifying opener, the one-minute ‘Come On!’, is the fuse for tonight’s incendiary performance. Tearing into the mid-tempo ruckus of ‘Main Offender’, the crowd is already bouncing, and the group jerkily strike their guitars and jump around with violent energy through ‘1000 Answers’, ‘Try It Again’ and ‘Die, All Right!’.
At the centre of all this mayhem is the wildly gesturing Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, who screams with all the ferocious intensity of a Pentecostal preacher, inciting the audience like the reanimated spirit of The MC5’s Rob Tyner. He employs humour (“Put your left hand in the air! Put your right hand in the air! Now you do the math!”) and most of all self-congratulation (“We are the best thing in the world: The Hives. But it’s okay, because you are the second best thing in the world: The Hives’ crowd!”) to great effect, and none of it falls flat: everything he demands for (“I need applause!”) he gets in rapturous response. To watch, he’s like the Duracell bunny gone insane: after the every-last-bit-of-air scream during ‘Hate To Say I Told You So” he performs a giant leap from the drum riser and frantically windmills his microphone before the final barking verse.
For the finale of ‘Tick Tick Boom’, Almqvist succeeds in getting virtually the entire tent down onto the floor before bringing them all back up at once for the exhilarating closing bars. The Hives are both electric and electrifying: the show might be pretty one-dimensional, but it’s a Saturday night and few things could be more fun. “Who thinks this show is a 10 out of 10?” the floppy-haired frontman asks at one point. The crowd screams in response. The whole crowd.