Download Festival review – Donington Park, Day 1, Friday 10th June

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For the first time in three years a full scale Download Festival makes a triumphant return, and with a stellar line-up to boot. Featuring classic bands (and they don’t come more ‘classic’ that Kiss and Iron Maiden) alongside some fresh new talent (that places the future in safe hands) Download had the blessing of some fine weather as it showcased itself as the UK’s very best rock festival. With so many great bands to check out, there’s little time to waste so, in the words of the legendary Marty Di Bergi: “Enough of my yakking…Let’s Boogie!”

Friday 10th

Barely 12 hours after their gig at Kings Lynn Football Stadium, Aussie alternative rockers Press Club get the day off to a lively start and hit the Avalanche stage with the force of a mini tornado. Vocalist Natalie Foster, in particular, is a whirl of nervous energy and soon leaps into the audience for a spot of crowd surfing…and it’s still only the first song! Press Club’s animal magnetism soon pulls in a large crowd as they deliver a tight 25 minute set that wastes not a single second with latest single ‘Cancelled’ going down particularly well and new cut, ‘Frustration’, signposting a bright future.

As the early afternoon sunshine beats down on the Donington race track it’s golden rays frame the Apex stage to welcome Theory Of A Dead Man. Maybe it’s a Commonwealth thing but they share a real affinity with the UK and the career-spanning set they unleash only strengthens that bond. These guys know how to to work the stage and the bouncy sound they deliver soon gets the assembled throng jumping. Teasing the crowd with a few bars of the Gunners’ ‘Paradise City’ and then Pantera’s ‘Walk’ raises a few smiles (and fists) and segues nicely into their own ‘Bad Girlfriend’ which caps an enjoyable set.

Photo: Matthew Higgs / Download Press Images

Until I saw Black Veil Brides in the flesh I never realised what a great band they were and the electrical energy they omit pulsates through the crowd and back to the stage. It’s a hardcore following that the Black Veil Brides attract and they require little goading to sing along and punch the air to tracks such as ‘The Legacy’ and ‘Fallen Angels’. Singer Andy Biersack stalks the stage like a caged animal and reminds me a little of Rob Halford in his prime, both in style and vocal performance, and it’s rather appropriate that ‘In The End’ should bring the curtain down.

Photo: James Bridle / Download Press Images

There’s perhaps only one act who could follow the Brides and that’s Cardiff’s Skindred. A wall of Orange amplifiers forms a backdrop, and when the band appear many people in the crowd lose their cool (in the best possible way, of course) and turn the pit into a sea of bobbing heads and pumping fists. With some of the sickest riffs known to man Skindred play an original form of crossover, and it’s convincing enough to attract fans from various genres who all come together in a love heavy music. A mash up of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ and Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ collide and cause all sorts of carnage before they bastardise Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, but it’s all in the right spirit and the gathered mass eat it up with a spoon. ‘Warning’ is the ominous closer and Skindred have crammed more into their 11 song set than most bands pack into an entire career.

Another band who hit the ground running are A Day To Remember and by the time they reach second track ‘All I Want’ they’re seriously rocking the groove. They’re a unified force who’re cut the figure a street gang and eschewing guitar solos in favour of a riff heavy attack only adds to the overall level of brutality. ‘2nd Sucks’ really hits the spot whilst ‘Have Faith In Me’ injects a welcome change of pace and ensures their set ebbs and flows perfectly. Ululating between loud and quite passages ‘Mindreader’s musical dynamics are highlighted in the live arena and it’s in danger of bursting the PA. ‘Resentment’, from latest album You’re Welcome, proves the band still cut it and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until they return as headliners.

Photo: David Dillon / Download Press Images

It’s been a long hour while the stage is prepared for Kiss, and the huge curtain that hides the busy preparations only whets my appetite. As the clock finally ticks over an announcer shouts “You wanted the best, You got the best!”, and never in the annuls of rock n’ roll have truer words been spoken. Having ramped the tension up to an unbearable level, the curtain drops and Kiss appear amidst an explosion of flames and pyrotechnics and launch into ‘Detroit Rock City’. Just like Slade and Shonen Knife there’s something very uplifting and life affirming about Kiss (so much so that they should be available on the NHS) and they certainly turn Donington into a sea of smiles. ‘Shout It Out Loud’ and ‘Deuce’ tumble forth in quick succession and tonight’s set is a nice mixture of classics cuts such as ‘Cold Gin’ alongside a few surprises such as ‘Lick It Up’ (and those double entendres have never sounded so good).

Photo: David Dillon / Download Press Images

Tonight’s set is part of the band’s End Of The Road tour and if this truly is to be their final run of dates, then they’ll leave a huge void that’ll be hard to fill. As darkness descends Gene Simmons, raised on a plinth, becomes the ultimate Kabuki monster to spit blood and deliver ‘God Of Thunder’ with an axe shaped bass. Not wanting to be outdone Paul Stanley, like a heavy metal Peter Pan, flies out over the crowd to introduce ‘Love Gun’, and the audience goes suitably wild. The gibbous moon hangs as if a glitterball and Kiss go all disco for their smash hit ‘I Was Made For Loving You’. With huge Catherine Wheels firing sparks in every direction ‘Black Diamond’ makes for a lively closer but, of course, they return for encores, the first of which finds drummer Eric Singer at a piano to sing ‘Beth’. The risqué ‘Do You Love Me’ make a welcome appearance while the lights and ticker tape that accompanies ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ ensures the band depart in style.

  • Reviewed by Peter Dennis.

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