Download 2015: Sunday Pt. 2
The mad rush to the portaloo begins in what is quickly becoming my least favourite of the disgusting festival rituals expected of me. For this reason, I can’t elaborate on Eagles of Death Metal so Phil will have to be my ears on this occasion (The bass sounded good from inside the portaloo though).
Being the fool I am, today's trip to the Arena did not see me come equipped with loo roll - I'd remembered to bring plenty of whisky though, so there's that. Thus, a desperate hunt to find a portaloo that hadn't been completely pillaged of arse wiping material. This led me to just outside the arena as, alas, I found one, solitary shred of toilet paper. Over at the main stage, the old crooner Billy Idol was belting out White Wedding, but beneath me, things were far from white.
Freshly flushed, I managed to catch the end of Eagles of Death Metal, who were just kicking into I Want You So Bad as I arrived. However, it all seemed a bit sedated, they lacked any real oomph or magic. With an overcast sky above them, their performance very much reflected the weather. This is a band that's much better suited to the sweaty confines of an indoor venue on a Winter's night than here.
Madball are up next in a rare UK festival appearance. Myself and Phil part ways and he goes to watch Slash. This would probably be a pretty cool juxtaposition in a movie, like that bit in The Godfather with the baptism and murdering spliced together. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that I’m at the mercy of the latter as the crowd goes absolutely insane for the New York Hardcore veterans. Frontman Freddy is as smooth as silk and his passion is truly inspiring as he barks out the lyrics to opener (and hardcore anthem) Set it Off, alongside newer cuts from Hardcore Lives like DNA. There’s two people dressed as bananas flashing past me in a circle pit when I realise that it’s moments like this, not just the fireworks, choreography and special effects, which make watching live music truly special. Madball really are pioneers and the fact that Lamb of God look on from stage-side is enough of an endorsement as they could ask for.
So what can be said about Slash? I mean, fuck, the man's a legend and this was the finest steam rolling I could ask for. Normally Slash, Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators, given the luxury of a headline performance, would play for two hours, but here their set time is much shorter. The result is a much more concentrated set and they smash out the big guns like there's no tomorrow. As rip-roaring Anastasia forages into Spanish flavoured improvisation from the cat in the hat, flowing reverently, flawlessly and unexpectedly into Sweet Child O' Mine, and for five minutes, you forget that the weather is piss poor, the wind isn't trying to ravish the band's sound and it felt like above us was indeed a clear blue sky. Sensational stuff. And for the rest, I leave you in the inimatble hands of Ben...
Out of the frying pan into the… mud for Slash. I can’t find Phil but eat a burger and have a bit of a singsong as Sweet Child O' Mine gets an airing. I’m one of Myles Kennedy’s biggest critics – but he’s perfect here. He’s about as good of a replacement for Axl Rose as you could want, especially since he actually turned up on time and wasn’t drunk. Paradise City comes on and my burger is aloft and swaying in the mid-afternoon breeze – I’m having fun. Velvet Revolver’s Slither is another highlight with a main riff that conjures up nostalgic images of fucking around with a Fender Squier in my formative years. Looking back at Slash who’s now wielding a double-necked guitar, there’s a reason why I never really took guitar all that seriously – this guy is the real deal, even now.
He finishes up and everyone walking away from the main stage is full of the joys of summer, content with the jolly good Slashing they've just experienced. I meet Phil by the Ice Cream Van near the second stage (only later did I consider the impracticalities of a mobile meeting point, but no matter) for a dose of In Flames – a band I used love but have never seen live. Unfortunately, In Flames aren't really at the races today. They open with a few tracks off the newer records which, in my opinion, aren't very good at all. The sound is quite digital – there are no amps on stage – and the songs just lack any kind of venom, passion or conviction. I get bored. By the time they probably play Take This Life, we’re long gone. Phil tells me he quite enjoyed In Flames' latest release, Siren Charms, when it came out. But now the songs have worn thin and the craving for heavier, more viscous material arises once more. The problem is, we just don't get it.
Mötley Crüe are a band I’ve never really liked at all, but the hordes of men in spandex, tinted sunglasses, and bandanas convince me to drag myself across to the main stage to get a glimpse of the oldest living relic of the cock-rocking 80’s. I expect them to look near-dead – they do. What I don’t expect is a show of this calibre to unfold before my eyes. Half naked women, explosions and other stage-show acrobatics accompany an almost miraculously good showing by the living dead, with a gigantic guitar tone booming through the field and with all instruments playing tightly and on point. Motley Crue are definitely my surprise of the weekend and I’ll now be seeing them on their upcoming (and final) UK tour. Unfortunately, there’s the small matter of another band I’ve never seen who are about to set sail on S.S. Second Stage so I remove my clip-on 80’s bulge and move toward my destination.
It’s finally time for the metal main event of the festival: the ever-angry, ever-groovy Lamb of God. I stand here in my orange heart-shaped sunglasses and wonder what the fuck I’m going to do when they start playing. I realise that this is probably going to get pretty messy pretty quickly. I wonder why I didn’t use the portaloo when I had the chance, or why I ate that enormous burger prior to this set. I wonder if I’ll fall over and someone will stamp on my head, or whether my orange shades will actually make it through the next sixty minutes. They do (thank god) and no-one stamps on my head either – but I leave the second stage a broken man. The last hour has been one, relentless circle pit orchestrated by Randy Blythe that swallows nearly everyone in attendance at one point or another. New single Still Echoes, written of Randy’s time locked up in Prague, is the most vital song of the set and bizarrely the one that seems to really take the crowd to the next level. Classics Laid to Rest, Walk With Me In Hell and of course Redneck go down a storm, culminating in a ferocious performance of Black Label before we’re all allowed to catch our breath. Randy was slightly off his game, vocally, at points, but even this couldn't mar a superb performance from a band who prove time and time again that they are Pantera’s true spiritual successors.
By this point, I had all but burnt myself out but there were still a couple of acts left to enjoy. The debate that had been raging in my head most of the day was whether to watch KISS, Enter Shikari or Suicidal Tendencies and KISS won out – initially at least. I had heard rumours of how bad KISS were live, but nothing could prepare me for this. I’m stood rooted to the spot for around forty five minutes wondering what the hell I’m doing here, the cacophony of four guys attempting to play music with the bravado of a band who should be a thousand times as good. 'You wanted the best, you got the best!' echoes around the field. If this is the best, than KISS have either been living under a rock for thirty years or are in some sort of terminal denial. Opener Detroit Rock City is an awful, out of time mess. Paul Stanley is not a singer anymore, Gene Simmonds is awkwardly obnoxious and the drummer’s playing is so lightweight that I doubt he could beat his way out of a cardboard box. The moment at which a man in full KISS makeup looks over at me – we share a moment – and puffs his cheeks, sums up this performance. At the half hour mark, I look over and see thousands of people streaming up the hill like migrating birds to go and watch Enter Shikari. There’s people in KISS makeup making the pilgrimage too. The stage show, as it turns out, isn’t bad – but Mötley Crüe have already upstaged these tired musicians. The whole set (or what I saw of it) reeks of pantomime for the sake of pantomime. There’s very little musical substance here and the songs that do resonate with the crowd are butchered so badly by Stanley’s voice and the out of sync drums that as far as the eye can see, people are bored. I’d never once been bored the whole weekend, but here I was, watching ‘the biggest band in the world’, bored out of my boots. I decide to fuck KISS off in favour of a band who I know can deliver the performance I’m looking for…
[Phil - don't get me started on the drums; they sounded like farts on cobbles]
Ah Suicidal Tendencies, a band so goddamn fun that I’m confident that my memory of KISS will fade into insignificance after I leave the arena tonight. And so it proved to be. The smell of weed - partly our fault - envelops the crowd as the band prepare to play and the whole affair has the atmosphere of a gig in someone’s living room. Every single person in the tent wants to have a good time – that much is obvious – and we all do. The next hour is a whimsical blur of cigarette burns, low-fi mosh pits and crowd surfing which culminates in an entire human woman being thrown at my head. An old woman had a boogie with Phil, she looked so out of place yet as if she was born to be in the very moment. It was surreal and a bit brilliant.
Their set's such a good time that dancing and jumping take precedent over pretty much anything else and before I know it, Mike Muir is delivering a speech to close the show. He speaks about not having any fear, of doing the things you want to do while you still can, of not looking back and having regrets. To me, this sums up the Download experience better than an overweight Paul Stanley on a zipline ever could. This is music, letting go and living life for the small things. This is doing whatever you want so you have something to talk about when you grow old. The crowd chants “S.T.” for ten minutes after the band leaves the stage and, stepping outside, I see KISS’ crew begin to dismantle the pyrotechnic array. It occurs to me that perhaps the spirit of Download will always rest with bands like Suicidal Tendencies, even if promotional posters, ticket prices and marketing jargon will try to convince you otherwise.
Words: Ben Armstrong & Phil Weller