DOWNLOAD FESTIVAL, DONINGTON PARK
Friday June 13
Being the spiritual home of rock music in the UK, headlining the main stage at Donington is a big deal. It requires a certain presence and status. Most importantly, it demands a killer back catalogue. Metallica have done it, Maiden have done it and AC/DC have done it. But scanning this year’s Download festival headliners, you could be forgiven for feeling more than a tad underwhelmed by the prospect of Saturday’s bill toppers The Offspring and Sunday’s festival finishers, Lostprophets. Kiss aside on the Friday evening slot, they don’t exactly fulfil the entry requirements. But more on that later, as State pulls up a pew down the front of the main stage to catch teen tearaways BLACK TIDE who are faced with an early, modest gathering of disinterested, impressively pissed-up punters.
With a vintage sound older than their individual members, the Floridian mini-metallers don’t really rouse much more than polite approval. When the highlight of your set is a cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’, you’ve got some work to do. Luckily, time is on their side at least.
The absence of Canadians FINGER ELEVEN means sharp-dressed Brummie punks BEAT UNION are promoted from their original third stage billing and make the most of the opportunity with a clutch of songs that sound like Elvis Costello jamming with The Specials. Dedicating the snotty, two-fingered salute of ‘Disconnected’ to the thieving toe-rags who nicked their gear the night before, they inject passion and fun into proceedings, despite looking mightily out of place among the hordes of Goths, gumbies and emo rockers.
Up next, the former Mr Amy Lee, Shaun Morgan steps on stage with the mega-selling SEETHER and manfully attempts to recreate the spirit of 1992. Taking the band’s Kurt worship to a new level, they break out a note perfect cover of ‘In Bloom’ ‘to piss off the critics’. With the mostly anonymous fare they otherwise offer, they’ll be lucky if the critics can be bothered to care that much.
By midday, the sun is doing serious damage to the pink-faced throngs shuffling up front to best position themselves for a KID ROCK bottle war but the announcement that he has fallen ill after one too many the night before saves him the ignominy. Rumour backstage among the great and the good of the travelling London press is that he’s actually just thrown a diva strop having turned up on site to discover he is lower on the bill than DISTURBED. -Mad’ Davey Draiman and co. however, more than justify their placing, inexplicably drawing a massive crowd to see their dumbed-down rap-metal silliness. It’s damned, guilty fun though watching him preening, all self-importance and bloated ego matching his band’s bro-rock bombast.
Once that lot is done with, things take a turn for the wrinkly as the main stage becomes an OAP-friendly zone. Up first is MOTORHEAD who seem like they’re going through the motions, powering through their hoary rock’n’roll with little excitement or distinction. The same can’t quite be said of NWOBHM legends JUDAS PRIEST however, who throw everything they have into a four decade spanning set of songs that virtually define metal music. With Rob Halford in impressive shrieking form, the Priest roll back the years and deliver an almost perfect set. As the adoring masses bay for an encore at the end, the roar of Halford’s big chopper greets the band’s grand finale, as the crowd join in on camped-up classic ‘Hellbent For Leather’.
Only one band could really follow such giddy pomp and somehow KISS actually surpass it and then some. Sure the make-up lines now highlight some double-chin action and the man boobs somewhat spoil their immortal rock Gods illusion but the overwhelming sensory assault of a Kiss show is hard to deny. Yes, they’re missing Spaceman Ace Frehley and Catman Peter Criss but with stand-ins Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer painted up as doppelgangers, it really doesn’t matter.
Throughout their two hour set, there are countless pyrotechnics, lighting tricks and confetti canons. Everyone takes turns soloing. Gene Simmons spits blood and flicks his lizard-like tongue. Paul Stanley wiggles his arse a lot and at one point, is suspended 30 feet above the crowd on a cable that takes him from the stage to the sound desk 200 yards away while singing ‘Lovegun’. They play crowd-pleasers like ‘Shout It Out Loud’, ‘Black Diamond’, ‘I Was Made For Loving You’, ‘Strutter’ and even get away with not playing their two best known songs in the UK, ‘God Gave Rock’ n’ Roll To You’ and ‘Crazy, Crazy Nights’.
It is everything you could ask for from a headline set and more, as thousands of newly converted soldiers to the Kiss army leave singing and smiling, resigning the mixed bag that came before to a distant, hazy memory.