Celebrating 10 years as one of the weirdest concepts in rock, The Boss Hoss (9/10) were as brilliant as they were wacky as a wonderful set wowed the Zippo Encore Stage crowd. At times no fewer than 10 band members jostled for position on stage as the Berlin troupe’s heady mix of country and punk proved to be a genuine Download highlight. Four Stetsons, a three-piece horn section, one of the biggest backdrops of the weekend and a slew of the most ridiculous faux-American accents made for a truly memorable half hour. Rodeo Radio and Don’t Gimme That convinced those new to The Boss Hoss that they wanted more. And soon.
Sebastian who? The bulk of Skid Row’s (7/10) 20 million-plus album sales might feature pretentious former frontman, Broadway star and occasional movie extra Sebastian Bach but this was proof positive that they’re way better off without him. Axl Rose wannabe Johnny Solinger lacks his predecessor’s range but he just loves singing the classics. And that was good enough for those ready for some late 80s/early 90s retro goodness. With founder members Dave Sabo, Rachel Bolan and Scotti Hill providing the New Jersey band’s unbreakable backbone, Solinger overcame early nerves to belt out passionate takes on I Remember You, 18 And Life and Youth Gone Wild. Even the new material proved more palatable than much of Bach’s patchy recent work.
Richards/Crane (8/10) made the most of the mid-afternoon sun to showcase a perfectly positioned set of soft rock acoustica based around a debut album due later this year. Featuring Ugly Kid Joe frontman Whitfield Crane and hitherto unknown singer songwriter Lee Richards, the duo were making their UK live debut and if nobody knew the songs then those present knew quality when it was staring them in the face. Crane explained that Richards’ songs ‘deserved to be heard’ and it was hard to argue against that assertion: Here In The Light and Left Behind were beautifully simple and simply beautiful.
On a warm and sunny day made for lying back and chilling out Toby Jepson (9/10) chose to throw a trumpet and a squeeze box into an acoustic set that leaned heavily on critically acclaimed EP Raising My Own Hell. The former Little Angel might have reinvented himself as an in-demand producer, songwriter and manager but at heart he’s a born performer. This was a glorious reminder that Scarborough’s finest still boasts a unique set of pipes – Don’t Prey For Me and Young Gods wrapped up an endearing show even if the latter was drowned out by an awful cacophony on the Red Bull Stage.
Danish alt rockers New Politics (7/10) pulled in a sizeable gang for their tented show and a series of up-tempo, angular tunes suggested stardom beckons for the pretty boy three-piece. Marrying good looks with even better songs theirs is an addictive mix that might well encourage a swift ascendancy up the Download pecking order in years to come. Watch this space.
Veterans Twisted Sister (7/10) have built a career on limited talent and exceptional showmanship – their latest return to Donington was a timely reminder that hard work pays off. Snarling frontman Dee Snider might be a year short of 60 but on this evidence age is no barrier to the ultimate poodle rocker. In their 41st year Twisted Sister look like a metal parody but there’s a reason why the band dropped at 73 in VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists Of Hard Rock – and that reason is their ability to craft insanely catchy chorus-driven anthems. Opening up with Stay Hungry and closing with Motorhead cover Born To Raise Hell (dedicated to Lemmy) this was the ultimate Sister setlist. A belting version of Under The Blade, 80s flashback hit I Am (I’m Me) and the raucous I Wanna Rock were the highlights but guitarist Jay Jay French’s lame rant about the band’s billing won few friends.
Status Quo’s (8/10) position as second stage headliners might have raised a few eyebrows among the Download faithful but a healthy crowd paid homage to a British institution in the face of Linkin Parks’ hotly anticipated main stage set. Neatly choreographed moves, a perfectly timed light show, just enough banter and those three famous chords might have become trademarks of the Londoners’ live show but pulling it all off night after night – after half a century – is no easy task. A 70-minute set meant the pressure was on as Quo raced through a Greatest Hits set with something for everyone. In The Army Now’s infectious beat broke up a succession of familiar riffs but the medley of What You’re Proposing, Wild Side Of Life, Railroad, Again And Again and Big Fat Mama did nothing to dissuade the doubters that Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt have built a career around tweaking one tune. The songs might sound the same but Quo made the difference on Day Two.