donwload 2014Drizzle was never going to dampen the spirits of one-time hair metal hero Kip Winger (8/10) and the band that carries his name. Beavis and Butthead might have done their level best to finish the US quartet for good 20 years ago but new album Better Days Comin’ says it all. A guest appearance from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Liam Wilson on the new album’s title track proved to be an unexpected highlight under the slate grey skies but Kip was at his best on Headed For A Heartbreak, featuring what must be one of the longest outros in rock.

Buckcherry (9/10) didn’t quite make it to Download last time they were booked but a set bristling with angst and energy proved well worth the wait. Josh Todd could have been a global star in another lifetime with his perfectly tattooed torso, Axl Rose-style vocals, demon eyes and anti-hero attitude but mainstream success continues to elude a band exuding rock n roll rebellion. For years Buckcherry were the right band at the wrong time but Castle Donington offered the Californians the perfect home from home: Dead Again, Crazy Bitch and a Father’s Day tribute via Sorry set the main stage standard.

Richie Sambora (10/10) surrounded himself with an elite group of stellar musos and the result was a virtuoso jam session played out in front of 50,000 increasingly damp Download devotees. It might not have worked but it did. The endearing Bon Jovi (or should that be ex-Bon Jovi?) six stringer looked like he was loving every minute as he kicked off with the meandering Burn The Candle Down before belting out a brilliant rendition of Lay Your Hands On Me. With sidekick Orianthi matching her mentor in the fret race, guitar geeks everywhere were in raptures. It’s unlikely those present will ever hear a better version of set closer Wanted Dead Or Alive.

The Treatment (8/10) learnt their trade traversing America as guests of Kiss and Motley Crue and one of the best prospects in British rock blew the Pepsi Max tent away with an assured blast of 80s-inspired hard rock. Leading the charge of homegrown stars in the face of familiar US hype, the Cambridge quartet might have less hair in 2014 but they have more of everything else – style, swagger, steely determination and singalong anthems made for festivals. Shake The Mountain shook things up nicely as the masses began to gather ahead of Sunday’s ‘secret gig’.

Crazytown (3/10) have a new album out in 2014. It was, perhaps, the most devastating piece of news broken to those waiting patiently for their secret Pepsi Max Stage show. On this evidence how the band ever managed to make it beyond first single Toxic remains a mystery but 14 years after Butterfly topped the US charts it’s time for Epic and Shifty to call it a day. Shorn of the melody and charm that made the duo such an intriguing prospect around the release of debut album The Gift Of The Game, this bass-heavy, nu metal-lite shambles of a set grated from start to finish.

Thankfully those who endured Crazytown were rewarded with a short but incredibly sweet set from Download’s all-conquering favourite sons Black Stone Cherry (10/10). The game was up where this so-called ‘secret gig’ was concerned weeks ago and when the band’s T-shirts went on sale around Castle Donington from late morning there was no longer any doubt. Hence a huge crowd filled the Pepsi Max tent and its environs for what proved to be a real treat. A six-song Greatest Hits set featured Rain Wizard, Blind Man, Lonely Train and a terrific version of White Trash Millionaire as Chris Robertson and co. warmed up for their stint at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards. Back to their best after 2013’s seriously ropey second stage headline set the only downside was that BSC didn’t play all night.

Steel Panther (5/10) fluffed their big chance third from top on the main stage in spectacular fashion. From the awkward introduction by festival guru Andy Copping (great guy but a boxing-style big-up really isn’t his style) thru an ill-judged set, no special guests and a blanket ban on big screen nudity this was about as bad as it gets from one of the most charismatic bands on the planet. Opener Pussywhipped confused rather than convinced an expectant crowd and not for the first time straight man Lexxi Foxx was denied the chance to deliver his best lines. Even the acoustica of Girl From Oklahoma – billed as the first time all four members of the band had played guitars together – fell flat as the masses clearly failed to get the joke. Steel Panther are all about extreme entertainment, the art of performance, expertly timed jokes and some serious musicianship. As usual the band played like pros. But that’s about all they could do.

Thankfully festival closers Aerosmith (10/10) ensured any lingering disappointment surrounding Steel Panther swiftly gave way to unadulterated joy courtesy of Boston’s finest. Four years on from their last Castle Donington stint that perfectly professional yet perfunctory set was utterly overshadowed by a show screaming authenticity, improvisation, instinct and invincibility. Whatever differences Steven Tyler and Joe Perry may have had since 2010 were left in the dressing room as the duo rekindled Aerosmith’s glory days and rediscovered their love for live music. The former’s minor mistake on the piano during Dream On – after it had been confirmed the band were filming the set for a live DVD release – simply added to the sense of endearing reality. Tyler couldn’t help but suppress a smile as he hit the wrong note and that vulnerability struck a chord with the masses. Livin’ On The Edge and Dude (Looks Like A Lady) did the business for the (slightly) younger generation but a spine-tingling rendition of Sweet Emotion summed up the mood as the curtain came down on another fantastic Download festival.