It’s a wrap. Download Festival 2015 is done and dusted and RUSHONROCK was on site all weekend charting the best of the live action.
Here’s editor Simon Rushworth‘s take on a glorious final day at the legendary Castle Donington venue.
Rousing the crowd at the unholy hour of 11am was the first challenge facing former Motley Crue frontman John Corabi. Coping with some additional guitar parts in the absence of founder member David Lowy was the second. And ensuring the über charismatic Marco Mendoza didn’t steal the show was always going to be the third. But Corabi – newly-installed lead singer of The Dead Daisies (8/10) – faced all three potential hurdles like a consummate professional and went on to provide the perfect start to day three of Download 2015. Flanked by the imperious Richard Fortus, the experienced singer opened up with Mexico, from new album Revolucion, and never looked back as word quickly spread that the party had already started slap bang in front of the Zippo Encore Stage.
And that’s where the weekend’s most fascinating juxtaposition between old and new could be experienced as Heat (10/10) followed Corabi and co. with an exercise in all-action live entertainment that left a wide-eyed crowd breathless. RUSHONROCK criticised the Swedes for an atypically ragged headline show at Hard Rock Hell AOR in March but at Castle Donington the band was bang on – winning new converts with every fresh singalong anthem. And they’ve got a few. Frontman Erik Grönwall burnt off enough energy to power the second stage PA system and, clearly limited by the confines of the stage, took a couple of trips into the crowd. The latter saw Heat’s frontman dive right in – sparking a health and safety crisis but endearing himself to folk who’d never seen anything quite like it. Wingman Eric Rivers owned the guitar parts like a latter day Nuno Bettencourt and Grönwall excelled on blistering versions of Tearing Down The Walls, Mannequin Show and Living On The Run.
Maintaining the momentum during a glorious beginning to the end to this year’s festival, Von Hertzen Brothers (8/10) followed up Saturday’s acoustic shenanigans with a full electric set bursting with Finnish fervour. Mikko Von Hertzen’s decision to borrow his white suit from Apocalyptica’s drummer was a brave one given the boggy conditions underfoot but it guaranteed one of the images of the day. Von Hertzen Brothers might be all about the music but Mikko cut a striking figure alongside brothers Jonne and Kie – forcing the lunchtime crowd to sit up and take notice. Trouble and Hold Me Up offered early highlights but the folked-up finale of Coming Home guaranteed the siblings’ status as one of the bands of the weekend.
Backyard Babies (8/10) must rarely feel pressure as one of the best live bands around but the reformed Swedes had it all to do after a hat-trick of super-charged Zippo sets. Bringing their punk-tinged sleaze metal back to the UK after a six-year hiatus – and with a brand new album in the can – Nicke Borg and Dregen rolled back the years and reminded the punters that fellow countrymen Heat don’t hold the exclusive rights to partying hard. If the decision to wrap up with Minus Celsius was always expected then it was the only predictable thing about a raucous set that nevertheless proved to be surprisingly polished. Backyard Babies will never get boring in their old age but perhaps they just got better than the band that bade farewell in 2009.
The latter half of Sunday’s main stage line-up was always going to provide a glorious throwback for fans of a certain vintage but Blackberry Smoke (9/10) were still unfamiliar to increasingly damp swathes of Donington regulars. Celebrating their 15th anniversary – and with four full-length albums to their name – the accomplished Southern Rockers are no new kids on the block but now is their time where the British market is concerned. Hit by a blast of wind and rain that rippled a familiar backdrop and caused the odd technical headache, Charlie Starr and co. battled through when they must have hoped for better in the middle of June. Six Ways To Sunday set the laid back mood and a stirring version of Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost survived the most inclement conditions of the day. Wrapping up with the biting One Horse Town and Ain’t Much Left Of Me, the genial Georgians can’t come back soon enough.
Slash (10/10), Myles Kennedy and their various co-Conspirators are on a roll. Fresh from laying waste to Sweden Rock the previous week, the most reliable rock and roll band on the planet laid down a marker to headline Download’s main stage within the next three years. So rare are Axl Rose’s visits to these shores that Guns N Roses standards Nightrain, You Could Me Mine, Sweet Child O’ Mine and Paradise City are becoming synonymous with Kennedy and, in truth, the Alter Bridge frontman is singing the big hits better than Slash’s old buddy ever did. The main man might be getting on a bit but his phenomenal fretwork on the The Dissident, Anastasia and World On Fire served notice to the pretenders that there’s still work to do. Slash is in no mood to surrender his status as guitar hero par excellence anytime soon. And that’s absolutely fine by us.
There was a time when Motley Crue (6/10) would have wiped the floor with any band on the Download bill – Sunday night headliners Kiss included – but their farewell tour couldn’t be better timed. It’s time to say goodbye to a quartet that’s clearly had its day. This wasn’t a bad Crue show – and there have been a few of them down the years – but it fell some way short of the quality and consistency of the sets that preceded the penultimate gig of the day. Vince Neil nailed his vocals, Mick Mars (one yawningly dire solo spot apart) owned the stage, Nikki Sixx strutted his trademark stuff and Tommy Lee can still bash out a rhythm with the best of them. But surely that’s the least that can be expected from Crue’s final fling? What was missing was the edge, the excitement and any sense of imminent danger or potential self-destruction. However, with a keen focus on the early years, Donington’s Monsters Of Rock faithful must have been pleasantly surprised – Too Fast For Love and Live Wire were particular highlights. Saints Of Los Angeles was thrown in early and immediately forgotten as Wild Side evoked memories of Crue’s glorious evolution from punk-tinged glamsters into fully-blown made-for-MTV hair metal heroes. The studio polish underpinning Dr Feelgood, Girls, Girls, Girls and Kickstart My Heart has never translated well to the live stage but by now the light show had kicked in and the nostalgia trip was well underway. Understated – but perfectly pitched – encore Home Sweet Home was almost missed as the lights went down and yet the affecting ballad was Crue at their brilliant best. As one last hurrah this show almost fitted the bill. Almost.
Kiss (9/10) founder Paul Stanley made a point of confirming Kiss don’t use any tapes, loops or technical trickery to get through a show and if it wasn’t meant as a cheeky dig at the Crue then it clearly came across that way. If it’s true – and the general consensus is that what you see (and hear) is what you get with Kiss – then fair play to four of the finest entertainers on the planet. Stanley and Gene Simmons had promised they’d give Donington a suitably raucous send off and the charismatic duo delivered. The show sparkled, the music resonated with three or more generations of rock devotees and the hits came thick and fast. Or most of them. It appeared to be a crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy decision to ignore a hair metal anthem that’s always held a special place in the hearts of UK fans and delivered Kiss their biggest ever British single. Their only other top five tune on this side of the Atlantic – God Gave Rock N Roll To You II – was relegated to the outro as the band called time on a triumphant set. But when you’ve been making music for five decades it’s no easy task to play all of the classics all of the time especially when, in the case of Crazy, Crazy Nights it’s a track you’ve never been particularly proud of. Ultimately this show will be remembered for a thunderous version of set opener Detroit Rock City, a devilish rendition of Deuce, a deliciously sleazy take on Calling Dr Love and a no-holds-barred final salvo in the shape of Rock And Roll All Nite. According to Simmons ‘rock is dead’ but the monstrous bass player did everything in his power to disprove that ridiculous theory as the curtain came down on another diverse and compelling Download. All weekend, right across the site, rock was alive and kicking and never more so than in the final few minutes on Sunday night’s main stage. Kiss departed with a big screen message that they’ll always ‘love Donnington’ – the spelling was embarrassing but the sentiment appeared true.
Images courtesy of: Andrew Whitton, Scott Salt and Justine Trickett