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Download 2011 reviewed

Felicity Hall's take on Download festival

There’s nothing quite like Download! It’s the first thing you think of when you think of UK rock festivals, and it holds a special place in many people’s hearts. Throughout the years the lineups have always been ridiculously varied, and it’s grown into the place to play for up and coming bands.

Whenever I get about 10 miles away I start recognising the scenery and getting all excited-it’s Download baby!! I may have arrived in the rain and lugged all my stuff to the campsite in one trip and destroyed my poor sunburnt shoulders doing it, but I was still proper excited! I somehow managed to put up my tent up all by myself, and it didn’t leak or blow away all weekend. This was possibly my best achievement to date-I’m not the best at the technical stuff, and it only took me 45 minutes! I now consider myself a master of tents.
There’s something incredibly magical about hearing Myles Kennedy’s voice floating through the treetops, and that kind of thing is what Download’s all about. 
Due to fantastically wonderful car trouble (I have a love-hate relationship with my Peugeot. I lavish love on it, it hates me driving it), I’d missed two of the bands I’d been absolutely dying to see-Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge. Not wanting to deprive you wonderful people reading this of what they were like, I asked a few people. “Absolutely amazing!” were the universal reviews! Black Stone Cherry have never disappointed before and they didn’t this time. Their new stuff is just as epic as their old, and was apparently received just as well by the crowd. Really, their touring with Alter Bridge later this year is a bit of a dream come true-can’t wait! I did manage to hear Alter Bridge’s set while I was setting up my tent, and as usual they sounded amazing. There’s something incredibly magical about hearing Myles Kennedy’s voice floating through the treetops, and that kind of thing is what Download’s all about.

There are a couple of bands from the Friday that, while I didn’t get to see them myself, had people raving so much that they deserve a mention. Hyro da Hero, who played the Pepsi Max stage on the Friday went down an utter storm, and I was told by more than one person that they’re going to be massive. I love listening to their stuff, and I’m very happy to hear that their live performances measure up to their records! They ended up replacing Karma to Burn on the Sunday as well-add to that the acoustic performance they did and we can hope that with 3 sets over the weekend they showed a lot of people just how good they were!

Royal Republic had everybody going crazy for them, and with an acoustic performance in the media centre they showed how versatile they are. What amazed me is that they were on the Pepsi stage and not at least second stage, and that they were on so relatively early in the day. They’ve got a huge amount of support out there, and they deserved a much bigger slot.

Now, I know I’m supposed to be dead hardcore and metal and all of that, but one of my guilty pleasures in life is that I absolutely love The Darkness. They’re supposedly not cool and they’re not a band you admit to liking in the dirty rock clubs that I frequent, but I just can’t get enough of them. I’ve practically never been more excited about a group reforming than I was when I heard they’d be playing Download. I’d sorted out the tent, put on some warm clothes, got myself a brew (rock and roll or what!) and headed to the arena to see them, and the weekend had begun! The Download arena just feels like home now-I’ve got so many fond memories of it, and nothing compares to seeing that main stage for the first time…

The Darkness blasted onstage and my first thoughts were ‘What the hell is that moustache?!’ I’m not a massive moustache fan, and it made me just that little bit less attracted to him but I have to admit it was funny. I’m just hoping it’s the comedy look that he was going for…They were everything I expected live-entertaining, full of totally over the top special effects and proper feel good rock n roll. The only thing I didn’t understand was them not closing with ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’-it’s without a doubt their most well known song, and a fair proportion of the crowd at festivals, if we’re being honest, watches a band for the classic hits. That aside, they were well worth watching, and I can’t wait to see them touring later this year.
It’s just incredible watching a band as the sun goes down, and while they may not have been on top form they’re still Def Leppard baby!
I was torn between Pendulum and Def Leppard for which headliner to see, but in the end the classic rock just had to win. I must admit though, I’d expected more. When they headlined a couple of years ago they put on an absolutely incredible performance, but this year they didn’t quite hit the spot. I don’t know if it was because it was Friday, and the crowd were gearing up for a weekend of debauchery and they aren’t exactly ‘In your face hardcore rock’, or because they just weren’t as into it, but I was a little disappointed. I found myself getting a little bored but luckily, things improved! I left about halfway through to get another brew (in my defence, it was cold!) and when I headed back (just in  time for ‘Armageddon It’ things seemed to be warming up a little. The crowd were more into it, the band themselves seemed to be more attentive to the crowd and they just seemed altogether more enthusiastic. They had a moving tribute to drummer Rick Allen who, after losing his arm in an accident, played his  first comeback gig at Donnington in 1986. It was beautiful to see just how much the place meant to him, and it was impossible not to be moved by it. By the end of their set I was properly into the groove of things, and their encore of  ‘When Love and Hate Collide’ and ‘Wasted’ went down a treat. All in all it wasn’t the best I’d seen them, but they were still more than worth seeing and the fact that they were playing Download just made the performance more special. It’s just incredible watching a band as the sun goes down, and while they may not have been on top form they’re still Def Leppard baby!

I’d forgotten just how much of a lightweight I was, and half an hour after Def Leppard had finished I was marginally tipsy having consumed a whole can of beer and a jack + coke- the perfect start to the weekend! After a couple of hours of relaxing and trying not to bore everybody too much by being far too excitable that I was at Download, I headed back to my perfectly erected tent in a whiskey and festival haze.

I realised after a few hours the downsides of camping - I’d had to layer up to sleep in the cold conditions, and the second the sun hit the tent I was boiling! I’m just waiting for somebody to come up with some magical invention that fixes that problem, but no luck yet…Still, at least being wide awake from 5am gave me more time to get excited about the day-perfect!
Every single person in the enormous crowd had the horns pumping, the hips swaying and the bounce going on, and I've never seen such an animated crowd at that time of day at any festival.
Saturday was a bit of an ace day really-it wasn’t raining, there were some epic bands playing and everybody was in a wonderful mood-what’s not to like! I started off the day with Skindred-epic. At 2pm on the Saturday of Download when everyone's been trashed the night before, you don't expect to see a massive crowd all having made the effort to get up and get to the front of the arena. When Skindred opened their set, it all made perfect sense. There aren't really words to describe them-they're just bloody brilliant. They're rap metal which, in my opinion, doesn't sound like the most exciting thing on earth. I'm not massively into rap and I prefer my rock to my metal, but after seeing them play at Hammerfest a while back I've been absolutely hooked, bought every song they've produced and never missed an opportunity to see them live. Watching them tear up the stage at Download with limitless energy and exceptional showmanship was an absolute joy, and I've never been so utterly hooked by a band. Every single person in the enormous crowd had the horns pumping, the hips swaying and the bounce going on, and I've never seen such an animated crowd at that time of day at any festival.
Benjii, their lead singer, is awesome plain and simple. From getting the audience to do Download's first heavy metal robot dance to telling everybody to take off an item of clothing and swing it round their heads, he knows how to work a crowd. The Welsh accent just adds to his immense charm, and everytime I see him onstage I'm blown away. They're future festival headliners without a doubt, and if they're ever playing within 200 miles of you they're worth making the effort to watch.

After Skindred, we were in for a proper treat. Over the weekend a few bands were putting on acoustic performances in the media centre, and I was one of the lucky few who got to watch Skunk Anansie doing a 3 song acoustic set! Skin’s voice is even more exceptional at close range and being able to hear her in that kind of environment was just beyond belief. She gave me chills down the spine, and it’s a moment I’m never going to forget.

I had a tough one next-I had to split my time between Your Demise (who I’d heard great things about) and Down-great fun legging it between stages to catch half of each set!

I caught the first few songs from Your Demise, and I enjoyed what I saw. They had great melodies going throughout the set-proper tunes that made you want to move. The vocals stayed strong and dominant, but they did start to sound a bit ‘samey’ after a few songs. They reminded me of a Skindred wannabe, but with heavier guitar work. They were playing the Pepsi Max tent which was full enough, and I loved the effort they put into getting the audience involved. The audience weren’t as animated as I felt the band warranted-there were people jumping and getting into the set, but I would’ve expected a lot more of them to be doing it! They’re definitely a band worth watching out for-expect good things from them!

Down were up next (excuse the absolutely terrible “joke” there) and put on a fantastic set. With Phil Anselmo as a vocalist, they were bound to be good! Saying that, anybody expecting a Pantera rip-off would be sorely disappointed-the two are poles apart! They veer more towards a heavy ‘Southern Metal’ side of things and are reputed for always putting on good shows, and they didn’t disappoint.

From here to a totally different band over on stage 2-the awesome Mr Big! Even with the weather starting to look a little dodgy, they’d drawn a decent sized crowd for stage 2. They were a proper feel good band, and the crowd were lapping it up right from the word go. Singing along to the chorus of ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy’ they showed their appreciation for the band in the best possible way, and it was wonderful to see that the reaction to ‘Undertow’, their latest single, received just as warm a welcome. They’ve proved they’ve still got the skills to turn out great new material and play their classics to the same top quality as fans are used to-watch out for more from them!

From Mr Big to Cheap Trick-one feel good rock act to another! When you go to see a band like Cheap Trick you expect a few things-cheesiness, classic songs and a good show. They pulled out all the stops and gave us all three! They may not have been quite as energetic as they once were, but you could tell they were loving being onstage and enjoying every second of the show. The crowd were more mixed than I’d expected, with a fair proportion of younger fans-always a good sign! You couldn’t want them and be sad-they just make you want to smile! All in all a great set, and they’re worth checking out for more than just the nostalgia.

After they’d finished, it was time to leg it over to main stage to catch Avenged Sevenfold- I can honestly say that my legs were a hundred times more toned at the end of the weekend after all the running about between stages!
They dedicated ‘Afterlife’ to The Rev...the dedication and the song brought a tear to my eye
Avenged Sevenfold surprised me. They had an absolute load of pyrotechnics backstage, and I must admit I thought this would be to make up for a slightly sub-par show. Don’t get me wrong-I like them, but I’d heard very mixed things about them live. I was absolutely blown away by them. They were a lot heavier live that they are recorded, and they sounded to me like a heavy metal force to be reckoned with. The pyro complimented them wonderfully but the set would’ve still been great without it, and every song they did just got better. They had the entire backdrop dedicated to The Rev which was a wonderful touch, and halfway through their set they dedicated ‘Afterlife’ to him. The dedication and the song brought a tear to my eye - the sun came out while they were dedicating it to him, and you could hear the emotion seeping through in M Shadow’s voice during the song itself. It was a worthy tribute to an amazing man, and it made the whole set that little bit sweeter. They picked up the pace after that blasting straight into ‘God Hates Us’ and I was well impressed with the pits that were going on for the rest of their set. They’ve picked up a fan for life in me with their performance, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon!
After them it was time to run again-second stage for Alice Cooper! He’d given a press conference earlier in the day, and I couldn't help myself welling up slightly afterwards-he's just the most amazing person ever. He's so rock n roll, and you can't help but love him. Irritatingly, he clashed with S.O.A.D who I'd never seen before, but Alice being Alice I just had to see him. Even with such a clash taking place there was, of course, a huge crowd. He can be relied on every single show he plays to pull of a storming set, and I've never seen a weak show from him. He is, in essence, a performer, and every aspect of his show is geared around entertaining the audience. He wants to make sure the crowd take as much from his show as he does, and it's obvious through every single act that he does that he just loves what he does. The only song of his set taken from the new album, ‘I’ll Bite Your Face Off’, was classic Alice Cooper-I think we can expect great things from the album! He’s just amazing in every possible way, and I cannot wait for him to be touring again later this year!

I had to miss the last part of Alice’s set because I wanted to catch some of S.O.A.D, and I’m a little disappointed that I did. I was looking forward to seeing System so much-I’d never seen them before, and my fountain of musical knowledge had described them as the best live band she’d ever seen. They weren’t bad, but they certainly weren’t as special as I was expecting! They powered through their set and played all their classic songs, but the whole thing had a ‘we’re doing this because we’re being paid lots of money to’ feel, rather than a ‘we’re doing this because we love it so much’ feel. There isn’t really much else to add about them-they were good because of who they were not because of how they were - I’m sure you’ve all experienced gigs like that!

I’d love to pretend that I was out all night drinking and dancing the night away but I was rather tired, and embarrassingly ended up in bed by half midnight. I was very ashamed of myself, and if I thought I could get away with it I’d pretend to you all that I didn’t get to bed til 4. Sadly, I think people would pull me up on it and laugh at me even more.
 ...the guy with the giant inflatable penis had a song dedicated to him!
Sunday started badly - RAIN! The one thing that’s guaranteed to send peoples’ spirits plummeting is rain at a festival, and it didn’t show any signs of letting up. Still, I put on my stunningly fashionable navy waterproof coat and headed to the arena for the first band I wanted to see - Bowling For Soup. They were an odd choice for Download. They’re not rock and they’re not metal, and they’re not who you’d think would be playing. I went down mainly through curiosity, and ended up absolutely loving them! The only way I can describe them was happy emo, that may be a bit of a contradiction, but when you see them, you’ll know what I mean! They had two giant inflatable sheep onstage with them, and they just didn’t stop talking to the crowd. They noticed people in the crowd and spoke directly to them - the guy with the giant inflatable penis had a song dedicated to him! They lifted everybody’s spirits on a cold, wet Sunday morning, and I’ll forever thank them for that. I was lucky enough to catch them doing an acoustic set in the media centre a bit later as well-awesomely, they had a tattooist tattooing somebody live onstage with them-epic or what! Their acoustic stuff is just fantastic, and they’re just an all round brilliant band.
Next for me were a very different band - GWAR! They’re so much fun it’ untrue. I felt exceptionally sorry for the guys in thongs onstage throughout in the hideous weather, but they put on a wonderful show full of blood, guts, and ludicrous onstage activities. There’s no way to describe GWAR while portraying an accurate picture of just how f***** up they are onstage (in a good way) and they’re a band that just have to be seen live to be appreciated. It always makes me giggle when the photographers are given ponchos to protect them from the dye that they’re inevitably squirted with…

Over to the Red Bull Jam stage for Acoda - one of the winners of the Red Bull Bedroom Jam competition. They were great! They’d packed out the tent, and the best way to describe them is a heavy Placebo. The tempos of their songs varied hugely from one number to the next, keeping the audience more than entertained throughout. They had the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands, and it’s great to see a band that interact so much with the fans. With hard-hitting vocals and highly skilled playing throughout, I’ve put them on my ones to watch list and I think we’ll see great things from them in the future. Deserving winners!

Turisas were up next on stage 2, and they were wonderful. They’re a Finnish metal band that churn out anthems that make you want to march with an army-that may sound ludicrous, but watch them live and you’ll see what I mean. They had the crowd baying for more-no mean feat in the nasty conditions! They’re a band that can always be relied on to put on a good show, and having them and GWAR on the same stage one after the other was a little bit of metal heaven.

I stayed at stage 2 for Buckcherry after Turisas, but sadly I wasn’t very impressed. I’ve never seen them before, and I was looking forward to being hugely entertained, but they just didn’t deliver. I  don’t know if the weather was a contributing factor but they just didn’t have the energy onstage as they did on record, and Josh’s voice sounded as though it couldn’t keep up during some of the songs. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t the spectacular force I’d relied on seeing. I didn’t stay to the end of their set as I wanted to catch some of Disturbed, so I’m only going on the first half of their set but really, you’d expect them to start as they meant to go on!
Disturbed? - I was - another 1000 miles away on Stage 1 - not a pleasant walk in that rain!
Disturbed were another 1000 miles away on Stage 1 - not a pleasant walk in that rain! Still, Disturbed made it all worthwhile-powerful and heavy throughout, there’s nothing like metal done properly to make everything seem that little bit better. They’re a great band, and they’re most definitely one of the ones I’d love to see in a festival atmosphere again. Preferably soon!

By the time I’d finished watching them I was soaked to the bone, and had to try and dry out a little. I managed to dry out my toes a little (no luck with the rest of me, mind) and not a moment too soon it was time for the highlight of the weekend - Rob f***** Zombie baby! The guy’s amazing-there’s no denying that, and I was so excited about seeing him at Download! He’d been amazing in Manchester and I had no doubt that he was going to be even better at Download. The atmosphere was absolutely electric - I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more bedraggled yet excited crowd! He came onstage (albeit 20 minutes late) and everybody went mad. He was on fire-every song he did was pure perfection! He’s like a heavier version of Alice Cooper performance wise - both of them just pull out all the stops to make the stage show exceptional. I couldn’t believe he was only headlining second stage though - the crowd was enormous, he is stunning live and he should’ve been on main stage! An encore of ‘Dragula’ was the best possible way to end the show, and I have to admit I shed a tear- the perfect end to a perfect weekend! I was off to see Linkin Park after the end of his set but I knew they couldn’t measure up to that!
...Rob f***** Zombie baby!
Linkin Park were, well, Linkin Park. They’re great and they’re fun enough, and from what I saw they put on a good show, but in my opinion they’re not Download main stage headliner material. They finished 15 minutes earlier than scheduled and the crowd had been leaving throughout their set, which didn’t inspire that much confidence. Still, they are good at what they do, and the fans were singing along to the popular hits. I think they’d have fared much better on a nicer day, and people would’ve been a lot more forgiving if they weren’t wet through! No matter how good they were, they just weren’t quite able to compete with Rob Zombie - especially not when it was his first UK festival appearance for 13 years! Still, they were a pleasant enough end to the night, and watching the crowd disperse for the last time, I was overcome with a feeling of intense wellbeing that I’d loved and survived another Download.

Because it was the last night I decided to treat myself to a whole 3 cans of beer- I was wasted. I made it back to my tent eventually, but not after managing to cover myself in mud, reveal horribly embarrassing secrets about myself and stroke a tank. Go me…

Download’s always going to be a wonderful weekend simply because it’s Download, and I’m looking forward to the next one already!

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Felicity Hall
22nd June 2011
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Download 2011 reviewed

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