Event – Download Festival (Friday)
Bands Featured – AC/DC, Them Crooked Vultures, Killswitch Engage, 36 Crazyfists, Unearth
Beer – Overpriced Tuborg
Weather – strangely warm
Mood – Euphoric
After 2 days of gorging on barbecued meat, warm lager and winning several games of poker, not to mention a muddy stagger around the Village taking in the various delights that the Wednesday and Thursday of 2010â€™s Download Festival had to offer, it was a pleasant surprise suddenly realising â€œhey, weâ€™re here to see some bands as well, excellent!â€ With Fridayâ€™s musical treats not starting until 3, it gave us enough time to drink as many tinnies as possible (alcohol wasnâ€™t allowed in the arena, meaning over-priced Tuborg lager was the only drink really on offer and was also something I became so desensitized to by Sunday afternoon, it was like drinking fizzy cold water), set fire to some sausages and brave the 2 (bumped up to 3) beer-walk to the arena from orange camp. With the apparent â€˜heavy showersâ€™ being mysteriously absent and â€˜partial sunâ€™ being heavily upgraded to a â€˜scorching heatâ€™ things were looking up.
Sticking to the main stage for the Friday, Unearth  opened proceedings. Their metalcore assault is fired up and passionate, with crushing breakdowns and some truly fantastic drumming. The sound wavers occasionally, but vocalist Trevor Phipps bellows himself hoarse in order to be heard â€“ a strong, punishing and suitably heavy start to the day. Unfortunately the sound quality books 20 minutes to shitty town during 36 Crazyfists [6.5] set, causing the bass to dominate everyone and everything within the radius of the main arena, drowning out vocalist Brock Lindow. His perseverance pays off and the monkey that was playing with the sound engineering is removed halfway through their set and the low-end throb is replaced by his impassioned roar and Steve Holtâ€™s razor-sharp guitar. Singles â€˜At The End of Augustâ€™ and â€˜Bloodworkâ€™ are well received, as is â€˜Slit Wrist Theoryâ€™; notably by the group of girls standing near me who enthusiastically scream the obviously and deliberately misheard cry of â€œLESBIANS! LESBIANS!â€ Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage (a man who seems to be a heartthrob among the metal-loving female population),Â joins Lindow for â€˜Elysiumâ€™; more on him in a moment.
With a quick relocation to the other side of the massive and badly placed sound stage and a top-up of ice-cold but stupidly expensive Tuborg, Killswitch Engage  enter the stage. The roar upon the arrival of Howard Jones for a second time is incendiary â€“ even more so when guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz bounds into the fray; superman cape attached to his back, as well as massive sideburns and a maniacal look in his eyes. Their set is quite frankly astonishing â€“ with the sound levels finally fixed to an audible hearing level; Jonesâ€™s powerful booming voice soars above everything, whilst the band ploughs through 45 odd minutes of some of the finest metal Iâ€™ve heard. Songs like â€˜End Of The Heartacheâ€™ and â€˜My Last Serenadeâ€™ are powerful juggernauts that bulldoze through the arena. Whilst Jones cuts an impressive stance as the frontman (he never stops smiling, his stage presence reminiscent of Matt Caughthran); Dutkiewicz is the star of the show.
The man doesnâ€™t stop â€“ heâ€™s everywhere; roaring into microphones with his indignant guttural vocal technique, flailing his guitar like a whip, death-staring the audience, a volley of foul-mothered shouts to raise support from the ever-increasing crowd and generally acts like an escaped mental patient. Jones looks on throughout, his expression somewhere between embarrassment and pride, like heâ€™s Dutkiewiczâ€™s carer or supportive father. â€œThis song goes out to all of you girlfriendsâ€™ vaginas. I wish I was headbutting them all!â€ roars Dutkiewicz just before â€˜My Curseâ€™ â€“ the man can do no wrong. The biggest sing-along appears in the form of set closer â€˜Holy Diverâ€™ a song the band take in their stride and perform perfectly, especially Jones whoâ€™s vocal technique is something truly marvelous and a worthy tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio.
Itâ€™s difficult to imagine anything topping Killswitchâ€™s set, but Them Crooked Vultures  come extremely close, and dare I say, equal the Massachusetts five-piece in terms of quality. Joined by additional guitarist Alain Johannes they treat the assembled throng to an incredible journey of blues-rock, intense, noisy jam sessions and mind-bending experimentation. â€˜Scumbag Bluesâ€™ becomes a lengthy and possibly improvised piece of raucous jamming, whilst the heaviness of opener â€˜Elephantsâ€™ stamps with a stoner-rock punk racket, courtesy of Mr Grohlâ€™s concentrated drumming. Highlights also include Johannes performing a brilliant solo of squealing, angry blues whilst John Paul Jones (who receives a huge cheer when Homme introduces him) plays an instrument that resembles a guitar crossed with a spaceship on â€˜Mind Eraser, No Chaser.â€™ Normally to me, lengthy guitar noodling comes across as quite snobbish and tedious, but in the case of Them Crooked Vultures itâ€™s a demonstration in pure, raw, bare-bones talent. Itâ€™s difficult to describe the intense wave of euphoria I felt during their set and thinking back to it now, I wish that I could feel like that all the time.
Attention shifts from the main stage to the AC/DC  construct on the left. Decked out in Angus Young school boy caps, complete with devil horns; a runway and the feeling that something majestic is about to happen. They donâ€™t disappoint. Opening with an explosion and the emergence of a derailed locomotive prop (with the band obviously break into â€˜Rock Nâ€™ Roll Trainâ€™) the next 2 hours are more than just a band standing playing their instruments â€“ itâ€™s one of, if not the most incredible sets Iâ€™ve seen a band play in 10 years of gigging. Angus Young is the star of the show â€“ for a man well into his 50s, his enthusiasm and stamina whilst performing is incredible. If heâ€™s not doing the Chuck Berry duck walk, heâ€™s climbing various parts of the stage, bombing it down the runway, or spinning round on the floor in some weird spasm, ala an excited Homer Simpson.
Both the Bon Scott and current Brian Johnson-era are covered extensively. Set highlights include an extended version of â€˜The Jackâ€™ which causes a lot of the girls up on their boyfriendâ€™s shoulders to reveal their ample delights contained beneath their shirts. This then leads nicely into â€˜Hells Bellsâ€™ and of course, the compulsory bell prop rung by Johnson himself. â€˜Whole Lotta Rosieâ€™ goes down an absolute storm, complete with a giant inflatable Rosie straddling the wrecked Rock Nâ€™ Roll Train. Closer before the obligatory encore is an incendiary performance of â€˜Let There Be Rockâ€™, which hammers out faster, heavier and louder than I could possibly imagine. The one-two punch of â€˜Highway To Hellâ€™ and â€˜For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)â€™ threatens to drown out Johnson, such is the response from the crowd and the passion and vitality AC/DC create with these two tracks and indeed, the contents of the entire set. It leaves you with that tingling feeling; much like Them Crooked Vultures beforehand, AC/DCâ€™s high-voltage rock nâ€™ roll is an explosive, unstoppable force of power. A flawless set, comprised of a terrific selection of songs that even if you were a newbie to the Scottish/Australian 5 piece, youâ€™d find yourself singing under your breath for the rest of the weekend. Thereâ€™s no doubt in my mind that AC/DC are the best live band I have ever seen; an incredible, electrifying experience.
Words: Ross Macdonald
Badly taken photo: Ross Macdonald