Download Festival 2010: Friday Review

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 2010’s Download Festival had to offer, it was a pleasant surprise suddenly realising “hey, we’re here to see some bands as well, excellent!” With Friday’s musical treats not starting until 3, it gave us enough time to drink as many tinnies as possible (alcohol wasn’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 ‘heavy showers’ being mysteriously absent and ‘partial sun’ being heavily upgraded to a ‘scorching heat’ things were looking up.

Sticking to the main stage for the Friday, Unearth [7] 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 – 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 Holt’s razor-sharp guitar. Singles ‘At The End of August’ and ‘Bloodwork’ are well received, as is ‘Slit Wrist Theory’; notably by the group of girls standing near me who enthusiastically scream the obviously and deliberately misheard cry of “LESBIANS! LESBIANS!” Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage (a man who seems to be a heartthrob among the metal-loving female population),  joins Lindow for ‘Elysium’; 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 [10] enter the stage. The roar upon the arrival of Howard Jones for a second time is incendiary – 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 – with the sound levels finally fixed to an audible hearing level; Jones’s powerful booming voice soars above everything, whilst the band ploughs through 45 odd minutes of some of the finest metal I’ve heard. Songs like ‘End Of The Heartache’ and ‘My Last Serenade’ 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 doesn’t stop – he’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 he’s Dutkiewicz’s carer or supportive father. “This song goes out to all of you girlfriends’ vaginas. I wish I was headbutting them all!” roars Dutkiewicz just before ‘My Curse’ – the man can do no wrong. The biggest sing-along appears in the form of set closer ‘Holy Diver’ a song the band take in their stride and perform perfectly, especially Jones who’s vocal technique is something truly marvelous and a worthy tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio.

It’s difficult to imagine anything topping Killswitch’s set, but Them Crooked Vultures [10] 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. ‘Scumbag Blues’ becomes a lengthy and possibly improvised piece of raucous jamming, whilst the heaviness of opener ‘Elephants’ stamps with a stoner-rock punk racket, courtesy of Mr Grohl’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 ‘Mind Eraser, No Chaser.’ Normally to me, lengthy guitar noodling comes across as quite snobbish and tedious, but in the case of Them Crooked Vultures it’s a demonstration in pure, raw, bare-bones talent. It’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 [11] 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 don’t disappoint. Opening with an explosion and the emergence of a derailed locomotive prop (with the band obviously break into ‘Rock N’ Roll Train’) the next 2 hours are more than just a band standing playing their instruments – it’s one of, if not the most incredible sets I’ve seen a band play in 10 years of gigging. Angus Young is the star of the show – for a man well into his 50s, his enthusiasm and stamina whilst performing is incredible. If he’s not doing the Chuck Berry duck walk, he’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 ‘The Jack’ which causes a lot of the girls up on their boyfriend’s shoulders to reveal their ample delights contained beneath their shirts. This then leads nicely into ‘Hells Bells’ and of course, the compulsory bell prop rung by Johnson himself. ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ goes down an absolute storm, complete with a giant inflatable Rosie straddling the wrecked Rock N’ Roll Train. Closer before the obligatory encore is an incendiary performance of ‘Let There Be Rock’, which hammers out faster, heavier and louder than I could possibly imagine. The one-two punch of ‘Highway To Hell’ and ‘For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)’ 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/DC’s high-voltage rock n’ 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, you’d find yourself singing under your breath for the rest of the weekend. There’s no doubt in my mind that AC/DC are the best live band I have ever seen; an incredible, electrifying experience.


Download Festival
Them Crooked Vultures
Killswitch Engage
36 Crazyfists

Words: Ross Macdonald
Badly taken photo: Ross Macdonald

Lizard Hips

Junior Vice President of Keep It Fast. In other news: I work in social media, talk about dinosaurs, run a book club and have amazing facial hair. I am also a male man who is still not dead.

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