A bit about the festival
Held usually during the 2nd week of June at the Donington Park motor circuit, close to Nottingam and Derby, UK's Download Festival is a continuation of the Monsters of Rock festivals organised in the same place until 1996. It started as a two day event and expanded to 3 in 2005. The name comes from the idea of rock music being a rebellious genre, thus being against the music industry pressure who claimed the festival would destroy the industry. Along the years, the festival managed to always offer quite an impressive line-up, with big names split all over the stages, sometimes leaving one no chance of breathing between two concerts. The festival's history can be read here.
The 2010 edition celebrated 30 years of rock festivals at Donington park; apart from this, the organisers have also renamed the second stage to “The Ronnie James Dio” stage, as tribute to the great artist who passed away this year, and the main stage was called “The Maurice Jones” stage, after the co-founder of Monsters of Rock who also died the previous year.
The festival took place between the 11th and 13th of June, and I heard various attendance figures, from 80,000 people to 100,000. I'd say that everything went pretty smoothly on the organisational side, as with a bit of walking away from the tents and toilets located right at the entrance I didn't get to spend much time queuing to buy food, water or to use a toilet. The drinks could only be bought based on tokens sold at special areas. Since Friday and Saturday, plus half of Sunday were rather hot, the fact that they placed few areas with free drinking water and the security in front of the stage would offer glasses of water to the ones in need was a nice touch.
As for the crowd, they were really chilled and relaxed, with just about everyone saying “Sorry hun” or “Excuse me, love” when they were passing by and accidentally hitting you. I haven't seen much extreme headbanging, or huge moshpits like at other festivals, so I could maybe draw the conclusion that British people are a calmer type of crowd. Or perhaps they were just happy with the good weather and decided to bask in the sun while hearing the good music and without going berserk. But certainly I've seen some of the craziest outfits, including a group of people dressed in knights who were clapping with coconuts halves, just like the knights in Monty Python. And since the facilities for people with handicap seemed to have been offered at good quality, I was impressed to see so many people in wheel chairs or with walking aid that attended the event.
For accommodation one could of course camp, but due the proximity of quite a number of bigger or smaller towns, there was also the possibility of staying at a hotel or inn around and sharing a cab with friends to the festival, or just taking a bit of a longer walk “home”. I think it's a cool way to get to experience the rural England, and it was also fun to see one of our first cab drivers was pointing at a shop and saying “this one ran out of booze at 5 PM”, then at the next one “7 PM”, and so on.
DAY 1 — Friday
The first concert I got to see (and I wanted to see) on Friday after I collected my wristband (by the way, it was a really huge queue for the weekend tickets) was Anathema, on the second stage. I always managed to miss them live and each time I heard they were so good, so I finally got to experience the quality of their music live. And, even if the show only lasted 30 minutes, I was delighted by it as they only got to play their biggest hits and got the crowd to clap most of the time. The female voice was astonishing and they dedicated their “A natural disaster” to Dio.
I watched them from rather far away, as my main concern was to get acquainted with the area. Their Nu metal/metalcore-like style didn't really impress me overall, but the vocalist's capacity to switch between clean, soft and harsh singing was noticeable. However, the sound quality wasn't at its peak, and there were still plenty of people waiting to get in, so this was a concert I quickly forgot about.
Another metalcore band on the main stage, and I was amused to notice their outfit: the singer had an almost elegant blueish shirt and one of the guitarists had one of those Superman capes. It was probably Adam Dutkiewicz, who is well known for his unique stage appearance. The singer was impressive, doing a great job both at clean and melodic parts as well as for the screaming or hardcore parts. Their music wasn't too familiar to me, but whenever I paid attention to the lyrics, they all seemed to be about love and doing good things, so the atmosphere felt rather positive. The highlight of the concert was them singing Holy Diver, which sounded good and impressed the crowd.
Coheed and Cambria
Off to the second stage for more progressive stuff from the Americans who delivered a mix of cool riffs and rhythms, spiced up with punk or heavy metal bits of songs. Their songs were hardly linear, being a mixture of rhythms and various vocal styles. The quality of the sound made it even better, but the crowd, at least where I was staying, didn't seem too thrilled; I have a feeling that they were trying to keep a place in front for the next band, Bullet for my Valentine (which I missed). They had 50 minutes to play a mix of old tunes from In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (2003) to the most recent Year of the Black Rainbow (2010).
Them Crooked Vultures
A supergroup formed in 2009 who made it to the main stage of such a big festival was not something to miss. And no regrets there. The members (John Paul Jones — Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl — Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Josh Homme — Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age) performed their only album so far, self titled which I'd count as awesome. It's such a cool combination of instruments, unexpected beats and sounds flowing from sweet slow passages to dynamic, psychedelic and aggressive pieces where all instruments seem unstoppable. The 12(?) strings weird looking guitar during one of their songs added up to make it, as the band said, “A night to remember”.
The headliners of the first day, they even had their own stage, right next to the main one. It was a stage where nobody else performed, but considering they performed their full 2 hour show that they delivered during the “Black Ice” tour, with all the scene props and effects, it made sense to have it all set up separately.
I had already seen the show twice, and I can notice that Brian Johnson's voice is weaker and weaker and the songs start sounding too similar at some point. But the show is still electrifying. They put up the locomotive, the big Rosie doll, the bell, the cannons on stage. Angus Young runs all over the place, undressed until he shows us his AC/DC underwear, moves backwards and forwards in his well known position, delivers a 15 minute solo when he goes to the end of the “catwalk” and gets lifted up in the air while he lays on his back and spins around playing his guitar. He throws himself on the ground, kneels, jumps… The drumming is as precise as a metronome.
And it all ends with cannon salvoes during “For those about to rock”, followed by fireworks. How can you not enjoy the complete show delivered by these legends? And all was spiced up by the girls in the crowd lifted on the shoulders of their friends and when the camera was filming them, they ended up lifting their bras or tshirts, making the crowd scream even louder. Which crowd obviously loved the show, and this I judge by the amount of applauds at the end. I even saw a guy trying crowd surfing, but as the crowd was to busy watching the show, he fell at least 4-5 times, but he kept insisting. One of the complaints I'd have about the show is the quality of filming, which was blurry on most of the close-ups.
A mention outside this day's concerts is that between the shows, the big screens were showing messages from the crowd, images sent by people (including naked girls) or interviews and images from previous years. It also included a dedicated moment for Peter Steele, Dio and all others who passed away this year, which repeated the next days, also asking the crowd to clap for a minute for them. It was touching to hear all that clapping.
DAY 2 — Saturday
I was told by a friend to go and see them, so I took my only trip to the Pepsi tent. They excused themselves for their accent caused by their Swiss-French origin. The industrial rock that they played reminded me at times of Meshuggah maybe, with a lot of mixtures of black and death metal, but with a lot of electro/synth stuff that were a turn off for me and made me leave before the end of their show. I still remember the massiveness of their bassist whose last name is, ironically, Grand, and who made me think of a character from some SF series, and was doing some really cool bass tapping.
I wanted to see Atreyu on the main stage, but they switched places with the Americans from Flyleaf. They are a female fronted band, with a mean looking bassist. I felt the crowd was bored and I ended up with the same mood. The singer, Lacey Mosley, didn't have a bad voice, and she was able to sing while spinning or jumping around, but the music was nothing outstanding. They were not the most talkative band on stage, only announcing that “this is our last song” and the bass had annoying distortion at times.
By the time I write this review, I really forgot I saw them. Now I recall a somehow electronic/dance sound with punk looking musicians on stage who jumped around and kept reminding me of Linkin Park.
I decided to stick around the second stage to watch the Canadians from Cancer Bats, as one of my friends recommended them. I witnessed a wild hardcore punk concert, with a singer who spent most of his time on top of the crowd and the rest of the musicians going crazy on stage. They put out some ear killing heavy riffs, and I actually saw few people getting wild on their music. But again, it might have been due the singer's passion of being as close to them as possible.
Five finger death punch
Last time I saw this heavy metal / thrash band, they were “four finger death punch”, since one of their members was at the hospital. It was a mad show, but the one at Download beat it big time at madness. The singer, Ivan Moody, came on stage with a hockey jersey with the name of the band and kept talking to the crowd in between their songs and getting the moshpits started, since he got the confirmation that everyone wanted to have fun. The most extreme was when he asked the crowd to surf all the way to the stage, touch him and go back. Here it is, filmed for posterity:
The stage filled with security quickly, the song ended suddenly, and he announced that their setlist just got cut off to one more song. He also admitted it was his fault. Insane and entertaining concert, with decent tunes.
Lamb of God
I dared to go in front of the main stage for this one. I knew it would be mad, but wanted to see it from “within” the crowd. Yet, I had to leave after 4 songs as the moshpits were getting wider and the amount of people falling over on me was increasing. Before the show started, the crowd was entertained by the photos of naked girls (among others) on the big screens. During the concert, the singer Randy Blythe kept telling the motherf*ers to jump and do moshpits, while he was continuously running and jumping on stage, without losing his capacity to growl and sing with so much power. As usual, they dedicate some of their songs, and this time it was “Ruin” that went out for the crowd, the bands and all the musicians out there in the crowd. I was walking through the crowd during “Now you got something to die for” and everyone was singing so loud that they were almost covering the sound from the stage for me. The singer also asked to see the biggest pit at the festival; hard to say if it was the biggest, but the thing was huge nevertheless.
On my way to the second stage to see the Danish band performing their awesome heavy, punk-ish, rockabilly metal. While walking I heard comments about the previous band, We are the fallen, all along the lines of “terrible”. I'd describe Volbeat's concert as one of those who make the grass dance. Everyone in the band was moving all over the stage, pointing at the crowd, making faces, loving being there. I bet the drummer would have done it too if someone had carried his drum kit. The singer asked a girl in the audience why she didn't have a Volbeat t-shirt, or why her boyfriend didn't buy her one. They said they have no money and he gave them a bill to buy a tshirt. They have performed their awesome ballad, “Garden's tale” upon the request of 5 Brits. And for the end of the song they came up with a riff from Metallica. I left happy, and I think it was almost the best performance I saw at the festival.
I only got to see their last 2 songs, Symphony of Destruction and Peace Sells. The crowd was delighted to hear the famous hits of the heavy metallers who started their career back in 83. The drums had a nuclear sign on them, Dave Mustaine came on stage in a less traditional white shirt. Good musical performance and awesome guitar playing by the pioneers of American trash metal, and I found it funny how Mustaine sings so well, despite the fact that he looks like he's making an enormous effort not to open all of his mouth. At the end, he presented each member of the band and gave a big greeting and bow to the crowd, ending up with the band applauding its audience. They seemed quite impressed and the singer came back to the microphone for a last thank you.
For a taste of Alternative metal, one had to relax and enjoy the soft Deftones tunes, but not get too lazy, since their rhythm raises up nicely. Yet, maybe because they played a lot of songs from their new album, the crowd didn't seem very interested or enthusiastic. When they knew the songs though, they were singing all the way to the back. The singer felt like being a marathoner at times, when he was running on the stage. I liked their bass line and the heavy intense drumming, despite the slowness of the songs, and the 8-string guitar added a pleasant sound.
I went to the second stage out of curiosity to see this guy live. Not much to see of him, since he was all packed in black thick clothes, with a black hat despite the hot sunny weather. I watched Join me in death, which sounded rather decent, but at the next song he made an attempt at going very high with his voice, and it was a total failure. That's when I left.
Rage against the machine
Another one of the top shows. The rap rock sung by the super voice of singer Zack de la Rocha, with the messages addressed against the governments and corporations, all nicely supported by the talented guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk — all these went straight to the hearts and souls of the crowd and got everyone dancing and singing along. I took few walks among the people and I ended up spending at least half of the show enjoying the dances around me and see how entertained the people were. And they delivered the right setlist, full of known hits such as Bombtrack, Bulls on Parade, Testify, Know your enemy, Bullet in the head and a come back with Freedom and Killing in the name. Also very cool was the Clash cover, White Riot. The singer talked a lot to the crowd, thanking everyone who showed up at their free concert a few weeks ago and saying that with good people and good music (not shitty rap) a great show is easy to be put up.
DAY 3 — Sunday
Due to morning laziness, I only got to see the last 3 songs of their set. It would have been cool to see it all, since they played the entire Wheels of Steel to commemorate their 30th anniversary and 30 years of rock at Donington. Plus, Saxon performed at the first festival there, so it was quite special. They dedicated one of the songs to Dio and I was really happy to see Wheels of Steel live. Not many people were awake at that early hour, so the crowd was not quite up for such a show, in my oppinion.
I tagged along with my friends to the acoustic stage to see the performance of Ricky Warwick, the next Thin Lizzy vocalist. He played accompanied by his guitar alone, and I so loved his harsh voice! He used to be the frontman of The Almighty and supported some big names on their tours. It was awesome to see that the crowd knew his songs and sang along.
Back to the main stage for the American heavy metal from the 80s. They had a heavy start with some cool riffs but I noticed a continuous change in the volume of the instruments, plus it was very annoying that the video projection was not synchronised with the image, making it weird to watch the show. Also annoying was the fact that they had no interaction with the crowd.
Still at the main stage as I was really curious about how his new band sounds. I hadn't heard them before, and was wondering if it was going to bear any resemblance to Guns 'n Roses. The music was more melodic, more heavy metal and Myles Kennedy's voice sounded incredible. I won't even mention the quality of the guitar riffs. The only downside, let's say, was that the performers seemed a tad stiff, maybe because they had played for such a short while together. I especially enjoyed Starlight and the GNR covers of Paradise City and Sweet Child of Mine, for which the singer did an impressive job. They even had Lemmy from MotÃ¶rhead as guest on Doctor Alibi. Myles Kennedy presented Slash to the crowd as the world's greatest guitarist, and Slash paid back with band presentation at the end of the show. And, of course, he wouldn't miss his famous black tall hat.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
Looks like the second stage was reserved for crazy musicians at this festival. The vocalist Ben Weinman did all his best to jump and run on every spot of the stage, including the side monitors, while the guitarists threw themselves at the floor, looking almost epileptic. Their music is described as mathcore, making the rhythm very atypical, but one can tell the technical skills of the members. And to spice up his crazy stage show, the vocalist ended up doing some crowdsurfing himself, despite the rain that had started falling. A mental concert, I could say.
As I was on the run to get some food and catch another band on the second stage, I paid little attention to his concert. He looked as I expected him to look, like a rebel, albeit an old fashioned one. He sang just as I knew his songs would be sung. Nothing more to say on his performance.
One of my “must see” bands at this festival. Despite the rain that had been falling for quite a while and that made me soaked and cold, I fought my way to the front of the stage. They looked like a bunch of geeks lost in space. However, if the geekiness of the British progressive band makes them sound so perfect live and helps them compose such amazing songs, then I couldn't care less. The artists did no stage show, they were too concentrated on playing their instruments flawlessly. They even had an old piano on the stage. They should borrow their sound technicians to all the bands in the festival.
They started rather late, so I missed the end of Porcupine Tree for nothing. The British heavy metal legends with Lemmy on vocals came on stage with their classic “We are MotÃ¶rhead, we play rock 'n roll”. They asked the crowd if it was loud enough and played a mix of old and new, including classics like Iron Fist, Going to Brazil and, towards the end, Ace of Spades. Slash paid back Lemmy's visit to the stage to perform some cool guitar riffs on Just 'cos you got the power. The crowd was too tired and cold after all the rain, so they seemed rather bored during the performance. The show was spiced up with two women who played with fire on stage.
The glam rockers from California made a fun show, which I am not sure it is a parody or not, considering their humorous and a tad perverted lyrics. I'd never seen them before. They had an extravagant look, with hair looking as if the members had just been electrocuted, and glammy sparkling clothes. I had seen people dressed or looking similarly during the day, but now, due the heavy rain, all the crowd looked quite homogeneous. They had a cover of I want it that way by Backstreet Boys and some long guitar riffs.
They came all the way from Australia to put together another one of the most insane shows at he festival. Their style is maybe in the tradition of AC/DC, a wild rock 'n roll combined with heavy metal, reminding me of either W.A.S.P., Judas Priest or Motley Crue. They actually told the crowd that they play rock 'n roll for real people and we were real. It was raining even heavier, so I enjoyed their show from a distance, but I saw that the band members were all over the stage, going wild. And the most extreme was one of the guitarist who simply climbed on the wet metal pole n the side of the stage and played his guitar from the top of the stage.
Initially, they were supposed to play at same time as the headliner of the day, but as the schedule on the main stage got delayed, I got to see half of their show or so. It was cool to see the Slipknot's frontman Corey Taylor without a mask and wearing “normal” clothes. His voice is fantastic, being able to sing very melodically, both soft ballads and then go up and scream and still keep the melody. The crowd was quickly entertained and sang along during most of the songs, jumped and applauded. Corey was affected by the death of his fellow Slipknot bassist and it showed during the show, although the crowd were actually screaming Corey's name, instead of the band's name. I liked the fact that he continuously talked to the crowd and made them feel even more special as they played Sillyworld, saying they haven't had played it in the UK for quite a while. Later on, he got the crowd to scream for as long as they could.
I saw the crowd running towards the main stage, so I left the Stone Sour show to catch the main band I went to see at the festival, Aerosmith. It's their 30th year of existence, so another celebration at Donington. I saw a Steven Tyler dressed in gold sparkling clothes, with Indian feathers in his hair that I would probably consider more suitable at a circus, but, considering his showmanship, anything he'd wear is just perfect for his show. As for the voice, after so many years of music and abuse, it sounded fantastic. When he only had vocal parts accompanied by piano before What it takes, he blew us away with the melody in his voice. Even the rain stopped before the concert. And, besides his usual gestures and face expressions or walking around with the microphone “dressed” with scarves, I noticed a double guitar brought up for Livin' on the Edge. The guitarist was presented as “Joe fucking Perry”, and a small joke was added for each of the band's members. In return, Perry introduced Tyler as the best singer in the world. To my surprise, Tyler left the microphone to Joe Perry for one of the slow songs they performed, while he played his harmonica. At some other point, during one of the two songs where Tyler didn't sing and that felt like a jam session, the guitarist put his guitar on the drum kit and the drummer played the guitar with his drum sticks.
I still smile at the thought of this concert, as it really met all my expectations and will keep remembering to Dream on. The songs I experienced live were:
- Love in an elevator
- Back in the saddle
- Mama Kin
- Eat the rich
- Livin' on the edge
- What it takes
- Train kept a rollin'
- Lord of the thighs
- Stop messin' around
- Don't wanna miss a thing
- Sweet emotion
- Baby please don't go
- Draw the line
- Dream on
- Walk this way
- Toys in the attic
All in all, a huge festival, with good organisation and big names on the setlist. Most of the bands declared they were really happy to be there and they really showed it by delivering good quality music and good shows. I am thankful for the good weather, because 3 days of rain as heavy as the one on Sunday would have made it a really bad experience, instead of the simply amazing one it was.
By Andrea Chirulescu