This time last week I was driving home from Download Festival 2018 reflecting on a weekend of great music, and on the funeral of my 35-year-old nephew who was to be cremated just two days later.
There is something about Download. Few would argue that Donington Park in Leicestershire has become the spiritual home of rock music. The place reeks of history, name a great rock band and the chances are that they have played Download. The atmosphere is fantastic, a mixture of fun, craziness, and a love of music that binds the many thousands of fans together.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Guns N’ Roses. Hands up, I have never been a huge fan, Axl Roses’ reputation for being a total twat prevented me from really connecting with their music. As soon as it was announced that Guns N’ Roses were reuniting for a tour, it was obvious that a headline slot for Download was inevitable. I think I was more excited about this show than for any band I have ever seen.
So what did we get? Well Guns N’ Roses certainly didn’t shortchange the biggest crowd I have ever seen at Download. They played a set of 28 songs in a show that lasted close to 3.5 hours. The band even took the stage two minutes early! What followed was a masterclass in how to delve into a large back catalog to create an interesting and varied setlist. Of course, the old favorites like Paradise City, Mr. Brownstone, and Sweet Child O’ Mine were present, so too the famous covers like Live and Let Die, and Knockin on Heavens Door. In fact, we had a total of nine covers in the set with songs by Soundgarden, The Who, and Pink Floyd getting an outing.
This was rock royalty in every sense of the word. So how was the show?
In truth, I thought it was a mixed bag. Despite the huge numbers in attendance Axl Rose didn’t really interact with the crowd, at least over the course of the first two hours. I felt that the atmosphere was strangely flat, though I wasn’t in the middle of the massive crowd. Guns N Roses followed Black Stone Cherry, Thunder, The Temperance Movement, The Struts and Monster Truck on the main stage lineup. I missed The Temperance Movement, but each of the other bands whipped the crowd into a frenzy, so I think Axl’s more aloof persona added to my feeling that things were a bit flat.
Axl sounded great. I think he struggled to hit the notes on some of the songs, my friends disagreed. I must admit that I was a little taken aback to see Axl Rose make more costume changes than Beyonce! Slash was a little self-indulgent at times but the band was as tight as a camels backside in a sandstorm. Overall, I am thrilled that I finally got to see Guns N’ Roses.
I must mention The Struts and Thunder because for very different reasons they both blew me away. Thunder passed me by first time around, and they last played at Donington in 1990. They were just fabulous. Good old-fashioned headbanging rock music that had the crowd bouncing for their entire set. Definitely one of the highlights of a brilliant weekend for me.
I last saw The Struts at Reading a couple of years ago and I did wonder how they would go down with an audience of metalheads. The answer, they went down a storm. Struts frontman Luke Spiller, could be the love child of Freddie Mercury and Justin Hawkins from The Darkness. He has that same flamboyance, the outrageous styling, and boy can he work a crowd.
My favorite moments on Friday’s line up came on the Avalanche stage, this year hosted and curated by Kerrang Radio. Stray From The Path and Stick To Your Guns absolutely shredded the huge tent. I simply don’t understand why both of these bands are not bigger than they are. The sheer rawness and energy blow me away every time I see them.
Over on the main stage, Bullet For My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold were simply brilliant. BFMV have a new album in the offing and I talked about it with Matt and Jason before the show, watch out for that in the next few days. Avenged Sevenfold always turn in a great show, and this was no exception. They are worthy headliners for Download and are always worth watching.
If I’m honest I found the Sunday lineup at this year’s Download a little uninspiring. Of course many will disagree, but Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osborne on the main stage just wasn’t my cup of tea. Manson’s stage persona and music have never really connected with me, and I was so disappointed with Ozzy’s performance with Black Sabbath at 2016’s “Drownload,” that I decided to give his show a miss for fear of tarnishing the memory of a true icon in metal music.
That left me free to wander and to just soak up the festival vibe. The evergreen Rise Against and the rapidly improving Milk Teeth were my highlights of the day. Across a brilliant weekend of rock music, and aside from the frankly ridiculous prices for merchandise, food, and drink at this year’s Download, my one lowlight also came on Sunday.
I wandered past the Zippo stage to check out Body Count Featuring Ice T. I really like bands like Enter Shikari who are adding elements of Rap and Hip Hop into rock music, Truth be told I quite enjoyed Body Count’s music. What I didn’t like was Ice T bringing a two-year-old girl onto the stage and telling her that “if anyone ever fucks with you, tell them your uncle Ice will shoot them in the fucking face.”
Whilst I welcome the positive influences different musical genres can bring to the world of rock, you can keep the negative influences so often associated with Rap and Hip Hop. You can keep the misogyny, the allusion to gun violence and all the negativity to yourself thanks.
Finally, even the weather cooperated to make Download 2018 a memorable occasion. A dry weekend makes for a much more enjoyable festival, same again next year please Mr. Copping.