It’s been three whole years since Download Festival went ahead at full pelt. There was last years pilot event which was run at a reduced capacity, but now, Donington is fully open for business.
These kinds of events are something that we have all waited with patience for. But now, festivals are open for business. To be back on the hallowed turf of Donington is a damn pleasure.
Friday afternoon’s opening act was the brilliant Ayron Jones. We loved his 2021 debut (review here) and he was on our list of bands to catch at Download 2022 (here). Sporting a Nirvana shirt, leather jacket and his trademark beanie, he ripped through a short set in blistering fashion. Boys From The Puget Sound opens the show with a call to arms. ‘I already called the fucking police…cos we’re the baddest band in town,’ goes the first line of the song. It is hard to argue with the statement. Early crowd enthusiasm helps Jones put his stamp on things. The crowd obliges in getting involved in Supercharged and brief diversion into a cover of Nirvana’s Bleech does no harm with the crowd.
Single, Mercy, is dedicated to Democracy. Jones is on his knees playing with such passion that it is hard to believe that this is an opening set. The happiness that is purported from the band and the crowd adds an extra layer of gratitude to proceedings that we are seeing these days again. If you get chance to see Ayron on tour in the UK in November, please do so. You will not be disappointed.
A change of pace is offered following Ayron Jones in the form of Aussie industrialists SKYND. Consisting of Skynd and multi-instrumentalist ‘F,’ the act played an enthralling set of twisted electronic industrial rock. Interspered amongst the crushing riffs and pummelling drums were different styles of rhythm – there are hints of trip hop, dubstep and trap in parts. The vocal manipulation of Skynd’s voice creates a sense of dark foreboding in the blazing heat. As far as festival opening acts; Download hit the nail right on the head. Many of the songs focus on true crime; sometimes dubbed as horrorcore. The true story of Tyler Hadley is chilling; the ‘Bang bang boogie boogie bang bang,’ refrain is incredibly catchy and infectious – it’s a somewhat strange feeling having the uplifting feel about something so macabre. There is a hand on heart thank you to finish from Skynd as they leave.
The Kris Barras Band have seen their reputation steadily grow over the years with great live shows and solid records. There are big cheers as the band takes the stage before Barras walks on and immediately shreds his way into Hail Mary. ‘Song along if you know the words,’ – the crowd do, and dutifully oblige. Kris Barras has blues at his heart; he is a classy guitar player; but he cries from the stage ‘I’ve got rock and roll running through my veins,’ – that is about right.
The powerful groove laden Southern rock that the band display is a joy to hear. As a band, they exude a great chemistry on stage and not for the first time, sentiments from bands of ‘How good is it to be back?’ are shared. Playing in support of their latest album, Welcome To Death Valley Paradise, the band continued the great vibes on the opening afternoon of the festival.
Over on the main stage, Bury Tomorrow brought the first big ‘mosh’ with huge circle pits breaking out – they have a huge crowd for mid afternoon and bring flashes of pyro as they put on a blistering set the Southampton metalcore set are truly adept at. It is great to see them creeping up the bill and surely they will rise further as they move towards their 17th year of existence.
Another band creeping up the bill is Newport reggae metal outfit, Skindred. Formed in 1998, the group have become firm favourites at Download and festivals far and wide. They bring good times and a whole heap of fun.
Taking the stage to the Empire March from Star Wars, Skindred frontman, Benji Webb, had enough sparkles on that he could have been auditioning for KISS. With the red outfit though, he looked more like a reincarnation of Dr. Funkenstein himself, George Clinton. Whichever way, he looks the part as he immediately cojoles the crowd. ‘If your happy and you know it, clap your hands,’ he sings, with full Welsh twang. ‘It’s a pleasure to be here – we’ve been through to some shit haven’t we?’ Too right Benji. ‘I want everyone to turn to the person next to them and high five them.’ These are the festival vibes that we have longed for, and Skindred are prime pedlars of good times.
That’s My Jam, Pressure and Doom Riff sound resplendent. There is the playful Jump/Jump Around medley in the middle that has the crowd salivating, and a new song, Smile Please, is picked up very quickly by the crowd. The ‘L O V E love’ chorus is completely befitting of the afternoon. Kill The Power is defiance personified in music. Licks of Nas’ NY State Of Mind bassline adorns the intro. ‘We’re fighting all the -ism’s…but we’re still here,’ announces Webbe. People are more than happy to raise their fists for this. The unifying love of music is something to behold.
Before Nobody, Benji brings on some pyro…comically, a couple of sparklers. I think he just wants to be in KISS! THe real fireworks of Skindred’s set come in the form of Warning. For those that have never seen Skindred before, and are new to the Newport Helicopter…let me explain. At a point in the show, all members of the audience are invited to take off a piece of clothing, raise it tight over their head, and when the four count is completed…spin that piece of clothing like a helicopter. I am not good with estimation, but there are about 30 – 40,000 people spinning their shirts. It is a sight to see. A few people spin prematurely, but this doesn’t matter.
Skindred have got to be future headliners of Download. Ayron Jones said he’d already called the police, but if Skindred headline, you’d have to put the ‘heddlu’ on high alert. A triumphant performance.
On the Opus Stage, Airbourne are already flying. Airbourne are Download vets having played many times at Donington. Joel O’Keefe immediately utilises the space he has, far and wide. As the band launch into Back In The Game, O’Keefe takes it to the crowd and starts surfing through the masses whilst chucking out the riff to the Stones’ Satisfaction. He also takes a can of lager and smashes it on his head until it sprays over the crowd. All the party pieces are on show, and the crowd laps it up. With 2019 a distant memory and 2020-21 largely forgettable, Airbourne shocase some newer cuts in the form of Burnout The Nitro. O’Keefe describes it as a new one. There have been tough times, but some things are constants; Airbourne are one of those constants…they just rock hard and you know exactly what you will get.
Over the course of the day, many a t-shirt is spotted throughout the festival. You can tell that a lot of people went to see Tool on their latest jaunt (me included!). One thing that is clear is that Sleep Token have a lot of fans. Plenty of people show their support in their attire before joining in unison at The Avalanche Stage.
Sleep Token are greeted rapturously from the moment they step on stage. All masked, the band have a real aura. There is something alluring about an act who shroud their identities. Slipknot did it for a while, and Ghost got away with it for a bit. Their stature still stands even though identities are known. For Sleep Token though, they have a bit to go to hit those heights. However, the tent is full for their early evening set. Flanked by three backing singers and a band all dressed the same way (think the Scream villain with the mask). As the band launch into Alkaline, people sing along and create a vociferous atmosphere. The technical chug of the guitars with shrill vocals haunt the place and they deliver a stunning set that will surely see their star rise further.
For all the fireworks that had been set off during the day, the biggest bang was saved for last. KISS are on their final tour and Download was set to be their last UK performance. A longer turnaround is given as the stage is prepared with mock stone statues of the band flanking the stage and huge KISS curtain erected in front of the stage.
As the PA is ramped up to the sound of Led Zeppelin’s Rock’n’Roll, the temperature is raised (if this was possible on an incredibly balmy evening). A video showing the band walking to the stage pre-empts the curtain dropping and KISS descending from the rafters on platforms awash with smoke and fire to the sounds of Detroit Rock City. We wanted the best…and we got the best. That is how intros are done! And boy is the pyro loud. very LOUD!
From thereon, KISS delivered a masterclass in rock theatre backed by some of the most recognisable songs in rock history. Following up Detroit Rock City with Shout It Out Loud from Destroyer, the tone was set. ‘Old school KISS’ was offered up with Deuce. KISS’ more evil side is shown on War Machine from Creatures Of The Night. The main riff sounds vicious and with Gene Simmons (The Demon) singing, it all makes for a brilliant concoction.
Paul Stanley (aka Starchild) comments that this is the fifth time that KISS have played Download/Donington; ‘This might be the last time, but we will ALWAYS love you,’ he tells the crowd in the first of many interactions that embolden the crowd.
As it is the last time, the band do their best to pack in nods to most of their studio albums. Say Yeah from Sonic Boom and Psycho Circus’ title track help round out a mid part of the set in amongst solos for the band members. Lick It Up has a cool little interpolation of The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again included and Heaven’s On Fire has an impassioned vocal intro from Stanley, who is clearly loving every moment in front of the baying crowd.
In fact, Stanley loves it so much he takes to his zip line to come see the rest of the crowd during Love Gun; but that is not before Simmons has taken his bass for a solo diversion and a little blood spitting from the rafters. This pomp and circumstance from KISS is something that will be missed from the world of rock. Again, the menace is massive as The Demon’s face is awash with green on the screens as blood spurts from his mouth as the bass notes clang around the huge site.
With Stanley situated in the middle of the crowd, the band launch into I Was Made For Loving You. This might be a little more commercial than the real early KISS output, but this song is a certified crowd pleaser. Every member of the audience sings along. The sing along continues with main set closer, Black Diamond; taking the band back to the start of their career from the tracks at the front of the set. An encore of Beth, Do You Love Me and arguably KISS’ biggest hit, Rock And Roll All Nite sees the band departing in a tickertape parade of confetti and fireworks with God Gave Rock and Roll To You blaring over the PA.
As the lyric goes: ‘Tonight, I wanna give it all to you;’ KISS did. Everything you would have wanted from a headliner was there.
Authors Note – I sadly had to leave the festival early on Saturday morning for personal reasons, so missed days 2 and 3. Apologies to the bands I missed; I hope to return next year.
Early Bird Tickets for Download 2023 are available for a limited time right now by clicking here.
Categories: Live Reviews