Category Archives: Live Review

Reviews of gigs our staff have been to

In Flames, Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold

Sheffield Arena, 15th January 2017

Mabh’s wearing a Wyrd Ways Rock Show t-shirt!

I don’t get out much, so when I do, it’s nice to go all out! Tickets for this gig came courtesy of my rather marvellous fella, who wanted to treat his eldest boy to his first ever gig. The lad is a MASSIVE Avenged Sevenfold fan, so when I heard tickets for this line up advertised, I was like ‘Buy buy buy!’ And he did. So we trundle off to Sheffield on a Sunday night, already realising we won’t be home until 2am and me dreading work at 7am on Monday. Needless to say, for the grownups at least, this gig already has its work cut out to be worth it for us.

We get there at twenty-past-six and are dismayed to hear the opening strains of In Flames’ set from outside the arena. It’s not supposed to start until half past! Argh. We shuffle as speedily as possible through ticket check, and after a mandatory warning about pickpockets manage to easily find some standing space close to the sound desk. I am surprised how much space there is; I had imagined a packed room for these guys. They certainly deserve it.

 ‘For most of you people who can fucking read, we’re ‘In Flames‘. It’s [written] right there and there’, shouts singer Anders. ‘We’re from Sweden, where it rains as much as England, so we are like neighbours.Anders continues some playful banter with the crowd, then goes on to chat about pudding. Every other word is fuck. He seems delighted to be here, and the crowd that came are delighted too.

The first song I hear in its entirety is The End. Anders is on knees, as if pleading with audience. His vocals are flawless and the entire band has so much energy. Also, give the sound guy a medal as the room is filled with beautiful noise; what a ‘fat’, full sound this band has.

The guitar sound is tremendous, it alternately sings and cries. Some complaints about going to see bands, particularly very good bands, are that you could just sit at home with a CD, avoiding bad overpriced beer and crowd BO. Not so with In Flames. Although they are note-perfect, they are so much more vital live. The audience interaction is great too. A random fan shouts that he likes the guitarist Björn’s beard. ‘I like his beard too‘. Anders admits cheekily.

The song ends abruptly, and after a heartbeat of silence the room erupts. The crowd is won over, and so am I. There’s a slight pause followed by an electronic synth sound which leads into the leaden opening beats of Cloud Connected. This song draws the crowd in a bit more and gaps start to fill on the floor, as people who perhaps only came for the headline act start to realise they are in the presence of greatness.

Anders is off again: ‘We are truly honoured that we can travel the world and play our way of heavy metal.’ He says something that really resonates with me. There is so much debate today about what is proper Metal, and what is not. (Anyone starts that sort of shite here will be told to fuck right off! – Ed)  He goes on to say that In Flames will only be playing the kind of Metal that they like to play. And if you don’t like it, fuck off! Hear hear, I say.

Some great back-up vocals come into play with the next song, The Truth. He reads some of this song like a poem rather than singing it, making it very personal. The place is really filling up now. Blue lights flicker around the room, and a long, drawn out synth drone is heard.

All right people, I know when you’re home alone, and no one is watching, you’re dancing your asses off. Let’s see some crazy dancers!‘ And the crowd start to move. They have been mesmerised both by the music and the charisma of the singer. The interaction continues on stage too. The band members seem to bounce off each other really well.

The next tune is Paralyzed, what a monster of a song. ‘Fucking scream for me Sheffield. You guys are too quiet between songs, we’re used to people screaming all kinds of shit.’ There’s a scream to my right which seems to spread through the crowd. Anders throws his arms up and we all follow suit. This is a delightfully dark and gritty track which shows off the talent of the whole band. Then we’re straight into Deliver Us. This is an epic tune with an orgasmic guitar solo. The guitarist has his foot right up on monitor, playing practically into the crowd. Very old school.

The band surprise me with some clever key changes, and some flawless vocal harmonies, all tiny spokes in a wheel of very heavy, crunchy Metal. Anders says ‘To each and everyone in this house thank you for paying attention to what we do’. You can’t help but feel that the band are genuinely grateful for their fans, and the opportunity to do what they love. And they are really good at revving the crowd up. They also have a great sense of humour. It’s implied, with tongue firmly in cheek, that listening to In Flames will improve your life, and it’s observed that one man doth not a mosh pit make. ‘One person is not a circle pit, it’s a drunk dance, that’s what that is. Now fucking dance for me.’

I was really impressed with In Flames (Never! – Ed). This is the first time I have ever seen them live and they did not disappoint. Great performance, great songs and great production. As Anders said, ‘This is a heavy metal show, right? We can all agree on that?’ Yes sir, yes we can.

We eat ‘The best hot dog in the world’ (it wasn’t) and drink some terrible beer while Disturbed start their show, with a guitar solo. There’s immediately something cheesy and posey about them, but the band are really into what they are doing. The stage production for Disturbed is hot. I mean literally. Every other beat is emphasised with a jet of fire. David Draiman is as imposing as ever, strutting the stage in his long coat. There’s something odd and off key about his vocals at first, then as soon as it sounds in tune, it sounds a bit too loud; a bit overbearing in the mix. The dynamics are odd too, as his levels seem to hover up and down. I wonder if maybe he has too much coming through his monitor.

The band open with Immortalised, from the 2015 album of the same name. I have to admit, I only know three Disturbed songs, and two of them are covers. However, this is an epic opener, although there is something off key-wise in the chorus. It’s worth noting I’m listening from the bar which may account for the odd sound.

Draiman is not the most energetic of frontmen; he walks up and down the stage, while the cameras capture some close ups of grasping hands and pumping fists. He starts to energise the crowd with the ‘Hey! Hey!’ section in the song. Soon people are jumping and thrusting their fists at the ceiling.

The next tune is The Game. Here we have the first emergence of what we fondly refer to as ‘the monkey sound’. You know what I mean. ‘Ooh ah ah ah ah!’. Not quite in that rhythm, but very reminiscent. Some of the lyrics stick with me:

‘You always wanted people to remember you, to leave your little mark in society’.

Draiman has a little smile as he sings this, like it’s a private joke. I wonder if he is thinking about the one song we are all waiting for, or if that’s just me being cynical.

The band are fully alive, energy zaps across the stage and guitarist Dan Donegan thrashes enthusiastically at the crowd. ‘Let me see your motherfucking fists in the air!‘ bellows Draiman, as another gout of fire punctuates the night. These guys love their fire! One of my companions comments that this stage production would have been oddly more apt for In Flames

The Vengeful One is another soaring, cynical sneer at modern society, accompanied by further jets of flame that threaten to take the drummer’s eyebrows off. Green light soaks the stage and crowd, giving the whole room an eerie feel. The backing vocals are a touch too quiet in the mix, which is a shame as they are spot on for timing and pitch. It would have been nice to hear more of bassist John Moyer who seems involved in a few of the songs.

My brothers and sisters; my blood. Speak to me!Draiman calls, nay, commands. The crowd is shrieking now, as they are ordered to ‘put those devil horns in the sky’. We have left the bar and re-joined the masses, and the sound is much better here. Also, as the show progresses the band seem to gain in confidence and energy.

Prayer is one of those classic Metal combos of upbeat riffs and depressing lyrics, yet it has a vocal jump that oddly reminds me of Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’. The sound has definitely improved now and the vocals are way more balanced. There’s a huge cheer for this tune, then a slight pause before jumping straight into one I don’t recognise, but which has some deep Metal mumbling. Cue another burst of fire and a key change, into another catchy chorus. These guys are good at these. They are also good at some lovely chromatic guitar work.

Speaking of which, a two-note riff suddenly takes me back to being a youngster at the late, lamented Bradford Rio’s. It’s Voices! A track I had completely forgotten about, which used to be a favourite to jump around the dance floor to. I could be cruel and say I had repressed it, but if so it’s because of some no doubt humiliating drunken memory that accompanies the song, because the song itself is great; sharp melodies, perfect staccato vocals, a super heavy beat and just discordant and crunchy enough to be a nu metal classic. It’s been worth coming just for this.

Next up, it’s back to sickly green and yellow lighting, and an almost rapped vocal line. I think this one is called Stupify. Again it is very staccato, but lacks a certain depth after the massiveness of the previous track. However, it’s clearly a crowd favourite, who shout along with Draiman in a call and response fashion. I find it a bit odd that the lead singer is least energetic person on stage; Moyer and Donegan are leaping about like crazy, whilst drummer Mike Wengren is going hell for leather. Draiman definitely has charisma though, which is carried not just via his voice but through a combination of pointing, grasping, and intense facial expressions.

We are left in darkness for a few moments, with a haunting, droning sound. Suddenly a crystal clear piano line cuts through the background noise. I know it is The Sound of Silence but for one horrible moment I’m afraid they are going to cover Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. Seriously, go play the first five seconds of Tyler and the first 13 seconds of Disturbed and you will know exactly what I mean. I’m suddenly surrounded by little specks of light, as everyone has their mobile phones out and is waving them in the way of lighters of old. Something I never thought I would write… I think it is guitarist Donegan who is playing piano, and it’s pretty much perfect. There is also some aggressive timpani action which is quite gorgeous. I know it’s a cover, but I can’t help but think that this song will be associated with this band for a very long time. It’s a very good rendition.

There’s another long pause, as if to let us absorb what just happened, then the room turns red and we are treated to more fiery excitement. Which makes sense, as we move into the song Inside the Fire. The sound by now is excellent, very tight and crunchy. The band seem re-energised by the response they received for Silence. The energy increases even more and the performance for the rest of the show seems note perfect and much more enjoyable. Albeit slightly over the top, the stage production is excellent, and the lights are perfect and dramatic. It’s a really well produced show.

Draiman pauses to have a word before the next track: ‘Tonight we have a special moment where the members of Disturbed need audience participation.Draiman wants us all to get out our ‘cell phones’ and lighters (no one has a lighter any more, oh sorry, there is one woman with a Zippo, I take it back!) to join in every time he sings the words ‘The Light’. The crowd howl; I don’t know this track (also called The Light) but they clearly do. And it’s a lovely song, so different to any of the previous offerings. It’s an optimistic ballad of hope, without being sappy. The crowd and band are as one now. Since Silence it’s been a different show from the start; twice as good with twice as much energy.

Stricken is soaring yet mournful, then the stage goes dark except for searchlights, and the sound of sirens permeates the arena. This leads into Indestructible, while flames fan across the stage. The crowd are drinking in every minute and Draiman knows it: ‘Alright Sheffield, your arms aren’t tired yet are they?’ There’s a thunderous roll of toms, and I swear I can feel the heat from those flames even over here by the sound desk.

After a rousing performance of 10000 Fists, we are commanded to Get on our fucking feet! and the obvious closing song is sung…. Ooh ah ah ah ah! There we go. So satisfying. The crowd surges forward, and the show ends in chanting and mutual worship between the band and the fans. Over the top, overly dramatic but so much fun. And worth it just for Voices, which I had forgotten about and The Light which is a truly beautiful song.

We move much closer for Avenged Sevenfold, having timed our ablutions and beer foraging perfectly. It’s pointed out to me that the original artwork for the single The Stage is on the screen, two halves of a skull, one on each screen with a perfect CGI eyeball looking around the arena. The left eyeball has the new album cover instead of iris. The sense of anticipation is palpable. Obviously there’s a longer gap before the headlining band, and the piped in music includes Space Oddity by David Bowie. There’s a touching moment where the crowd hushes, then starts singing along, and phones are in the air all around me. A brief but touching moment of tribute. So much love.

As the last notes and lights twinkle out, darkness falls and the crowd roars. The stage is set up as a series of screen and a huge cube suspended in mid-air, each side of which is a projector screen. Images of space and the Earth fly across our eyes, finally ending on the band’s logo as they appear on stage to a wave of crowd noise the like I have not heard for years.

As expected, the band open with The Stage. This is a great song, and I am impressed by some perfect guitar tapping. The audience absolutely love vocalist Shadows. I am surrounded by screaming women. Literally screaming. Unintelligibly. Whilst the band play, imagery plays pretty much constantly across the screens and the giant cube, meaning there is always something to look at. At the start, we have cave men puppets, Cromwellian witch burners and various other types of execution. Cheery.

‘Sing it!’ demands Shadows with a grin on his face. The two guitarists are in the spotlight, harmonising to the crowd, then bantering with each other and with Shadows. It’s clear that these band members have real love for each other, which is a beautiful thing to see.

I probably won’t write as much about A7x, simply because I was absolutely mesmerised. I can’t tell you exactly what songs they did and in what order, I just know this was one of the quickest two hours of my life, and that if their guitar sound was a real person, I would marry it. If I wasn’t bouncing up and down and screeching along, I was gazing wide eyed at smiling missiles, virtual flames licking across the stage and strange, Gallifreyan-looking swirls.

As the show progresses, we have synths and strings, and the screens go mad with imagery. There’s a clever thing they do, where they project the space imagery at the same time as projecting the live shots of the band, so on the screens it appears as if the band are playing in space. Later on, this technique is applied again to imprison the band behind chicken wire, and to set them on fire. The production is absolutely astonishing.

‘I don’t belong here,
Gotta move on dear’

A7x are a master of sing-along-specials, and Afterlife is the first of these (well, that I know!) and the crowd does not disappoint. Even Shadows repeatedly comments on how loud Sheffield is.

‘I can’t hear a goddamn thing I’m singing cos you motherfuckers are so goddamn loud!’

Shadows is an incredible vocalist. At times, he is almost rapping but the intonation is perfect on every note, whether low or high. The band really remind me of Faith No More, and the vocal lines are a big part of that, I think. There’s even some delightful three part harmonies. Oh, and it’s been said that A7x changed their style because Shadows couldn’t roar or scream like he used to. I’m here to tell you he can. Oh yes.

He also loves the crowd, and they love him. He asks where everyone is from. There’s a few locals, and many from surrounding towns. He laughs at the enmity we English have between rival towns and counties, and the room erupts with a chant of

YORKSHIRE! YORKSHIRE!’,

Something I have never heard at a gig before!

Highlights of the next hour and a half or so include Hail to the King. This song starts with such a sweet riff and when the drums kick in, every fist is trying to hit the ceiling. Buried Alive starts with a gentle, understated guitar line, which is soon underpinned by cellos and accompanied by a cheery backdrop of skulls, bones and decay. I love how the band themselves are so cheery and upbeat, whilst their themes range from death and destruction to entropy and the downfall of society. A wonderful juxtaposition.

The artwork on the screens is utterly amazing. As well as the aforementioned skulls, we have planets brimming with lava, space scenes, and swirls and lines that look like they are from the TARDIS. I am staring at the Gallifreyan when I realise the projection cube is travelling towards the crowd, leaving a gap at the back of the stage. It tilts up and down, the moves back, and I wonder if this is merely a distraction technique while the stage is changed somehow.

As the bizarre move finishes, a familiar synth line starts and the crowd howls again as the band launches into Nightmare. Another sing-along choice, this track is amazing live. This is one of my favourites, and again, almost worth coming just for this.

After Nightmare, there’s some more crowd interaction, as someone inexplicably tries to give Shadows their phone! Shadows introduces their most recent drummer, Brooks Wackerman. Cue a drum solo, which somehow melds into a gorgeous little snippet of War Pigs. I tell you, I can’t hear this band without thinking of Faith No More and stuff like that is not helping! The kit is great, such a fat sound but never overbearing. Shadows comments on what a rowdy group we are for a Sunday night and he’s right. I’ve totally forgotten about my dreaded 7am start.

Another high point is Sunny Disposition. This is where we see the nukes with smiley faces. I wasn’t sure at first if the band had a synth/keyboard player hidden away at first, but now I’m pretty sure that the ‘non-guitar’ sounds were pre-recorded tracks. You can’t tell though; the performance is perfectly flawless. The band toys with us by leaving a long pause, eventually filled by the inevitable cries of we want more, get on with it. The cube is tilting again, creating a spot lit area for one, then both guitarists. The musicians move down the stage and the lights follow them as they play; it’s quite lovely.

A loud rumbling occurs and the lights stutter. The screens go blank. Square waves batter the audience. With a burst of light the screens come alive, with capillary like red streaks. Our eyes are drawn to the back of the stage, where there is suspended a giant spaceman! It’s the astronaut from the album artwork, skull and all, in three-dimensional glory. There is something akin to an Iron Maiden show in all this; a real sense of theatre.

The band roar through Planets and after a gorgeous rendition of Acid Rain, leave the stage. There’s the inevitable ‘Will they, won’t they?’ before they return, leaving a long enough gap that some people actually leave. I can only presume they are trying to beat the car park queues; not a good enough reason in my mind.

As Shadows returns, he asks how many more songs we want. Someone shouts ‘Ten!’, and he quips,

‘If we play ten we won’t get to Manchester.’ After some predictable ‘booing’ Shadows laughs,

‘I swear, all we have to do is name any city! What do you guys think of London?’

And the loudest booing of the evening occurs! We are awfully parochial aren’t we.

The audience now has its knowledge of song lyrics tested, as a condition for playing Bat Country. The harmonised guitar solo in this is amazing on CD, but even better in the flesh. Or wood. How about a love song, one equally about murder and necrophilia? After the roar, Shadows pleads ‘Never bury me in Sheffield!’ and adds ‘This one goes out to the Rev.’; a touching tribute to an amazing drummer and songwriter. Little Peace of Heaven is exactly that. I’ve never known a track make me so uncomfortable and yet have me singing along every time. It’s a real conflict of emotions.

The band finish with Unholy Confessions, not a favourite of mine, but my companions, along with most of the crowd, are elated. Shadows encourages the biggest pit he can, which becomes a swirling maelstrom in front of us. This is a frontman who knows how to wind the crowd up into a frenzy, and all the while has a smile on his face.

All in all, a really great night. Yes, I’m biased by my lack of interaction with the real world lately, but this was genuinely a fantastic line up. In Flames were solid, entertaining and really heavy hitting. Disturbed were not quite as tight at first, and a little over the top at times, but in the end very good, lots of fun and threw out some real classic tunes. The headliners though. My word. Avenged Sevenfold have made it into my top ten live bands, that’s for certain. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the next time they visit the UK.

In Flames: 8/10

Disturbed: 7/10

A7x: 10/10

Rebellion Festival – August 2016 – Blackpool

Rebellion

No, I didn’t go to Bloodstock.  Not really my thing.  My personal genetic make-up is probably 40% Rawk, 42% Goth, 43% Punk, 12% Hiphop, 8% Indiekid and 6% Raver, with the remaining 11% being split between Industrial, EBM, Techno and Guilty Pleasure Pop.

I wouldn’t really have enjoyed Bloodstock.  And I hear there was some drama about press coverage and reviews and shit there anyway, so I fucked off up to Blackpool to Rebellion the weekend before instead, to indulge my 44% Punk side.

But in any case, Rebellion Festival is Best Festival. It’s better than all the others for five reasons. These are:

1)   You don’t have to rough it.  The stages are (mostly) indoors.  You don’t camp.  You stay in a B&B.  Blackpool B&Bs are dirt cheap.  I think I paid less for my Rebellion ticket, travel, and accommodation than I did just for the ticket to Download.  There are hundreds of B&Bs less than five minutes walk from the venue.  Which means that you’ve got a proper toilet, bed, and shower all of your own, as well as getting a decent cooked breakfast.  And aside from one stage, it’s all indoors.  So even if it’s pissing it down, you don’t have to give any fucks and can enjoy it all.  It’s the most civilised attack on civilised society that you could hope for.

2)   It supports new acts and bands.  It’s got a new bands stage that has broken some genuine talent.  Some people that were given a chance on the smaller stages at Rebellion have gone on to play on the main stages.  I saw a fuckload of people you’ll probably hear of when they make it.  The thing about punk is anyone can do it.  This is a chord, now form a band.  Louise Distras even started out by busking outside five years ago, and then got asked to play the new talent stage, then playing each year until this year she’s one of the main acts.  The only barrier to your band playing Rebellion is whether you’re actually any good, not whether you’re signed or have management or anything like that.

3)   There’s always something fucking excellent to do.  A load of my mates are there.  This is partly linked to section 2, in that being in a band that plays on the arse-end Pub-Punk circuit, much of the festival is drinking and talking shit with people I sort of vaguely know from some gig somewhere.  The reason I wrote a load of shite in between bands at Download (and cheers to those of you that liked that, by the way) was because there was a lot of downtime.  But at Rebellion there’s no downtime.  If you’re not watching a band, you’re putting your feet up and listening to Jello Biafra talking about why American TV news loves Donald Trump, or seeing Kunt and the Gang being a horrible bastard with a Jimmy Savile puppet, or wandering by mistake into a Rockabilly ukulele orchestra, or nursing a hangover by getting stuck into your hair of the dog with Hobo Jones’ weird skiffle punk, or… It’s not wanky nonsense like hipster head massages in a fake Stonehenge in the woo-slinging field at Glastonbury.  It’s the good shit.

4)   Legends.  Now, you might think that Slayer headlining at Bloodstock, or Maiden at Donington is legendary stuff, and yeaaah, okay, kinda.  But part of the reason you get so many American punk bands (and by that I mean ones that are approaching legend status themselves) coming to play Rebellion, is because they can hang out with the people that wrote the songs that defined the genre. Someone I know that was backstage was telling me that Lars Fredriksen (the guitarist wot’s out of Rancid, who are legit legends now too) was geeking out over meeting the singer from Peter and The Test Tube Babies this year.  I mean… we’ve all seen Peter and the Test Tube Babies in local pubs on the British Punk scene, but to Lars they’re legends.  Last year at Rebellion, I got to see Pete Perrett from The Only Ones play Another Girl, Another Planet (which is the bestest song ever in the entire world that isn’t Zodiac Mindwarp’s Prime Mover) in the damn bar.  And Arthur Brown tell everyone that he’d like to sing a nice, happy love song but he was sorry he couldn’t because he had to announce that he is THE GOD OF HELL FIRE.  And the Damned – the first band to release a punk single.  They were there.  And Captain Sensible was wandering around and had time to stop for a chat and a selfie with anyone that wanted.  And the Buzzcocks – wot did that Ever Fallen In Love song.  And Jello bloody Biafra.  And Charlie Harper of the UK Subs.  And one of the last living Ramones.  And Peter Hook.  And Don Letts doing a crazy spliffed out cosmic-level skanking DJ set.  And Jilted John.  (And alright Spizz, you’re a legend too, mate.)  And… fuck… I’m forgetting people… but it’s telling that there are so many damn legends around that I can’t even remember all of them, and that they aren’t too up themselves to hang around with everyone and chat with the punters or charge five hundred quid for a meet and greet thing. Living Legends.  They’re everywhere.  Only outnumbered by the ghosts of the fallen legends who haunt the stages and are conjured up when Peter Hook plays Love Will Tear Us Apart, or CJ Ramone does Blitzkrieg Bop.  Ghosts and legends.  Ghosts of legends.  But anyway, onto the next reason why Rebellion is the best of all festivals:

5)   DirtBox Day.  DirtBox Day is the day the band Dirt Box Disco play.  Dirt Box Disco are the best British band you’ve probably never seen or heard.  On the day that Dirt Box are playing, you can hear everyone singing the happy little refrain ‘hooray, hooray, it’s Dirtbox Day’.  If you’ve seen Dirt Box Disco then you know what I’m on about and are nodding in agreement.  If you haven’t, then… well… seeing Dirt Box Disco at Rebellion is sort of like having been there for The Who at Leeds, or Nirvana at Reading, or Pink Floyd at Pompeii or… no, look, I’m not being hyperbolic here.  When a singer gives up on the song and just grins because the crowd knows all the words and is drowning him out, then you know something special is happening.  Dirt Box Disco at Rebellion makes everyone smile like snow during term time, or the first time a sexual partner says to you that they’re okay with doing that thing you want to try that you saw that time in that video.  Let me try to explain Dirt Box Disco.  First, they’ve got tunes – they know how to write a pop song with a singalong chorus that would make the beetle-browed brothers Gallagher reconsider their life choices.  The singer is a Juggalo in a onsie, the guitarist, known to his friends as Spunk Volcano, sports a one-eyed terrorist balaclava with an orange Mohican embroidered on the top and too small Captain America boxer shorts and no trousers They hold the all-time Blackpool record for Most Crowd Surfers.  You’ll see more people wearing Dirt Box Disco t-shirts at Rebellion than any other band, because all the punks love them, because they’re so bloody good.  If you want to play the game where you have to say they’re x meets y that marketing folk like to do when pitching films (Schindler’s List meets Transformers, Shawshank Redemption meets Dumbo.  On Acid – that sort of thing…) it’s probably impossible, but I’ll have a go anyway.  They’re 23% Insane Clown Posse. 9% Gimp. 11% Van Halen. 13% Gary Glitter (the singalong bits, not the paedo bits) 34% UK Subs.  19% Ramones.  21.5% Gwar.  8% Lady Gaga and 2% Your Mum.  Look… this probably isn’t helping. Just take my word for it that DirtBox Day is like punk Christmas.

Now I’ve convinced you that Rebellion Festival is Best Festival, I’ll try and review some of the bands I saw.  There were bloody hundreds of bands playing, so I couldn’t see all of them.  And some of the ones I did see, I was a bit wankered for and can’t remember.  But I’ll give it my best shot.

Oh, bloody hell… who did I even see… Okay, let’s look at the programme and try and remember…

(By the way, all headings should be links to the band’s Facebook page. Go give them all some love.)

Headstone Horrors

I bloody hate Headstone Horrors.  That’s not because they’re rubbish, but because they’re great, and I’ve got a horrorpunk band that’s sort of a bit like what they do, but they’ve got this amazing song called ‘Alone we are the Dead’, which is just too fucking good and I wish I’d written it and it’s got a fantastic hook and I bloody hate hate hate them for being talented and sexy and really good at what they do.  Fuckers.

Army of Skanks

Didn’t catch much of their set, but enjoyed what I did see.  Nasty women that play nastier.  Punker than thou in slinky dresses.  Consider this an honourable mention.

Drongos for Europe

Rum had happened by the time I saw Drongos for Europe, but one of their choruses stuck in my head anyway.  It was from a song about the fash and other assorted bigots, that went something like “You’ve never even met the people that you hate”, which is a valid criticism that I can get behind.

The Dwarves

The Dwarves are one of those legendary American Punk bands that I know fuck all about, except that they’re a legendary American Punk band.  Apparently that used to involve on-stage bumming and self-harm and getting into fights with the audience.  Sad to say that mostly didn’t happen this time.  Well, the guitarist was naked except for a Luchadore mask.  And the singer wanked him off a few times. What was the music like?  Oh, fuck, I dunno… I was utterly wankered by then.  I could go on youtube and look at some of their stuff and fake a review, but You’d Know, wouldn’t you?

IMG_8642

dwarves

Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs

Okay, hang on, I was sober when this lot played, so it’s obvious I’m not reviewing things in order here.  I’m afraid I’m jumping around a bit, as my notes are in a bit of a state.  You don’t care though, right?  Anyway… Hobo Jones…  Well, they describe themselves as a Skunk band – a mixture of Skiffle and Punk, no relation to any herbal substances (that’s their joke, by the way, not mine).  They’re sort of like The Wurzels crossed with Motörhead (Which is a funny coincidence, because a bloke called Würzel was in Motörhead) or sort of a bit like the Levellers.  Folk Punk basically.  Except it’s not Folk, it’s Skiffle.  Oh bloody hell, I hate trying to describe bands by pigeonholing them in genres or portmanteau-ing other bands and genres in order to communicate what they’re like.

Anyway… to relate an incident from last year, the Boomtown Rats played, and Bob Geldof insulted everyone and was a bit of a knobend and had most of his audience walk out on him.

So, this year, Hobo Jones did a version of the Jilted John (more on him later, as I saw him too) song ‘Gordon is a Moron’ but changed it to Geldof is a Moron’.  And everyone sang along.  Because Geldof probably isn’t coming back to Rebellion without getting a few hundred bottles of piss thrown at him.  I mean, he might have singlehandedly solved the problems of famine in Africa and brought about world peace and tried to sink Nigel Farage’s boat on the Thames, but he is a total felchwizard.

So, yeah, a few thousand people singing Geldof is a Moron’ was good times.  

(Not actually from Rebellion, but you get the idea)

CJ Ramone

As I said in the intro to this piece, one thing about Rebellion is the necromancy that occurs.  CJ Ramone was here (and to be fair, he did play some of his own original stuff) to conjure up the ghosts of the Ramones that have gone before by playing Ramones songs.  He kinda managed it.  Sometimes.  And, to be fair, he did actually sing in the Ramones sometimes, as well as playing bass, but I mean… it was good to hear those songs played live to a crowd like this, and everyone had a good time, but well… I think CJ misjudged the crowd somewhat by dedicating the song Commando to the Armed Forces and somehow failed to connect with the audience overall.  He was on safe ground with Blitzkrieg Bop and Sheena is a Punk Rocker and did bring some of the ghost of this old band back for these songs.  Although, talking of honoured ghosts, he closed with a version of the Motörhead song R.A.M.O.N.E.S, which was originally written by Lemmy as a tribute to the Ramones, but played here as a tribute to Lemmy.  That’s all kinds of recursive.

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Okay, look, I know they’re another of these Legendary American Punk Bands, or at least were part of one, or are important somewhere in the family tree of Punk in some sort of way that requires Venn diagrams, but they just didn’t do it for me.  I’ll leave it at that.

Bouncing Souls and TSOL

Okay, I’m gonna mention these guys together, because I was definitely well into the rum and several pints of fermented apples by then, and my memories are blurring together a bit.  What do you really want to know about a band in a review though? If it’s ‘were they any good’, then yeah, they were great and I had fun because they were playing.  The next question is ‘what were they like?’ which is a bit harder to answer briefly.  Well, to attempt to answer that, then how about: you know Blink 182 and Green Day and Less than Jake were kinda sweet Pop Punk that had some great songs, but you’re not sure whether you’re embarrassed by them or not, and they’re a slightly guilty pleasure, and you wish they were just a bit cooler, and a bit nastier, but still had good songs.

Well – Bouncing Souls and TSOL are that. Great Poppy Punk. But cool.

The Dickies

I was really looking forward to The Dickies. Never seen them before, but love some of their stuff – like the theme from the Banana Splits and Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Gigantor. The Dickies are a kinda novelty band that are deeply stupid but fun, and somehow managed to have become legends along the way by sticking to the stupid fun stuff.

However… when they hit the stage at Rebellion, the bass player had to tell the crowd that the singer had been taken into hospital the day before with something seriously wrong.  He wasn’t joking.  Now, that sort of thing would normally fuck a band, despite the goodwill of the crowd, but what we got instead was a scratch rota of guys from other bands all coming up and doing Dickies songs with them.

I’ve had to look up who was there (see above bit about booze consumption) but here’s the list:

Brad of Leftover Crack

Ross of GBH

Blag of The Dwarves

Spike of Conflict

Dean of Extreme Noise Terror

Wattie of Exploited

Eugene of Rezillos

Jackie of Girlschool

Knox of The Vibrators

Andy of The Witchdoktors

And one of their roadies did some stuff too.  And apparently some bloke from Wales who knew all their songs and fancied having a go and helping out.

Now, it would have been cool to have had Leonard, their singer do a set (and get well soon, dude) but damn… if you’re going to have a load of special guests fill in for you, that list was sure as hell one way to get the crowd on your side and make something of it.

The Pukes

After The Dickies, I somehow found myself sitting in the Opera House for The Pukes.  A rockabilly ukulele orchestra.  Sitting down was lovely.  So were The Pukes.  And then I had a few more drinks and hung out with people and then passed out.

Werecats

I think I saw Werecats the next day.  Or maybe it was earlier the previous day. I dunno.  Anyway, you should go listen to Werecats.  Their songs are a bit like the theme to the Powerpuff Girls cartoon.  This is a compliment by the way, as if you don’t like the Powerpuff Girls or their song, then I’m sorry, but we can’t be friends anymore.  Werecats were all razortight fringes and hit hard growly guitars and close harmonies.  I ran into one of their singers at another gig recently and told her how much I enjoyed their set, but also made a bit of a twat of myself by trying to be funny by asking whether they are cats (we’re cats), whether they used to be cats (were cats) or whether they turn into cats at full moon (were-cats).  Argh so embarrassed by when drunk Ali tries to be funny argh why am I telling you this now even argh

Wonk Unit

One of the British Pub Punk scene’s standard fixtures.  We all love them.  They’re stupid.  That’s why we love them.  Everyone that’s been in a Punk band in England has probably supported Wonk Unit at some point.  Wonk Unit somehow manage to have their own unique look and sound.  There’s not really anything quite like them.  If I’ve got to bandportmanteau to describe them, then the best I can do is Black Lace (that band wot did Agadoo) meets The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.  And I have no idea how that ends up being Punk.

Anti-Nowhere League

I probably should apologise to a few people for going to see Anti-Nowhere League.  There was a bit of a boycott suggested because some of their lyrics are supposedly not anti-nowhere, but anti-gay.  Now, the singer, Animal, has explained that the lyrics in question were taken from an overheard conversation and not his personal views and he’s trying to make some sort of point about society being homophobic, so I’ve taken the view that… well… I just wanted to see them do So What and We Are The League really… and they’re probably not homophobic.  And, well… they’re nearly up there with Judas Priest in terms of tight leather and studs and… you can probably see where I’m going with this.

Anyway, dear reader, I did see them do those songs and they were lovely.  Anti-Nowhere League are sort of kin to Motörhead in the place they slot into in British music. Like Motörhead, they’re a big influence on US metal bands like Metallica and they play the kind of dirty fast Rock ‘n’ Roll like Motörhead, that Punks can get behind, even if it’s not strictly Punk.

Peter Hook and the Light

Let’s start right away with this one by saying that this set was the highlight of the weekend for me.  If you don’t know who Peter Hook is, then let me just explain quickly that he was the bass player in Joy Division and in New Order and ran the Hacienda nightclub, which was where British House Music and the Madchester scene came from.  He’s someone that’s one of those legends I was talking about earlier.  Because that’s not just one band or one event that changed music.  That’s three.  And tonight he was performing necromancy.  He was playing a set of the music he’d played in Joy Division, invoking the tragic Ian Curtis, his mate.

Now, Peter Hook wasn’t the singer in Joy Division, but his status as legend is more than earned, and tonight, playing those songs to this crowd – which probably included some people who’d even seen Joy Division the first time around – he couldn’t afford to be a half-arsed cover version.

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And, maybe it was because of the amazing acoustics of the Opera House he was playing in.  Maybe it was because I was right up at the front.  Maybe it was because he looked all of us there at the front right in the damn eyes as he was giving it his all.

But this was transcendent stuff.

This is great material, and the sound was perfect, and Hooky’s big hammering boomy clunking almost cello-like bass went right through us all, and by the time he hit Shadowplay, with its sinister, doom-laden opening bass riff that marked the birth of Goth back in the late 70s, there was no fiddling with phones, nothing but being lost in that song – and Peter Fucking Hook is looking me right square in the eyes and growling ‘To the centre of the city in the night, waiting for you…’ at me.

It doesn’t get better than that.

Except he then dropped Dead Souls.

Now Dead Souls also changed music and pop culture.  Not the Joy Division original as such, but Nine Inch Nails’ cover of it, on the soundtrack for The Crow, which was the album where grunge went dark and Brandon Lee running over rooftops and dying turned a pretty good film into something that meant a lot to us mixed up Generation Xers, it was a film and a soundtrack that brought back Goth and gave disillusioned kids something old, and something new, and something borrowed, to listen to.

I have taken the piss a bit in some of these reviews, and a lot of what I’ve said isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but there, that night, in that dark opera house full of phantoms, the dead souls of Ian Curtis and Brandon Lee came like Loa to rum and moved through us and I really fucking mean it.

You probably think I’m talking shit, but some of you… some of you… will know what I mean and have experienced your own version of touching the arcane in a time and place like that.

Oh, and he then played Love Will Tear Us Apart.  A bleak song about separation and alienation.

And every damn person in the place sang along like it was Dancing Queen at a hen night.

Kunt and the Gang

And then there was Kunt.  Go look him up on Youtube.  But not if you’re at work.  Kunt and the Gang is really just one bloke, called Kunt.  Kunt had apparently got stuck in traffic on his way to Blackpool, and had been supposed to play earlier on one of the smaller stages, but the opera house was pretty packed out for him, so that probably turned out for the best.

Now, let’s not beat about the bush. Kunt should be banned.  And incarcerated.  There should be no place in right-thinking society for someone that performs with a puppet of Jimmy Savile, which attempts to defend itself for being a vile paedo by blaming it all on sexy kids.  I mean, really…

But let’s face it, we’re all a bit broken.  We’ve all gone wrong.

Everything’s so fucked that we need a Kunt to talk about all those horrible things that we’re not sure it’s okay to think about, and make us feel a bit better about ourselves for thinking things like them too.

I think I got some sleep after Kunt.

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(me and Kunt and an octopus.  Upside down.  Because fuck you, that’s why)

Interrobang

Remember Chumbawumba?  The radical anarchist band that got accused of selling out when they decided to write a hit single with Tubthumping – the ‘I fall down, but I get up again, whisky drink vodka drink, fall down get up etc song.

Well, Interrobang is the bloke singer wot was in Chumbawumba’s new band.  I’m not going to give them much space here, as they were a bit pants.  With all the collateral material talk about ‘Agitpunk’ I was hoping for something like old Chumbawumba, and the singer walking in from the back of the room yelling into a megaphone was quite 90s Politicopop, but aside from the guitarist using a looper to build up tracks, which was kinda cool, everything else was a bit dull.  Oh well.  Not sure if it’s me that’s stuck in the past, or them, but actually, you know what, why am I wasting words on this?  Next!

The Kut

Okay, go and find their stuff right now.  The Kut were fucking excellent.  One of the bands on the ‘Rebellion Introducing’ newcomers stage, The Kut absolutely melted faces with epic guitar widdling.  I mean, yeah, epic guitar widdling isn’t usually a Punk thing, but damn… this was good… It’s a bit of a cliché to use Hole as a reference point for woman fronted guitar bands, but Hole are clearly a big influence on The Kut.

And I don’t want to risk appearing sexist by saying that you don’t normally see epic face melting guitar widdling from a woman, because there are loads of women playing in bands at Rebellion, but managing to get high level shredding into a riot grrl type punk set made me go ‘whoa… damn… The Kut are fucking excellent’.  Musically, they’re better than Hole and the Kuts’ singer, Maha, is a much better guitar player than Courtney Love.  If any of the bands on the Introducing stage are going to break through and get big, it’s these guys.  Or Werecats.  Probably both.  Hopefully.

Spizz

Oh, Spizz.  Spizz, Spizz, Spizz

Spizz is a sort of legend.  He had the first number one on the Indie music chart with a song about Star TrekWhere’s Captain Kirk?

He dresses in clothes with his logo all over them, that he makes himself, and is never short of glowing LEDs and flashy things.  His social media feeds seem to consist of him mostly eating Cornettos in the bath.  He seems to have kept going in the music business, somehow, since he had his few hits and has kept touring on a fairly low level, forever.

But… the Star Trek number one he had wasn’t his one trick.  He’s actually got a few decent songs, and a couple more really good ones, and knows how to get a Pop hook into a Punk track.  I think that makes him New Wave, if we’re going to stick a genre on what he does.  Not the world’s Rawkiest Rawkstar or Punkiest Punk, but with the Michael Crawford-ish voice and flashy stuff from Cyberdog and New Rocks, he’s sort of like Frank Spencer does Cybergoth.

Anyway, Spizz does what Spizz enjoys, and Spizz enjoys entertaining a crowd and working it.  And he did that.  His band are really bloody good too.  I reckon a song he wrote a couple of years ago –  City of Eyes – would have been a big hit if it had been released in the 80s, but times change, and well, I have no clue whatsoever what makes it into the charts these days, so am unqualified to judge anything’s contemporary hit-worthiness.  But Spizz writes great songs and always brings the fun.  And yeah, good backing band.

Jilted John

Jilted John is another one hit wonder, but what a wonderful hit.  The legend this time isn’t the performer, but the tale being told.

Every Punk knows the legend of Julie, stolen away from our hero by the nefarious Gordon.

And approximately 34.77% of the British population can’t hear the name Gordon spoken anywhere without it being followed up in their heads with the refrain ‘Gordon is a moron, Gordon is a mo-ooor-oooon’.

But what they might not have known is that there’s more than one song about Julie and John and Gordon, and here tonight, John sang the whole sordid tale for us.  I don’t really know what we were expecting.  I mean, I don’t think anyone thought that Jilted John would just turn up and sing about Julie and Gordon and crying all the way to the chip shop after being dumped, and leaving after one song, but expanding on the legend was like discovering that George Lucas had actually made more than three Star Wars films and hadn’t just given up filmmaking after Return of the Jedi, and the promised prequel series had been made after all and they had fascinating storylines and great acting.  What?  No, there are no Star Wars prequels.  Yes, I’m quite sure about that.  Shut up.

But yes, tonight John took us on the musical journey through his teenage lovelife in the era of punk, and a few thousand people sang along and called Gordon a moron too.

It occurs to me that despite the legend of Gordon the Moron being massively entrenched in pop culture, Jilted John had probably never played to a crowd this size before, so having that many people agree with him that Gordon was indeed a moron was possibly quite cathartic for the poor chap.

I really hope we helped him get over Julie.

Gordon, eh?  What a cunt.

The Old Firm Casuals

The Old Firm Casuals are one of Lars Frederikson’s bands when he’s not playing in Rancid – one of the great recent American Punk bands.  Rancid’sAnd Out Come the Wolves’ is genuinely a contender for a place in the top ten best Punk albums ever, although it’s probably more influenced by Ska and Two Tone and Jamaican rhythms than British Punk Rock.  But Lars is a massive nerd for British bands and probably has more records from all of the other bands on Rebellion’s line-up than anyone else there.

The Old Firm Casuals is Lars’ love letter to Oi bands and Skinheads and Football chants and working class British culture. From anyone else it might come across as a bit insincere and like someone from Guildford going over to Texas and touring with a Country and Western band they’d decided to call ‘The Alamo Cowboys’, but seeing as Lars isn’t just a massive fan of this sort of music, but has actually produced records for Oi bands like The Business, and wasn’t just watching from the side of the stage, but was right there in with the crowd when GBH were playing, he’s more than earned the right to be considered a part of the British Punk and Skin scene too on his own terms.

What was The Old Firm Casuals’ set like though?  Immense.  It started and didn’t stop and whilst, by its nature, it didn’t consist of classic songs that everyone knew, it was like being nutted in the face in the loveliest way possible.  It was distilled sonic violence. Like the feeling of getting into a ruck after pub chucking out time and winning every fight you started.

Talking of which…

The Damned

Or:– Ali Nearly Gets Into a Fight During The Damned’s Set But Sorts Everything Out Via The Healing Power Of Rum

Dave Vanian, being one of the undead, needed the sun to go down before he could emerge, but as darkness fell across Blackpool, it was time for The Damned to play.

I’d managed to secure myself a prime spot, right at the front and centre of the stage, although not quite up at the barrier.  Now, as it was summer-late darkness, and three days into a festival, much had been consumed in terms of booze and other delicious intoxicants.  Personally, I’d been relying on a squashy plastic pouch full of rum. You can get them on eBay to smuggle booze into venues with ridiculous bar prices where you’ll get patted down and actual bottles banned.  They’re sort of like a small colostomy bag.  But that this all meant was that the crowd was tanked up and heaving and sweating pure alcohol and Neat Neat Neat and New Rose make the pit go off big time.

Punk pits are a bit different to Metal pits.  Metal pits have rules and are generally fairly friendly affairs.  If you fall, you get picked up.  Most Punk pits are like that.  But some of the old farts (and by that, I mean people older than me) and proper nutters will really give it some.

Now what happened was that there were a couple of smaller kids right up against the barriers, and a woman who was using a wheelchair who were right down at the front too (and why the fuck shouldn’t they be?) and were getting a bit squashed and battered.  But, having been a county-level Rugby player in my time, and a bit of a gym bunny of late too, if I don’t want to be moved, I generally don’t get moved.  Yeah, I’m fucking hardcore, okay.  So, I put myself between the kids getting squished and the woman in the wheelchair, and the pit, and I don’t fucking move.  A couple of people crash into me and I push them away.

Then, some guy gets all scratchy and pinchy and without actually hitting me, is clearly trying to hurt me.  So, I’m like, WTF DUDE and push him away.  Hard.  At this point, one of the people in front of me has had enough and looks like she’s about to faint, and another guy is going ‘argh fuck, my back’, but they’re in the wrong place and can’t get to the barrier for the security guys to pull them out.

And there’s still a pit going on all round us, and it’s mostly old Punks who have no fucks to give, which is cool, but we’ve got one guy who’s done something to his back and a girl who looks like she’s going to faint.  So, I use my arms and push a bit and try to get a channel out to the side for them, so they can GTFO of there.  The women in the wheelchair has a few people surrounding her who are quite enjoying pushing pogo-pillocks and mosh-monkeys away, so she’s okay now, and the people helping her out get the idea that we need to make an escape route, but I’ve still got to push the scratchy bloke the hell out of the way, and a couple of other aggro-muppets need bouncing the other way too.

I think everything’s sorted, when I get someone all up in my face, doing the stabby pointed finger thing in my chest. I shall relay our conversation below:

Old Punk: OI! MATE! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GET FUCKING HURT, YOU DON’T GO DOWN THE FRONT FOR THE FUCKING DAMNED!

Ali: THOSE PEOPLE WERE FUCKED AND NEEDED OUT, WHAT THE FUCK’S YOUR PROBLEM WITH THAT? WE LOOK AFTER EACH OTHER.

Old Punk: WELL, YOU WERE BEING TOO FUCKING ROUGH CHUCKING PEOPLE ABOUT AND YOU WERE GOING TO SERIOUSLY HURT SOMEONE IF YOU CARRIED ON!

Ali: WELL, IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GET FUCKING HURT YOU DON’T GO DOWN TO THE FRONT FOR THE FUCKING DAMNED – THAT GOES BOTH WAYS, MATE.

Old Punk: (lunges at me) RAAAARGH YOU CAAAAAAAAANT

Rest of crowd nearby: (grabs him) IT AIN’T WORTH IT, LEAVE HIM. IT AIN’T WORTH IT.

Ali: (sticks hand out, offering it to him for peace and sorting this out) Come on, here, it’s sorted now, let’s shake and have a drink. (Offers colostomy bag with rum in)

Old Punk: Aaaaargh, alright, life’s too short (glug glug glugh on the rum)

Then he gives me a hug and we’re all friends again and then Dave Vanian turns into a bat and flies around a bit before landing back on the stage to stalk sinisterly about and sing some more legendary songs and then Captain Sensible grabs the mic.

The Captain: Right everyone, it’s that time of night where if you don’t cheer loud enough, I’m playing Happy Talk, but if you do, you get Smash It Up!

All the Punks in Blackpool: (sings) SEN-SI-BLE’S A WANKER! SEN-SI-BLE’S A WANKER! NA NAA NAA NAA, NA NAA NAAA NAAAH SENSIBLE’S A WANKER, SENSIBLE’S A WANKER NA NAA NAAA!

The Captain: Oh, that’ll do I suppose! (Plays Smash It Up)

All the Punks In Blackpool: (Go fucking nuts)

The Captain: (Shows his arse to the crowd and leaves the stage)

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Jello Biafra

After the Damned, I wandered back to the Opera House, where Jello Biafra was holding court and being interviewed by John Robb of the UK Punk band Goldblade.  Now, Jello’s another legend from his time with the Dead Kennedys, which are one of the most articulate and interesting of the American Punk bands, because they actually knew what they were protesting against.

The Dead Kennedys were the dark shadow of the hippy movement, born at the moment when it was obvious that peace and love weren’t going to get America out of ‘Nam and the religious right-wing and censorship from both sides of the political spectrum were going to have to be fought with articulate activism instead.

For purposes of space, and let’s be fair, I have gone on quite a bit here, (and congratulations and thank you to those of you that are sticking with it), so I’ll leave reviewing his set, and talk about his speaking, as Jello did drop some science here in the after-midnight Opera House that I’d retreated to once again.

The first thing was his thoughts on Donald Trump.  The question was something along the lines of ‘how the hell has this muppet gotten this far and could he really win?’ and Jello’s answer was along the lines of that Trump is such a ridiculous and offensive idiot that the American news, which is built on entertainment and outrage rather than actual reporting, loves him because he provides them with so much material.  He’s the political equivalent of a radio shock jock.  Trump can say whatever he wants and get away with it, and he knows it, because of the airtime it gets.

Jello doesn’t hold back on Trump and his barely concealed racism, but explaining the root of his success as being a creature that feeds the news cycle and the exposure managing to reach people that his arseholery appeals to in a way that most arsehole candidates can’t usually manage, is fairly obvious really, but hearing someone actually put it that way is enlightening.

Jello also explained that the people that want someone like Trump to be president are extremely engaged with the political process, and definitely will vote.  They’re not apathetic or lazy and it’s a mistake to think that Trump might not win, because of the energy that horrible people have when they want to pick an even more horrible person to be horrible to people they hate.

The second thing Jello talked about that resonated with a lot of his audience of late night drunk punks is about punk’s relationship with anarchism and socialism.

Now – let me relate another brief anecdote – when I was on the train up to Rebellion, the carriage was full of Punks on their way to Blackpool, and the conductor who was checking the passenger’s tickets did that hilarious thing where he was trying to tell the Punks he was very glad that they were all conformists now and not being rowdy anarchists on his train.  There was also the really boring wank about ‘why do you say you’re individuals when you’re all wearing the same gear?’ (Seriously, if you’ve ever formed thoughts like that, please fuck off and stop reading things I write, because we really can’t be friends if that’s your thing.  Even if you give me rum.  No one actually says that shite about being an individual really, and in any case, tribal identify signifiers are not the same as uniform.)  The conductor thought he was being funny by implying that Punks being anarchists and individuals wasn’t true, and that this was an original thought of his that was somehow something he needed to impart to us all ad nauseum.  Fucking yawn.

Anyway, back to Jello and the purpose for that digression…

I didn’t write down his exact words, but Jello said that he started out as an angry anarchist, and just wanted to break and expose a system that didn’t work and was unfair.  But that when he got involved in campaigning on issues and blocking arseholes from the religious-right that were trying to get influence on schools and on other issues on a local level by making sure they weren’t voted into positions of influence, he realised that if organised effectively, voting could affect local outcomes to a significant degree that changed things for people in tangible ways.

He also explained – and this is where train wanker missed the point spectacularly – that his version of Punk, and that of many Punks he saw himself as aligned with, had evolved from anarchism to socialism because the penny dropped that even if you won and you beat the system and got into a position where you could redistribute wealth that was originally unfairly obtained, you still needed an administrative process for doing so.  And that’s socialism.

That got a big round of applause.   And, well, it’s hardly top-level economics, but it made a lot of sense in terms of how Punks managed to get old and not betray the values of their younger selves, or abandon the things they cared about, but evolve and mature.

Louise Distras

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Louise Distras is one of the best young performers in the country. She’s earned a place on the main stage at Rebellion with a mixture of hard work and talent and attitude.  And by ‘attitude’ I don’t mean being a crap cliche and posing and pouting with smudged lipstick and torn tights, but the attitude that if you want something, you need to get the hell on with it, and some people can just fuck off, and if something’s holding you back, you find a way round it and don’t wait for someone to give you permission to be a singer and make music.

As I mentioned in the intro, Louise started out at Rebellion by busking outside, and has made her way to the main stage with hard work and great songs.  Those songs are Nirvana chords and Billy Bragg lyrics, with a hint of the storytelling style of, oddly enough, Phil Lynott or Kirsty McColl. By that I don’t mean they’re unoriginal, but they’re a set of influences that work well together and are something we haven’t heard before.

She’s not afraid to pick a fight when standing up for a cause, and Louise is someone who’ll message you directly on Facebook to invite you to her shows, and has a bit of time for a chat, but whom you’ll also see diving into arguments with the kind of bigoted alt-right hate creep keyboard warriors that are threatened by any woman with a voice, let alone one with a loud guitar.

What’s the set like though?  Well, it’s raw. At times there’s feedback, due to not having fifty grand’s worth of gear and a gang of techs, like some of the other bands here have. The songs about fighting for a better life have an authenticity to them, and when Louise announces new material, it seems to have moved on from the poems of a girl with dreams and a cheap guitar, and to have a message for everyone else, and more bite, and are stories about serial killers and rape culture amongst anthems that advise us to ‘fall in love, don’t fall in line’.

Despite the anger, there’s love in her work too, and it shows on stage. Whilst obviously despairing a bit at the state of things, there’s no cynicism in terms of trying to write crowd-pleasers for the sake of shifting units, and of all the younger performers at Rebellion, Louise Distras has probably got the most to say about the world.  And damn… despite a lot of her singing style sounding like her vocal cords have been soaked in enough cigarettes and whiskey to keep Keith Richards happy for a few years, when she wants to hold a note or power through a chorus, the whole crowd can feel it.

Dirt Box Disco

Now, I’ve written about Dirt Box Disco in the intro, so I won’t go on about them at length here, but I’ll just say again that if you get the chance, go and see Dirt Box Disco.  I haven’t especially got any amusing anecdotes from their set this time.

(Video from last year.  I was there for this too and it was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen.  This year’s set was more mental, but last year had the better crowd singing.  Just watch this.)

Except for the little kids that were dressed as guitarist Spunk Volcano, who got brought on stage to rock out with the band.

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And the blatant piss-taking of the head of security that had told them not to encourage crowd surfing.  I mean… that was never going to be a good idea, right?  I have no idea how many crowd surfers there were, but at one point they were going over every couple of seconds.

More good times.

Okay, this is going on a bit now.  I have no idea how many of you have got this far, but if you have, well done and thank you.  I’ve probably skipped a few bands, as some I saw and I can’t remember what the hell they were called, or much about them, but I’m not gonna leave without talking about Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons, and Extreme Noise Terror.

Pussycat and the Dirty Johnsons

Off all the great bands and performances and legends at Rebellion, there’s one thing it’s rare to find.

Something different and original.

Pussycat is the sum of several influences – Soo Catwoman’s bihican, Julie Newmar skintights and tail, Cabronita RockNRolla Rockabilly beat via the Cramps and Meteors – but the sum of those influences is something we’ve not really seen before.

We’re back in the Opera House again, and at one point, Pussycat jumps off the stage, climbs over the seats (with the nimblest and most graceful cat-like elegance) and perches atop a seatback to purrrrrr at someone awhile.

I mean, if you’re gonna channel your inner kitty and not just keep that to Furry conventions but take it out to the Punkest of Punk festivals, you’ve obviously got no feline fucks to give.  So jumping off the stage to scent-mark a member of the audience is nothing.  I mean, sure, Jello Biafra stagedived during the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine’s set, but he didn’t take the mic with him and purr and growl at the audience.

What the hell must it take for someone to go: I know – I’ll be a cat and start an amazing rockabilly-punk band’?

What decisions did they make in their lives that brought them to this point?  Maybe Pussycat’s not a human pretending to be a cat, but a cat pretending to be a human?  Maybe there was a teleportation accident and Pussycat was once a scientist who was heading for a matter transportation breakthrough, but a careless kitty had fallen asleep inside the telepod and they fused and the kittyscientist hybrid said ‘fuck science, let’s rock’.

We may never know, but I for one, am glad that whatever happened, happened.

Meow.

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Extreme Noise Terror

The greatest moment in Pop music?  No question.

It was The KLF leaving the music industry after playing 3AM Eternal at the Brit Awards with Extreme Noise Terror and Bill Drummond shooting a (sadly fake) machine gun into the audience made up of the music industry’s horriblest bastards, including Jonathan King and Stock, Aitken and Waterman.  (I’m kidding about wishing it weren’t fake, I wouldn’t really have wanted everyone there to die.  Well, except Jonathan King.)

Anyway – the KLF are the greatest Punk band that I’ve never seen play live, and in all likelihood won’t ever get to see, but being able to see Extreme Noise Terror sort of made up for that.  It’s a bit unfair of me to bring my feelings about the KLF to this show, but because that Brit Awards was such a massive big deal – a multi-million selling chart band that were taking the piss the whole time, that really did choose to chuck it all in at the height of their success and go out in a brilliant blaze of hellfire, I can’t avoid talking about it. 

But –  that hellfire, Extreme Noise Terror brought it again tonight.

You might think that you like some nasty music and have some pretty heavy tastes, but you can fuck off with your Megadeth and Slayer and Deftones.  In terms of near unlistenable energy-filled evil noise, then unless you’re going to talk about Merzbow or Lou Reed, then no one else even comes close to Extreme Noise Terror.

Why then, would you want to listen to ENT?  Or go and see them?

Everyone’s got a different answer to that, I suppose. For me a lot of it was paying tribute for the KLF thing, but leaving that aside, there’s something of the gazing into the abyss about a band like Extreme Noise Terror.

Sometimes you’re curious about how far things can go and how nasty they can get.  It’s not enough to say it’s primal.  Primal these days is a load of bollocks about not washing for a couple of days and sitting up all night drumming.  I don’t think Extreme Noise Terror have washed for decades.  They’re not primal or primordial.  They’re the Protogenoi.  They’re the sound of the void.  And that sort of puts everything else in perspective.

Yay though I’m strolling through the Valley of Death, I have no fucks to give because I survived an Extreme Noise Terror gig.

The End

Well, there you go.  That was Rebellion.  Apologies to the bands I missed, or did see but was too drunk to remember, or saw and enjoyed but forgot what your band was called.

Now the thing about all festivals is that on the first and second day you wish that this was what your life was like forever, but by the Sunday you’re longing for a bath and swearing you’ll never drink again and want some sanity back.

But Rebellion isn’t really like that.  I think I really could live there.  You lose a little bit of yourself at a festival like this.  Or get in touch with yourself (in a totally-non-hippy-bollocks type way), because you’re in a liminal space where you have to engage with it and go with it and make your peace with it all.  This isn’t peace and love.  It’s not bloody Glastonbury.  It’s more civilised that that, but at the same time it’s much darker and nastier too.  And there’s more truth here.  If truth is a thing.  And more art.  And soul. 

Despite the near fights and neo-fascists and broken down town, it really is Best Festival.

I’m supposed to give a score when reviewing gigs.  But you can’t score this shit.  If you had to, it would be a billionty-one out of ten. So:

Score:  A billionty-one out of ten

(NB. Pictures are all mine.  Videos are from Youtube and the copyright of their respective uploaders and/or the performers.  If you have a problem with their use here then fuck off please get in touch and I’ll be happy to amend them and/or give full credit.)

Graspop 2016 – Day 3

Day 3 started with some actual nice weather for a change, so of course when it’s hot and sunny and you’re already exhausted from the previous two days, the obvious thing to do is to head out early to see the first band in one of the tents, right?

Graspop 2016 SikTh

Well, as crazy an idea as that sounds, I stand by my decision because it meant I got to see an excellent performance from the recently reformed SikTh.  I’m not overly convinced that having such a weird and technical band on first was necessarily the best of suggestions, but SikTh made the most of the small and at first relatively unenthusiastic crowd.  It took a lot of effort to win most of them over, but they certainly succeeded in getting people going for the day ahead.  What impressed me most though was the sound.  Given the technical problems of the first day, I really was impressed with how well they set the sound up for the first act on, especially as SikTh are the kind of band where getting that slightly wrong really would matter. I must say, I’m exceptionally glad they’ve reformed at that I was able to see them. 7/10

Graspop 2016 Delain

Delain were the band on the main stage as SikTh finished, so we missed the start of their set, but to be honest I’m just disappointed that we didn’t miss all of it.  I’d seen Delain before and they were rubbish then, but this was six years ago and I thought I’d give them the benefit of the doubt this time and see what they were like this time around.  They have not improved however, and I can’t see myself making the same mistake in future.  Their dull and monotonous songs were matched only by an equally boring performance which just added nothing to the experience and completely failed to gain any real reaction from the crowd.  Even for one of the first bands on in the day this was not a crowd reaction anybody should be proud of. 4/10

Graspop 2016 Sick Of It All

The same definitely cannot be said for Sick Of It All.  Despite only being there because they were drafted as last-minute replacements for Architects, you could have been fooled into thinking half the people there had bought tickets to the entire festival specifically to see them, so enthusiastic was the response.  The band too didn’t seem like one who had only turned up at the last minute, but like one who really wanted to be there and absolutely belonged there.  Energetic and engaging throughout, Sick Of It All‘s one major fault was that from my perspective (someone who didn’t know more than one or two songs beforehand) all of their songs sounded the same and consequently the initial excitement wore off when it all seemed to get a little too repetitive.  Still, if this is the kind of band that gets brought to your festival as a back-up, it suggests your festival is really doing something right. 7/10

Graspop 2016 Overkill

Overkill may not have been a bad band to see live, were it not for the fact that they obviously replaced their usual lead singer with a cross between a parrot and the Wicked Witch of the West.  He sounded dreadful and he squawked and screeched his way through the set while somehow maintaining an arrogant persona throughout.  Even without that though, the performance was just bad; laden with sloppy playing all over the place and a real sense that the band was trying just that little bit too hard and thought just a little too much of themselves.  Combine that attitude with a bad show and it just becomes embarrassing, which (given that the highlight of the show was when the lead singer fell over after trying to do a cool move) is really the most fitting way to describe the show.  When my friend asked me who I thought the worst band of the festival was, I said Overkill before he’d even finished the sentence.  It wasn’t even close.  3/10

Graspop 2016 Shinedown

Thankfully I had elected to stay on the other side of the stage divide meaning that I had an excellent spot for Shinedown.  They are another band where you sort of have to wonder about what they need to do in order to get a spot higher up on the bill.  They were excellent from first to last playing a mixture of newer tracks and older crowd pleasers and getting the balance between engaging the crowd and playing through a decent selection of their discography absolutely spot on in my view.  I have known Brent to go on a bit in between songs, but the only time he did this he ventured into the crowd itself to a great response and the whole stunt provided an excellent steady build up into the dynamic opening to Enemies, which got the whole crowd jumping despite the building heat. From this to getting everybody singing along to Second Chance, Shinedown proved that they could pull off songs of all varieties to excellent effect.  I just wish they’d had a bit longer to show themselves off, to be honest. 9/10

Graspop 2016 Saxon

They did have to make way for Heavy Metal legends Saxon though which, let’s face it, is hardly much of a step down. Saxon put in a very different kind of performance with far less energy, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t also very good.  Saxon put their many years of experience to great use delivering song after song as well as if they were in the recording studio.  And with such a rich back catalogue to choose from, you can definitely let your music do the talking.  There was a bit of a stage show which came into play as the set progressed, which helped keep things fresh and interesting.  Again, for Saxon I ended up staying on the other side of the barrier, but this time around I definitely envied those who did not.  I sort of can’t believe it took me this long to see them for the first time, but rest assured I shall not be leaving it quite so long next time. 8/10

Graspop 2016 Mark Tremonti

The reason we did stay put is because my friend wants Mark Tremonti‘s babies (and let’s face it, who can blame him for that).  Tremonti are an act who also let their music do the talking and even though the band only has three albums to pick from, there still is plenty of good quality material to make that work.  I personally was a little disappointed that they didn’t include more from their most recent album Dust, but given that it hasn’t been out all that long, they can definitely be forgiven for that.  The main problem with the show though was less to do with the band themselves and more to do with the crowd.  It seemed to me that most of the people there were just there because they’d heard of Mark Tremonti and when his band subsequently failed to play anything they actually knew, it just turned into a crowd-surfing fest meaning that those of us who do actually like their music had to spend the vast majority of the gig with our backs to them to prevent getting our necks broken.   It was one of those times where I can’t put my finger on anything specifically wrong with the performance as-such; it’s just that they didn’t have that something extra required to keep the crowd’s interest.  7/10

Graspop 2016 Powerwolf

Powerwolf had to be viewed from a distance because I’d never heard of them before the festival and again, food is necessary.  With a name like Powerwolf though I could sort of guess what to expect, and whilst I could not have predicted the exact details, I had gotten the gist pretty right.  Ridiculous personas ahoy!  Powerwolf had it all – costumes, rituals and, it must be said, some pretty decent sounding songs.  I imagine that seeing Powerwolf, for me, might be what it’s like to see Ghost live if you don’t already know their music.  A bizarre cult-like experience that because of the tongue-in-cheek absurdity of it all did unfortunately leave me feeling a little isolated from it all because I wasn’t already a fan and I felt that they didn’t really do much to cater for that.  This is something I feel I may need to rectify for next time, but for this time as soon as the original novelty wore off I found myself getting very bored very quickly.  6/10

Graspop 2016 Anthrax

I swear Anthrax are bloody stalking me, because they seem to appear at almost every festival I go to so long as they’re actually touring that year.  Either that or I’m stalking them, it’s definitely one of the two.  Whichever way round it is though, I’m not complaining because Anthrax are one of the most consistently good live bands around.  They always bring a combination of energy and presence to every show and this time was no exception.  I personally was very glad that they chose to do a few songs from their new album For All Kings, because I think it’s one of the best of the year, and the rest of the crowd seemed to respond warmly to them too, despite the fact that there must have been a decent chunk who would not have heard them before.  The one criticism I have of Anthrax‘s set wasn’t the recent songs, it was the choice to play more obscure older ones at the expense of some of their real classics.  Whatever they choose to play though, I cannot imagine a situation where I wouldn’t have a thoroughly good time at an Anthrax show. 8/10

Graspop 2016 Trivium

I felt a little bit bad staying where I was instead of going over to the other stage for Trivium, but in my defence, I did see them back in March and I really wanted to get a decent spot for Maiden.  It’s not as if Trivium were bad even from such a distance though, to be fair to them.  Switching between old and new songs as if they were all as fresh as could be, Trivium put forward an interesting set which had a performance to match it.  All members except the drummer were rushing about making full use of the stage to engage as much of the crowd as possible (including our side, which is not something I can remember any other band doing so far at the festival).  Meanwhile Matt Heafy‘s charisma held everybody’s attention all the way through.  The whole performance makes me wonder whether Trivium are festival headliners of the future, as they certainly seemed to have most of the elements there to make it work.  I guess only time will tell on that front. It would have been great to have been closer, but still the show was a highly enjoyable experience. 8/10

Graspop 2016 Iron Maiden

What can I tell you about Iron Maiden that you don’t already know? Well for starters, Book of Souls songs sound a lot better live than they do on record.  My response to the album was lukewarm, I have to say, but I am now very glad that I got to see some of those songs performed live, as it really did add something which felt though it was missing on the album itself.  Despite being one of the main reasons why Book of Souls failed to really hit the spot with me, Bruce Dickinson was clearly back on top form tonight both as a singer and as a frontman, while the lengthy instrumental sections of lots of the Book of Souls songs gave the other members ample time in the spotlight.  They got through enough of their classics to keep the crowd happy too, but the highlight of the show (and of the whole festival) for me was Blood Brothers, which Bruce dedicated to the victims of the attacks in Orlando, Paris and Brussels.  A strange thing happened during that song.  My friend got smoke from someone’s cigarette in his eyes and at the same time my contact lenses started playing up.  We absolutely were NOT two grown men getting all teary over Iron Maiden.  Nope, never happened!  Wasted Years brought a perfect end to an almost perfect show.  What more could a Metalhead ask for than two hours of Iron-F***ing-Maiden on a Sunday evening? 10/10

Graspop 2016 Twisted Sister

How on earth do you follow Iron Maiden?  This was the problem which Twisted Sister needed to solve, as frontman Dee Snider pointed out himself.  As unenviable a task as that undoubtedly is, Twisted Sister did as good a job as is reasonably possible.  As much of a twat as he clearly is, Snider‘s charismatic side shines through as he gets the crowd singing their heart out to every song, even to the extent where they simply refused to shut up after they finished playing We’re Not Gonna Take It.  I have criticised other bands at Graspop for not engaging with the audience, but with Twisted Sister the crowd participation really is what the show is all about and it was much better for it.  Every member of the band added something to the performance though and Mike Portnoy took over drum duties from the late AJ Pero as if he’d been there for the whole forty years.  I guess for such a talented drummer that isn’t much of a surprise, but it was odd watching him play relatively simple parts on a normal-sized drum kit for once.  If I were in a band doing my last ever show in a country, that’s how I’d want to go out.  Twisted Sister were better than almost every other band at Graspop this year, but they weren’t quite Iron Maiden so they get a 9.5/10 instead.

And so with a subsequent fireworks display came the end of a most awesome festival before the mundane reality of driving on a Belgian motorway for 3 hours just to sit in a queue for the ferry for 3 and a half hours got underway.  I guess you can’t have everything in life but at Graspop you could get pretty darn close!  Road trip to Belgium in June 2017 anyone?

Graspop 2016 – Day 2

Day 2 of my trip to Graspop Metal Meeting began with me making it to the main stage just in time to be reliably informed that Municipal Waste were going to f*** me up before they promptly left the stage. I can’t help but think they probably should have opened with that one.

Lzzy Hale Graspop 2016

Halestorm were the first band I saw more than ten seconds of though, and it must be said they drew a very impressive crowd for so early in the day.  More importantly though, they came good on delivering what the crowd was there for with a solid performance. Lzzy Hale is clearly a fantastic frontwoman and had the crowd woken up and engaged pretty much instantaneously.  It helps that even for a band who haven’t been around all that long, they have a number of killer tracks which they are able to pull off well.  They are however guilty of a running theme of the festival in seemingly not realising that they aren’t headliners.  Halestorm are a young band with a short set and so could have done without a 5 minute drum solo midway through, which made the crowd quite spectacularly lose interest.  I then spent most of the rest of the set wondering how Lzzy Hale managed to get a Golden Gods award for her guitar playing when not only is she clearly not the best guitarist in rock right now, but she isn’t even the best guitarist in her own band.  They managed to recapture the crowd with their last song I Miss The Misery though, which left a far more positive impression than they otherwise might have had. 7/10

Graspop 2016 Pennywise

Pennywise however did not seem to leave much of an impression upon anyone, as far as I could see, unless it was a negative one and it wasn’t difficult to tell why.  Their stage presence was virtually non-existent and their playing felt rushed and sloppy, as the seemed to hope that laying fast songs could allow them to get away with this.

It couldn’t.

The lead singer and guitarist spent most of the time in between the songs making jokes to each other which just fell completely flat on the audience.  The fast-paced songs which make up most of Pennywise‘s discography do at least suit the festival atmosphere well, but to be honest that really was the band’s only saving grace and even the two covers they did of songs which are far more well-known than any of their own failed to get much of a reaction from me or the rest of the crowd. 4/10

Graspop 2016 Skindred

It’s interesting how much bands can vary in popularity between countries. A week ago Skindred were sub-headlining the second stage at Download, yet at Graspop they ended up going on in the middle of the day on their smallest stage.  Still, I personally wasn’t going to complain about that because it meant that they didn’t clash with anyone else I wanted to see, and as always they put in a killer performance. We clearly weren’t the only ones there who felt that Skindred could have done with being further up the bill as the stage was packed out for them.  Skindred have been a stellar live act for a number of years now and today was no exception.  Benji was his usual flamboyant self and an expert at getting the crowd moving, while Skindred with every new album are able to add more and more great songs to their live repertoire.  Again though, they perhaps could have done with a little less speech-making from Benji and a little more actual music, but it didn’t spoil the show on this occasion. I don’t know if Skindred will crack the European market anytime soon, but performances like this certainly won’t hurt their cause.  8/10

Graspop 2016 Killswitch Engage

Another band you sort of have to wonder what they need to do to get themselves higher up the bill is Killswitch Engage.  With the release of another new and fantastic album under their belt, I would have thought that they would certainly have enough to be playing an evening slot at the very least.  However, they did come out in what proved to be the last of the day’s sunshine and put in the best performance of the festival so far.  Organisers take note!  They had bags of energy with every member apart from the drummer making full use of the entire stage, but never at the expense of the music as they proceeded to just nail every single song.  Adam D was fantastically entertaining as usual and Jessie Leach was on terrific form as well.  I was happy to see that the band were prepared to throw in a fair few new songs and they definitely held their ground against the old classics.  Every song was pulled off with aplomb and I can’t imagine that one person walked away from that show without a great big smile on their faces. 9/10

Graspop 2016 Testament

Testament therefore had a pretty tough act to follow, but they managed to still make a good show out of it.  They also were very much not helped by the weather which chose that moment to take a pretty epic turn for the worse.  Testament battled on regardless though and definitely won the crowd over with a relentless set which showcased everything that is good about them, so you have to give them a lot of credit for that.  Whilst they rose to their challenge well, they just didn’t have that extra little bit that made seeing them a truly special experience; but they were definitely worth sticking around in the rain for. 7/10

The rain had stopped by the time that Dropkick Murphys took to the stage and found a crowd that was incredibly receptive to their fusion of punk and Irish folk music.  And who wouldn’t be when it works so well in a festival setting?  Of course it is possible that the reason so many people turned up was just to gloat at Belgium’s triumph over Ireland in the football earlier that day, but if that was the case then Dropkick Murphys soon put the focus back on their music where it rightly belonged.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see that there were a very large number of people in the crowd who clearly knew more of their back catalogue than I’m Shipping Up To Boston.  It’s not exactly difficult to enjoy Dropkick Murphys regardless of how many songs you know though, as the band who were celebrating 20 years showed a great mix of energy and experience to get the whole crowd dancing and singing along. 8/10

Graspop 2016 BFMV

I know that they’re quite a popular band to hate among many in the metal world, but Bullet For My Valentine by all accounts should be a great band to see live. Yes their songs are generic and often overplayed, but in a festival setting in particular that’s the sort of thing that should work well, even if it is on a bit of a guilty pleasure level for many.  However, when it comes down to it, there really is no other way to say it: BFMV are just boring!  Nobody in the band has any stage presence whatsoever and they spend almost the entire show stood static behind their microphones waiting for their singing parts.  The pyrotechnics seem like a massive token effort which really doesn’t help with anything other than warming the crowd up a bit on what was turning into a very cold evening.  They are saved by their songs, which most of the crowd knew and were able to sing along to, and the fact that they can at least play them well.  But put it this way, when the most entertaining bit of a band’s set is the moment you realise the band’s new bassist looks like Jack Whitehall, it doesn’t exactly show the band in that great a light. 6/10

Graspop 2016 Ghost

Needless to say, I didn’t think twice about making sure I sacrificed BFMV to get myself a great spot for Ghost. In fact, I would recommend that anyone does the same because Ghost are one of the best live bands around and their show at the London Palladium in March still holds top spot for best gig so far this year.  This time around however, Ghost were not quite up to their usual standard. This is not to say that they were in any way bad.  It’s just that they set such a high standard that a very good performance like this was actually ends up being below expectations.  Nothing was majorly wrong, it was just that Papa Emiritus was slightly off and even down at the front there were clearly chunks of the crowd that they just weren’t able to connect with.  Still though, if on a bad day they still end up being better than most other bands at the festival, that shows you what a great act they really are.  And let’s face it, when a man in a Cardinal’s outfit and a weird mask spends the last few minutes before the last song talking about orgasms, what isn’t to love? 8/10

Graspop 2016 Rival Sons

After coming together with Ghost, I quickly made my escape from the main stages to go see Rival Sons. Not because I’m a particularly big fan of them or anything, but because (unpopular opinion alert) Slayer are terrible.  Rival Sons were well worth seeing on their own merit however, and I have to say I very much regret not checking them out a bit more thoroughly beforehand.  They’re a very tight-knit band who may not do anything spectacular but clearly write good songs and know how to perform them well.  If anything, I’m probably being slightly harsh on them with my rating because not knowing their songs and being far away does detract from the experience to some extent.  But either way, their performance definitely earned Rival Sons a new fan if nothing else. 7/10

Graspop 2016 Nightwish

With the next band I may have made a bit of an error because my most difficult clash of the festival was next and I had to choose between Nightwish and Gojira.  I chose the former mostly because I felt I would have more of a chance to see the latter, but my friend who did the opposite assured me that they were the best band he’d seen so far.  As with Ghost though, it isn’t as if Nightwish were bad. In fact, they were very good, and they’ve been very good whenever I’ve seen them before, but they just never seem to reach the truly special category for me.  They are another band too who could have done with taking a little less time faffing around between songs too in my view, as it added little to the atmosphere and essentially just meant that they played fewer songs.  Still, the songs they did play went down very well despite the fact that I know many people who would be against them playing a set so heavily weighted in favour of their newer material, and they always bring a good stage show to proceedings as well.  What was great about Nightwish‘s show in particular though was the way that they were able to create such a great atmosphere when they were playing their songs, even if this was sometimes spoiled by elongated gaps in between. 8/10

On the other side of the coin to Skindred are Volbeat, by which I mean that this is a band who are much bigger on the continent than they are in the UK; and indeed they were considered a strange choice of headliner by many people I knew when I mentioned Graspop to them.  If you are sat there raising your eyebrows at this idea however, do yourself a favour and go and see them.  You’ll soon realise that they more than merit their headline status, because they were just phenomenal.  Everything you would want from a live show was here pretty much.  Stage show, great songs, talented musicians and a frontman who gets the mix of engaging the crowd but not being a complete and utter dick spot on.  Again, I can only say I wish I knew a little more of their material beforehand, but in this case it really didn’t make much of a difference because I still thoroughly enjoyed even those songs I didn’t know.  After constant drizzle since the early evening and falling temperatures, I should have been thoroughly miserable by all accounts at this stage of the evening but Volbeat ensured I wasn’t.  I don’t know what this band has to do to make it in the UK, but I certainly hope that their upcoming tour with Alter Bridge will help them get a spot headlining a UK festival soon! 9/10

Download 2016

Message from The Editor:
So there I was, going through the spam box of the mail@ account on the Wyrd Ways Rock Show email system.  Somewhere near the bottom, I found the following.  To preserve the authenticity, I have copied and pasted directly from the original document.

Ali, whoever you are, wherever you are, may the Gods of Metal smile upon you…

Review of Babymetal:
Sky: RAIN
Crowd: ? ALWAYS LOOK ON THR BRIIIIGHT SSSIDE OF LIIIIFE
Babymetal: BOUNCE ON STAGE LIKE BOUNCY THINGS KAAAAWAAAAAAIIII
Babymetal backing band: MELTS ALL FACES
Babymetal backing band bassist: PLAYS JACO PASTORIUS LEVEL TAPPED SOLO THAT EVEN SOMEONE LIKE FLEA COULD NEVER HOPE TO DO
Babymetal guitarist: PLAYS STEVE VAI LEVEL SOLO
Babymetal Singer: makemecircle (twirls fingers round) I SAY MAKE ME CIRCLE
Crowd: MAKES BIGGEST CIRCLE PIT I HAVE EVER SEEN.
Babymetal backing band: MELTS ALL FACES
BabyMetal: YATATATATATATITITITITITITYATATATATATTTTOOOTITITITIT CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE TITITITYATATATATA
Crowd: GOES MENTAL
BabyMetal singer: Gimmeee WOOOOAAAAAAAYYYAAAAAOOOOOOO
Crowd:(responds to call and response as if it were Freddie himself calling it)
WOOOOAAAAAAAYYYAAAAAOOOOOOO
Sky: RAINS LIKE FUCK ON EVERYONE
Crowd: DOESNT CARE BECAUSE BABYMETAL ARE FUCKING AWESOME AND THEIR FACES ARE MELTED OFF BY THE BACKING BAND AND HEARTS FILLED WITH TEH UBERKAWAIIII
Babymetal: FANKOOO DONNINTOOON SEEEYAAAAA
Babymetal backing band: MELTS MOAR FACES
Crowd: PIT PIT PIT MOSH MOSH MOSH FUCK WE’RE ALL SOOO FUCKING WET BUT FUCKING HELL THAT WAS AN EPIC SET FROM WHAT WE ALL THOUGHT WERE A FAKE GIMMICK BAND

Wildhearts Review:
Crowd: is wet and grateful for under cover gig
Wildhearts: have less hair and less hairspray and less spandex and looser clothes in general than when I last saw them a few times in the nineties
Crowd: ❤️
Wildhearts: play some great songs that were minor hits in the 90s
Crowd: ❤️
Wildhearts: play Motörhead song
Crowd: ❤️❤️❤️
Ginger: Banters
Crowd: ❤️❤️❤️

Review of Korn:
Sky: FUCK YOU ALL AHAHAHAHA
Crowd: FUCK YOU RIGHT BACK WE HAVE PONCHOS
Korn: be 50 year old zillionaires having teenage angst
Crowd: Bounce a little bit
Korn: BOWWOWZIGAZIGAOOOGEYBOOGEY?
crowd: bounce a tiny bit
Korn: I SAID ‘JABBERWOOCKEYSCOOOBYDOOWAKKAWAKKABIBBITYBOBBITYBOO’
Crowd: some bouncing
Korn: WOKKAWOKKAIZZYWIZZY?
Crowd: bouncing reduces
Korn: BOOPBOOPDEDOO?
Ali: meh
Korn: DOOTDOOT?
Ali: wanders off for nachos

Review of Rammstein‘s first song:
Til: I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE
Arthur Brown: er…. Excuse me, I think you’ll find actually that…
Rammstein: FUCK YOU OLD MAN THIS IS OUR CENTURY MOAR FIYAH AND EXPLOSIONS AND SEXY SEXY MUSCLES AND BOOOOOOOOOM

Review of Ranmstein:
Sky: HAHAHAHFUCK YOU WE WILL RAIN ON YOU
Crowd: NO FUCK YOUBWE HAVE PONCHOS AND WELLIES
Rammstein: it’s okay guys, we’ll warm you up with SO MUCH FUCKING FIRE
Crowd: we love you sexy sexy Nazi men
Rammstein: DONT CALL US THAT! WE’RE THE NICE GERMANS
Crowd: BUT YOU BLOW EVERYTHING UP AND HAVE SEXY OUTFITS AND MUST HAVE BEEN SOME SORT OF EUGENICS EXPERIMENT RAISED BY KRAFTWERK AND LEFT TO PLAY WITH MATCHES IN THE KITKATCLUB AS KINDER
Rammstein: NO, WE’RE NICE GERMANS AND TO PROVE IT WE WILL ONLY BE SLIGHTLY UBERMENSCHEN AND BLITZKRIEGY AND WILL SING A NICE SONG ABOUT OUR MOMMY
Crowd: WE LOVE YOU SO MUCH BLOW MORE SHIT UP INCLUDING THE GIMP KEYBOARD PLAYER AND THE STAGE
Rammstein: JA! AND VE VILL FLY ABOUT ON FLAMING ROCKET SHOOTING ANGEL WINGS
Crowd: WE LOVE YOU SRSLY FOR REALS
Rammstein: HAVE MORE FUCKING AWESOME MUSIC AND ROCKETS AND SMOKE JETS AND FIRE THEN
Crowd: SPAFFS DRY OF TEH AWESUM
Rammstein: You’re velcum.

Review is Sixx AM:
Nikki Sixx: HELLO DONNINGTON
Crowd: HOW THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL ALIVE?
NIKKI SIXX: LETS RAAAAAAAAAAAAAWK
Crowd: No, seriously, how are you still alive? (Starts to bounce)
NIKKI SIXX: I HAVE HAD SEXUAL SEX WITH MORE PEOPLE THAN THERE ARE IN THIS ENTIRE AUDIENCE
Crowd: WE KNOW, SPEAK TO US OF YOUR WISDOM OF THE WAYS OF RAWKSECKS
Nikki Sixx: YOU ALWAYS LOVED THIS COCK ROCK SHIT REALLY EVEN THOSE OF YOU MISERABLE FUCKERS WHO CLAIM TRUE METAL IS THE ONLY TRUE RELIGION
Crowd: YOU SPEAK TRUTH (does RAWK hands and bounces more)
Nikki Sixx: GIRLS SHOW ME YOUR BOOBIES
Crowd: hmm maybe… Not right now though, it’s cold
NIKKI SIXX: SINGS EPIC POWER BALLAD ABOUT BEING A DEPRAVED RAWKSTAR WHO GOT CLEAN
Crowd: NAH THANKS SING ABOUT DEPRAVED SEX SHIT PLS
Nikki Sixx: OKAY!
Crowd: NO BUT SERIOUSLY HOW ARE YOU EVEN ALIVE?
Nikki Sixx: I WROTE ABOUT IT IN SOME BOOKS YOU CAN ORDER AVAILABLE IN ALL GOOD BOOKSHOPS AND ON AMAZON
Crowd: YOUR PLAN TO HAVE A SECOND PHASE OF YOUR CAREER IS WORKING AND YOURE SORT OF COOL AND THE SONGS ARE DECENT ENOUGH AND YOU ACTUALLY OFFER SOME INTERESTING INSIGHT ABOUT ALL THAT DEPRAVED CRUE RAWK SHIT
Nikki Sixx: OH THANK FUCK IM NOT TURNING INTO A TOTAL CUNTY WANKER LIKE GENE SIMMONS THEN
Crowd: RAISES FISTS AND GETS INTO IT EVEN MORE
Ali: yeah, alright, but you’re no Zodiac Mindwarp

Lawnmower Deth review:
Crowd: ?❤️❤️
Lawnmower Deth: HAHAHAHHOLYFUCK THERE ARE A LOT OF YOU HAVE SOME CLOWNS AND SILLY STRING AND BALLS ANS RAISE YOUR HANDS AND DO MEXICAN WAVES AND BOUNCE
Crowd: ????❤️❤️❤️❤️????
Lawnmower Deth: HOLY FUCK WE’RE OLD AND WERE ONLY TAKING THE PISS IN THE FIRST PLACE HOW THE FUCK ARE WE PLAYING DONNINGTON AT THIS AGE STILL
Crowd: ???❤️❤️❤️???
Lawnmower Deth: WE HAVE A SPECIAL GUEST
Kim Wilde: ITS ACTUALLY REALLY ME NO SERIOUSLY
Crowd: WOOOO
Lawnmower Deth: OKAY WERE GOING TO DONA SONG WITH KIM WILDE
Crowd: FUCK YEAH
Kim Wilde and Lawnmower Deth: EGG SANDWICH EGG SANDWICH EGG SANDWICH
Crowd: hahahahawtf
KIM WILDE AND LAWNMOWERDETH: PSYCHE!!
Crowd: HAAHAHAHAH NO SERIOUSLY JIST PLAY IT THAT WAS FUNNY BUT GO ON
Kim Wilde: OKAY – KIDS IN AMERICA KIDS IN AMERICA KIDS IN AMERICA
Crowd: NAAAA NA NAAAA NAAA NAAAAAAAAAAAH
Kim Wilde: WERE THR KIDS WERETHE KIDS WERE THE KIDS IN AMEEEEERICCCA
Creowd: NAAAAAAAAAAA NAAAAAA NAAAAANAAAAAA NAAAAAAA
Lawnmower Deth; we can’t fucking believe she agreed to that but I suppose she must have for a few royalties out of us over the years so cheers Kim mwah mwah mwah
CRowd: ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️???❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Review of The Megadeths:
The Megadeths: RAAAARAAA WIDDLE WIDDDLE WIDDDLE HELLLLO DONNNINGTOOON RAAAAAARAAAAWIDDDDLEEWIDDLE
Crowd: We quite like this actually
Ali: doesn’t like this actually. Wanders off to find AntiFlag to see if they put the drums in the circle pit again like they did at Rebellion last year
Ali: is also quite dunk so apologises if quality levels dop

AntiFlag review:
Antiflag: WE ARE ANT EYE FLAG
CROWD: speak properly please
Antiflag: PITTSBURGH PENNSYLVANIA
CROWD: wotever
Antiflag: POLITICS POLICE BRUTALITY RELIGION
CROWD: wotever
Antiflag: starts to be interesting and good
Crowd: hmm wait actually
Antiflag; MAKE FRIENDS WITH PEOPLE AROUND YOU AND BE FRIENDLY AND SHIT
crowd: OKAY
ANTIFLAG: MAKE MORE NOISE THAN THE MEGADETHS
CRROWD: OKAY RAAAAAAAAAARGH
ANtiflag: sing some stuff back to us
Crowd: OKAY
Antiflag: STARTS TO KILL IT NOW THEYRE NOT TALKING ABOUT POLITICS OR FUCKING PITTSBURG PENNSYLVANIA
crowd: FUCK THEYRE ACTUSLLY KILLING IT
Antiflag: IF SOMEONE FALLS DOWN PICK THEM UP LOOK AFTER EQCH OTHER WHILST WE’RE FUCKING KILLING IT
Crowd: HOLY FUCK THEYRE DEFIJITELY KILLIJG IT.
crowd: RAISES HANDS AND BOUNCES AND SHIT
ANtiflag: PLAYS CLASH SONG
CROWD- TOTALLY LOSES IT AND THE PIT IS FUCKIJG HARDCORE BUT AS DIREXTED EBERYONE THAT FALLS DOWN GETS PICKED UP
Antiflag: PLAYS SONG WITH LOVELY MELODIC CHORUS
Crowd: TOTALLY SINGS IT ALL ALONG AND FUCK YOU THE MEGADETHS
Antiflag: PLAYS SONG AND STARTS CIRCLE PIT
CROWD: DOES EPIC CIRCLE PIT
Antiflag: DISASSEMBLES DRUMKIT AND MOVE IT TO THE FUCKING PIT AND THE SINGER CLIMBS ON IT AND THE crowd: IS LIKE ??????YOURE SEPPOS THAT ARE BORING ABOUT POLITICS BUT FUCKING HELL YOU BROUGHT IT TODAY

Review of Skindred:
Crowd: WE’RE ALL FUCKING METALHEADS WHO LIKE METAL AMD METAL IS DEPRESSED WHITE BOY BLUES AND ANGST BUT HEY WAIT A SECOND THATS A BLACK GUY?
Skindred: YES IM A BLACK GUY
Crowd: BUT YOU SING LIKE TOM JONES. WAIT. SHIT. NO. YOU SING LIKE ROB HALFORD. WAIT. SHIT. NO. YOU SING LIKE EDDY GRANT.
Skindred: HAHAHA I CAN DO ALL THAT SHIT AND RAGGAZAGGGA TOASTIN TOASTING
Crowd: fucking hell…
SKINDRED: MELTS ALL FACES ABD MAKES CROWD BOUNCE BOUNCE
crowd: BOUNCES BOUNCES
Skindred: MAKES CROWD SING
crowd: SINGY SINGY SING
SKindred: YOU CUNTS (he calls the crowd cunts a lot but that’s okay because that just means best mate if you’re from Wales, which the singerist is) ARENT SINGING LOUD ENOUGH. MY KIDS ARE HERE, DONT EMBARASS ME IN FRONT OF MY KIDS YOU CUNTS
Crowd: SINGY SINGY SINGY FUCKING ALL THE SINGY SING
Skindred: MORE LIKE IT BUT BOUNCE AND SING
Crowd: BOUNCES AND SINGS AND DOES A LITTLE SEX WEE ABOUT HOW FUXKING AWESOME SKINDRED ARE
Skindred; OKAY HERE’S A NEW SONG
crowd: FUCK ME THATS AN INSTANT CLASSIC CAN WE ALL GO ONLINE TO BUY A COPY NOW?
Skindred: NO YOU FUCKING CANT YOU CUNTS BECAUSE YOU NEED TO FUCKING BOUNCE AND MOSH SOME MORE
Crowd: OKAY IF WE SKANK AND BOGLE A BIT TOO?
Skindred: TOO FUCKING RIGHT YOU CAN YOU CUNTS
Crowd: WE’RE NOT SURE WHEN THE COMMITTEE THAT RUNS METAL STARTED LETTING BLACK DUDES WITH PROPER DREADS AND SHIT BE FRONTMEN INSTEAD OF JUST THE OCCASIONAL BASS PLAYER IF NO ONE ELSE WAS AVAILABLE BUT THANK FUCK THEY DID BECAUSE THIS IS FUCKING EPIC
Skindred: HAHAHAHAHA TOASTIN TOASTIN MEEEETTAAAAAAL SCCCCCREEEEEEEAAAAAAM TOOASTIN TOOOASTIN
Crowd: THIS IS SO GOOD
Skindred: does Nobody Gets Out Alive
Crowd: WE CANT EVEN HANDLE THIS ITS SO FUCKING GOOD
Skindred: NOW TAKE YOUR CLOTHES OF AND WHIRL THEM ABOVE YOUR HEAD
Crowd: NEWPORT HELICOPTER IN FULL EFFEXT EVEN IN THE PISSING RAIN
Skinded: NAILED IT
crowd: YOU DID. KEEP DOING THIS SHIT AND YOULL BE PROPER HEADLINING IN A FEW YEARS
Ali: you know what? Beavis and Butthead giving cred to Cypress Hill is probably how we got here and what convinced the committee to let black dudes in. Shame we had to get through The Limp Biscuits to make it here though. But damn, that was some fine stuff.

Review of The Temperance Movement:
Temperance Movement: plays lame MOR
Ali: yawns and wanders off in search of coffee

Interlude:
Ali’s attempt to pull Sexy Rawk Girlie:
Ali: Hey Sexy Rawk Girlie how’s it going?
Sexy Rawk Girlie: oh hey, yeah having a great time how’re you and what bands have you seen and are you having a great time and is your tent dry and where are you from and what sort of music are you into and bounce bounce happy happy chatty friendly talk talk
Ali: realises he cannot communicate with humans. Only cats and the people that live in his phone. And also has a horrific moment of self awareness about the state of his personal hygiene and breath that could fuel Rammstein’s flamethrower and nutsack fluff that Sarah Pickles could make the evilest of felt dragons out of and may need solvents to remove his socks.
Sexy Rawk Girlie: oh, hey, you look a bit ill, you feeling okay, I’ve got some paracetamol in my bag if you need it and I can get you some water and
Ali: I’ll leave you alone forever
Sexy Rawk Girlie: oh. Okay, well, hope you feel better soon and have a great rest of Download
Ali: ….

Review of Jane’s Addiction:
Jane’s Addiction: Hey Ali, would you like to be right at the front of the stage
Ali: yes please
Jane’s: oh, and would you like some dancers suspended by hooks in their back swinging above your head?
Ali: yes please
Girls in crowd: would you like us to get our boobies out?
Ali: um… Okay, sure… If you want to, that would be cool
Jane’s: and would you like us to play all your favourite songs?
Ali: yes please
Jane’s: No problem
Ali: Squee
Jane’s: and is it okay is we do a tribute to Bowie and get everyone to sing along to Rebel Rebel?
Ali: fine
Jane’s: and we can finish with Jane Says, which is one of the loveliest songs ever, yeah?
Ali: oh fucking thank you I love you and have such a burst of teh happies
Jane’s: you’re welcome Ali we clearly love you too as we’ve done all this for you
Ali: ?

Review of Iron Maiden:
Ali: it’s still stupid o’clock and I’ve got a long day ahead packing up and getting home but let’s do this. Iron Maiden have for a really long time now been a core part of what being British and slightly angsty and needing some escapism is. They used to be really serious and needed to position themselves as something that was against the establishment and had a lot to prove. But they won that battle and became the establishment. Or rather the establishment of the alternative to the mainstream. They very cleverly gamed having a number one hit single in the same way that Bill Drummond and the KLF did, which broke them right through to the mainstream, and offered horror and fantasy and history as ways to personify and manage difficult emotions. Just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Somewhere along the line two things happened. First – They stopped being just for white male adolescents. Some of those guys grew up and kept loving Maiden for the music and some of the shit maiden helped them with never went away anyway. But that Teenage Dirtbag song made the point that Maiden didn’t just work for those guys but girls feeling some of the same things too. And not just for British people but the shared experience of growing up worldwide. And South America especially loved them. In just one other important example I can think of their importance in another culture is shown in Persepolis – an autobiographical story about a girl growing up in and then escaping from post-revolution Iran of the Ayatollahs where she talked about how black market Iron Maiden cassettes changed her life. Second – somewhere down the line Maiden stopped taking themselves seriously and maybe saw Spinal Tap and got the joke, or realised what they were really offering with all this horror and history and decided that dealing with emotions and issues didn’t have to be all serious and could be fun too. That’s when I started liking them.
Maiden: thank you for that, Ali, but we’re now going to play some of those songs about horror and history and fantasy and everyone is going to raise their horns and sing along
Crowd: awwwww yiiiisssssss
Eddie: oh hai
Crowd: FUCK YEAH EDDIE
Brucie: Guys, I have some bad fucking news, maybe some of you out here haven’t heard, but some wanker shot a whole load of people who were just out dancing and having fun. And a load of politicians are already jumping on it and being arseholes. Fuck that. Those gay dudes who were out dancing were our brothers and fuck those murdering arseholes of all persuasions and the politicians who’re making it worse with their agendas. It’s all more important than ever that we all have to live and love and sing and dance. So I’m changing the set and all eighty five thousand of us are gonna sing a song called Blood Brothers, for each other and for those people that were killed.
Crowd: respect. And yes. Let’s live and love and sing and dance.
Maiden: BLOOD BROOOTHHHERS. WHOOOAAAAAH OOOOOHHH AAAAOOOOH.
Crowd: BLOOD BROOOTHHHERS. WHOOOAAAAAH OOOOOHHH AAAAOOOOH.
Brucie: Yes. That. Be good to each other.

Graspop Metal Meeting Day 1 – Friday 17th June 2016

This year for my annual dose of Metal festival awesomeness I headed to that most Metal of countries, Belgium, for a festival called the most metal of names, Graspop.  It was a festival which had come highly recommended from those I knew who had been before, and despite the long day I had getting there, the layout and organisation (and actually clean toilets) of the festival alone suggested that these recommendations were not without foundation.  And that’s without even mentioning the line-up!

Gus G giving it plenty
Gus G giving it plenty

So despite the lack of sleep and high levels of stress from the day before, I was up bright and early on Friday morning to head down to the Main Stages for the festival openers Firewind.  Friday opening slot is one which I doubt a lot of bands look upon favourably, but Firewind rose admirably to the task of waking up a very sleepy and mostly hungover Graspop.  Gus G and co were able to up the energy and deliver a dynamic performance which was clearly able to convert even those who turned up not really caring about them.  It wasn’t just the dynamism which deserves praise, but the musicianship too.  Most Metalheads don’t need convincing about lead guitarist Gus G’s prowess, but the rest of the band were clearly able to hold their own too and in Henning Basse, they have a frontman who can hold the audience’s attention when he has to, but also is humble enough not to upstage his band-mates when they’re showing off. 7/10

Southern Rock from... Canada?!
Southern Rock from… Canada?!

Up next were Canadian Southern Rock outfit Monster Truck. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about them (save for the fact that they’re clearly Southern Rock because they’re called Monster Truck), but they certainly did a good job of winning me over.  They encapsulated everything good about the genre with catchy riffs, big choruses and a powerful rhythm section which lent itself perfectly to a festival setting and they were able to get us involved singing along to the easier parts of their songs.  The only slight trouble with them was that when these choral parts weren’t present, they didn’t offer anything original enough to prevent people’s attentions from wandering.  Still, as a relatively unheard of act, they certainly exceeded my expectations. 7/10

Graspop 2016 Soilwork
Soilwork

Melodic Death Metal veterans Soilwork provided the next instalment and continued on the already high standard which had been set for the start of the day. The six members made full use of the stage and got the first pits of the day started in no time. Somehow Soilwork were another band missing off of my radar before going to Graspop, which is a shame because they’re the sort of band whose songs do all sound very similar if you’re not familiar with them, which probably prevented me from enjoying them as much as I potentially could have done. Soilwork’s nine song set-list did lose novelty quickly, but thankfully the band were more than able to compensate through their terrific sound. They definitely cemented themselves in the “go away, listen to them properly and go see them again” category. 7/10

Graspop 2016 Winery Dogs
Winery Dogs’ Billy Sheehan to Ritchie Kotzen: “See? Told you this thing only had four strings!”

The first band of the day I actually knew well, were sadly the first disappointment.  As a lover of all things arsey and technical, I made sure I got myself a very good spot for The Winery Dogs; but sadly they weren’t really worth the effort. It wasn’t really their fault though, to be fair. The supergroup trio of Ritchie Kotzen, Billy Shehan and Mike Portnoy were as ridiculous with their respective instruments as ever, but the sound configuration killed their set. The vocals of all three members were inexplicably inaudible throughout and even more inexplicable was that no-one managed to fix it in the 40 minutes they were on-stage. This wasn’t helped by the fact that most people were probably only there because they’d heard of the band members and didn’t actually know any of their songs, so the crowd had absolutely no hope of saving the set either. The fact that their songs involve such a high ratio of instrumental parts helped, but still it was a real shame that The Winery Dogs were held back by something so utterly avoidable. 5/10

Graspop 2016 Sixx AM
Sixx AM – Nikki Sixx: “Blimey Mick!  You’ve perked up a bit!”

I decided to watch Sixx:AM from the other side of the central barrier, and I’m glad I did because they weren’t a huge amount better either.  Nikki Sixx, the former Mötley Crüe bassplayer’s side-project-turned-main-project didn’t even have technical problems as an excuse though, which was the troubling thing.  As a live act there isn’t actually an awful lot wrong with Sixx:AM. in fairness.  They’ve got decent experienced musicians and a frontman who clearly knows what he’s doing, plus all the ridiculous wardrobe and make-up that you would expect from someone who found fame in the 80’s and wasn’t in a Thrash band.  The problem is, their songs just aren’t very good.  It’s almost as if a really famous band decided to cover songs from bands who never made it and it shows in a festival setting especially when half the crowd need to be won over and just aren’t.  It really is a shame because again, it really was only the one thing but it massively held them back. 6/10

Graspop 2016 Bad Religion
Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin: “Did anyone else feel that? Is it just me or is it starting to rain?”

Not changing stages meant that I had a prime spot for a band I’ve been wanting to see for years.  Bad Religion were a big factor in choosing Graspop over other festivals, as I never got the chance to see them during my angry students days so I thought I really had better make sure I see them before my equally angry graduate days are done. “We are the least theatrical band here”, announced lead singer Greg Graffin to the crowd.  I was apprehensive at first as to how a punk band would be received at a very Metal-orientated festival; but the fact is Bad Religion really didn’t need to be at a festival catered for them, nor did they need to be theatrical.  They just needed to do what they’ve been doing for over 30 years and play good music very well, and it turns out it really doesn’t matter if you have a lead singer who looks like a middle-class dad filling in in his son’s band.  Bad Religion used their time well and powered through 21 songs in total drawing from all of their rich back catalogue, winning over the people I was worried would react badly to them.  If they can put in that kind of show with a largely indifferent crowd, I’d love to see what a show in front of die-hard fans would be like. 8/10

Heaven Shall Burn
Heaven Shall Burn: “So I says to our lass…”

Heaven Shall Burn were the unfortunate band I had to watch mostly from a distance because food is a necessary requirement for human beings to survive, and because I knew basically nothing about them before the festival.  They seemed to be pretty good at what they did however, being the first band to bring a real stage show to proceedings, which was good to watch if nothing else.  Sadly, they really do not suit long-distance viewing, as their intense style and reliance solely on guttural vocals meant that they very much struggled to get any of the crowd past the main bulk of fans into anything they were doing.  They were probably great if you were one of those who got close, but for me they ended up leaving me fairly cold.  Not only that, but I’d waited ages for my noodles and it turned out they weren’t even the ones I’d actually bloody ordered!  That’s not Heaven Shall Burn‘s fault of course….but I was still annoyed! 6/10

Graspop 2016 Foreigner
Foreigner – We’re 75 y’know!

I know it may come as a shock to some that Foreigner have actually a very good back catalogue, but having done my research into this band beforehand I was actually very much looking forward to the non-obvious parts of the set-list that were to come.  Unfortunately, this is where Foreigner proved to be a disappointment as their seven members did so much faffing about between songs and their lead singer liked the sound of his own voice way too much that they only managed to fit nine songs into an hour-long set.  That’s fine if you’re a Prog band, but not if you’re a Classic Rock band. The songs they played were done well, but I just wish they’d taken a more Bad Religion approach to things and gotten on with it.  It didn’t help that several members were clearly past their best as well, but that was more to be expected from a band who are celebrating their 40th anniversary. I just wish that somebody could have reminded them beforehand that this wasn’t actually their own gig! They even managed to have an encore, despite the fact that they weren’t even close to being the headliners. Bloody Foreigner6/10

Disturbed's David Draiman asks to go to the toilet
Disturbed’s David Draiman asks to go to the toilet

I certainly wish that the slightly longer set-list had been given to Disturbed, because quite frankly they were excellent and the one thing which unfortunately prevented them from being exceptional was the fact that they had to rush through things slightly and miss out a fair few killer songs.  It had been five whole years since I had seen one of my favourite Nu-Metal bands (yes, I like Nu-Metal, deal with it!) and I had forgotten just how many great songs they have and judging by the massive levels of participation from the crowd, I wasn’t the only one in that boat.  I was particularly pleased too, because the only time I had seen Disturbed before they were awful; so I was relieved to see that it was just a bad day at the office and they can deliver the kind of performance their songs deserve.  Although it took a little while to set-up which ate into their precious time, I was so glad they chose to do their version of The Sound of Silence because it was far and away the highlight of the day, sending shivers down my spine all the way through.  Getting Nikki Sixx on to do  Shout At The Devil was a less expected cover, but definitely one I’m glad I was there to witness as well.  Much as I love Disturbed though, I do wish they hadn’t played Down With The Sickness, because is there anyone in the Metal world who isn’t thoroughly sick of that song? 8/10

Megadeth's Megadave - "Mumble mumble"
Megadeth’s Megadave – “Mumble mumble”

My failure to get the Graspop crowd chanting “Megadave! Megadave!” as we were waiting for Megadeth‘s arrival was pretty disappointing, but this was nothing compared with the disappointment that Megadeth themselves actually were.  They blundered into their opener Hangar 18 which should have gotten the crowd going pretty much instantly but it was so badly done that it was actually pretty unrecognisable for much of the intro.  Really the only thing resembling a saving grace for Megadeth was that they played Megadeth songs which people like, but even this was ruined somewhat thanks to them playing four songs from their most recent album Dystopia; which I guess you can’t really blame them for, but in all honesty it isn’t a great album and it was clear that most of the audience didn’t know the songs.  Plus, there was no way the band’s performance was going to make up for this as none of them looked especially bothered by proceedings and Megadave himself was particularly poor, especially with his vocals which were just mumbled incoherently throughout.  It looks as though years of people telling him to keep his mouth shut have taken their toll and he’s become physically incapable of opening it so he can actually sing properly. 5/10

Graspop 2016 Zakk Wylde
Zakk Wylde wonders if he’s left the gas on

After spending all day at the main stages, I finally departed the open air and headed into a tent to see the man with beard, Zakk Wylde. I must say, I was interested to see what kind of set he would put on because I imagine I was one of the few there who actually owns a (totally legal, I might add) copy of his latest solo album, but I do love pretty much everything he’s done and I felt he may revert back to some Black Label Society stuff rather than try to win over a Metal crowd with acoustic songs from two albums no-one’s heard of.  To my delight, he did go for songs from the two Book of Shadows albums, but he made a big mistake in my view of making them much heavier than they sound on record, clearly in an attempt to appease the Graspop faithful.  It worked great for the opening song Sold My Soul, as it’s already fairly heavy to begin with and it gave Zakk an opportunity to show off his utterly ridiculous guitar skills, but it didn’t work for the others because as good as the songs are, they were never written to be heavy.  The songs were played very well, and Zakk was clearly on form, but to someone who knows the recorded versions of the songs well, it just sounded like he was doing a whole set of poorly considered covers. 6/10

Amon Amarth - Nathan has no taste. The Vikings are awesome!
Amon Amarth – Nathan has no taste. The Vikings are awesome!

I managed to catch the last song of Amon Amarth’s set from the other side of the main stage as I rushed over to get as good a spot for Sabbath as was possible, but thankfully it was their song I actually like, so that’s something.  They had a cool stage show set up and they seemed like they would be a really fun band to see, despite the fact that I don’t actually think much of their music.  I can’t exactly give them a rating based on one song viewed from miles away though.  I should also mention that after Sabbath I didn’t stick around for the only post-midnight act on that evening, King Diamond, because quite frankly I have no wish to stand around on a cold evening listening to someone who sounds like a cat being neutered without an anaesthetic.

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Black Sabbath – Glad it’s The End?

Now Black Sabbath have been one of my favourite bands for years and definitely the top one on this line-up for me, but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier that a band is on their final tour.  When I saw them at Download in 2012 it was one of the best live experiences of my life, but they’ve fallen a long way since then and really should have called it a day before now.  They can’t do it anymore!  Or perhaps, more accurately, Ozzy just can’t do it anymore!  The man could barely string two words together and it was so obvious that they had tailored the set to make things easier for him, playing slower songs with larger instrumental sections which would almost certainly never have made it onto a Black Sabbath set otherwise.  Everything was very noticeably slowed down as well (which, for Sabbath is really saying something).  I’m sorry but if you can’t actually play your own songs live then don’t.  The audience somewhat saved the show for them on this occasion making sure they responded as they should to the last Belgian show of Black Sabbath’s career. Thankfully this still made it worth seeing, but for Black Sabbath, The End really cannot come quickly enough. 5/10

SOS Festival – 16/07/2016

It’s the end of July, it’s Manchester, so it must be SOS Festival, now in it’s ninth year.  It’s also the first year at a new venue: the Longfield Suite at the Civic Centre in Prestwich.  It’s something of a step-up in terms of size, and is also harder to find!

Anyway, I couldn’t get there on Friday for the first night, so I ended up missing Babylon Fire, Pythia and Absolva, and thanks to my SatNav, I managed to miss Soma Dark.

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The first band I did manage to see were iDestroy, featuring Becky Baldwin of Triaxis on the bass.  Their stuff is more on the Punky side than most of the bands that were on that day, drawing comparisons (in my head at least) with the likes of Therapy?  Might have just been me, though!

Definitely worth seeing.

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Aonia

Next up, in stark contrast to the stripped back music and line-up of iDestroy were Sheffield-based Symphonic Power Metal band, Aonia.  Things have changed for them since our last encounter (which, to be honest, was an EP that sounded like it was recorded in someone’s bedroom).  As a live band with their new membership, the band are a lot tighter and more powerful, coming over a lot like Germans, Coronatus.  Good stuff.  Another band Nightwish may well be having to watch their backs for, along with another band who are on today.

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A Jokers Rage

A Joker’s Rage were something of a surprise.  Good quality Hard Rock with the odd hint of Nu Metal.  And Harlequin face paint.  The frontman is a potential superstar, so long as he drops the fake Americanisms and carries on being a Yorkshire lad.  He certainly talks a good game and on this evidence the band have the musical firepower to back up the big talk.

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Ritual King

Ritual King are something different compared to the other bands that have been on today.  They’re a proper 70’s throwback featuring no-one born before the late 80’s, tapping a similar vein to the likes of Rival Sons, Orchid and Vintage Caravan.  Little lads like them have absolutely no business being able to channel an era that well!

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Gemma of Dakesis

Dakesis are another band that have been through a massive change or two since I last saw them.  As well as losing their frontman, they have recruited a new keyboard player to replace their original one, who has stepped up to take over lead vocals.  Another change is that they’ve moved from being a straight Power Metal band to become one that plays MASSIVE Symphonic Metal.  These guys are another one of a crop that should have Tuomas Holopainen looking over his shoulder.  Gemma Lawler, in moving from the keyboards to the front of stage has become a consummate frontperson, in full command of the stage as well as an engaging level of interaction with the audience.  The whole band perform as a tightknit unit and for my money were the band of the day (against some very stiff competition).

Vicious Nature were a very pleasant surprise.  They feature former members of Martial Law and Cloven Hoof, so I was expecting NWOBHM, which would have been fine as far as I was concerned.  What we got was something much heavier and aggressive, falling into post-Pantera Modern Metal.  Groove Metal?  Yeah, you could definitely call it Groove Metal, but with more melodic vocals.  Very impressed.

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Attica Rage

Then came the headliners, Attica Rage, bearing the standard for Glaswegian Metal like no other band since The Almighty, back when Ricky Warwick was still a proud Scot.  This is a band I’ve never seen a poor show from and tonight’s headline set was worthy of the name.

New track, El Chupacabra, is something a little different, being somewhat heavier than normal.  If it signals a new direction, it works, coming on like speeded up Black Sabbath.  Talking of Sabbath, the spectre of Messrs Osbourne, Iommi, Butler and Ward is strong in the next piece of new material, the riff to which would do Tony proud.

Despite a thinning crowd as fatigue kicks in (the show started at midday and it’s twenty minutes to midnight), the band don’t flag, finishing the show with a breakneck version of Motörhead’s Overkill, featuring a truly stunning display from Richie Rage on the drums (how he managed to get that much noise out of such a small kit…) and six-stringer, Stevie Bell, who shreds like a man possessed by the spirits of Steve Vai and Gary Holt.  These guys fully deserved their headline slot, but it was a shame that a lot of the audience had to leave before they finished, since they missed a cracking set.

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Genting Arena, Birmingham, 25/06/16

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Review: That lucky, lucky bastard, Tom Mead.

When Ritchie Blackmore announced he was forming a new incarnation of Rainbow for three shows, his first Hard Rock performances for over 20 years, he admitted it was primarily for the fans’ benefit; while he’s made a happy career out of playing Rennaissance-folk rock with his wife Candice Night in Blackmore’s Night, his status as a Rock Legend is primarily based on his genre-defining work as a founding member of both Deep Purple and Rainbow.  Fans have come to Birmingham tonight from all over the world though (the other two shows last week were both in Germany), so this can’t afford to be just another tired nostalgia show.

Consisting of Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen/Stratovarius) on keyboards, David Keith and Bob Nouveau (both of Blackmore’s Night) on drums and bass respectively, and relative unknown Ronnie Romero (originally from Chile, he fronts the Spanish band Lords of Black) on lead vocals, this incarnation displays a chemistry that you’d expect of musicians who’ve been together for years, rather than for just a handful of shows. They position themselves compactly on stage (à la the cover of Deep Purple’s seminal live album Made in Japan) and no one moves around much throughout the show; now aged 71, Ritchie Blackmore opts to perform far fewer Pete Townshend-esque acrobatics than he did in his earlier days! This hardly matters though, nor does the lack of video screens; the five men on stage (plus two female backing singers, including Candice Night) might look like dots from the back of the cavernous Genting Arena but the classic Rainbow arch lighting rig, a much welcomed nod to previous Rainbow shows, provides an impressive visual spectacle nonetheless.

While it’s no doubt an obvious move for promotional/marketing reasons, a look at tonight’s setlist (see below) does make you wonder why the “Rainbow” name was chosen for the band; Deep Purple songs outnumber those by Blackmore’s other band.  It does mean that those fans who were expecting more of their favourite Rainbow songs (there are plenty of calls for Kill the King from Long Live Rock & Roll for instance) might be somewhat disappointed.  In practice though, songs by both bands are perfectly performed and enthusiastically received, with seemingly every single one of the 10,000-plus fans here tonight in fine voice; Ronnie Romero doesn’t even need to bother singing much of Child in Time at all, as he is thoroughly drowned out in what is undoubtedly one of the most memorable live music moments I’ve ever experienced. The bits where the crowd does his job for him aside though, Romero’s performance tonight must be singled out for particular praise.  He has the task of handling the work of five respected, but very different, singers but luckily he has the vocal range and stamina to pull it off with ease. Whether it’s David Coverdale-style chest-bursting on Burn or soulful Ronnie James Dio-esque crooning on Catch the Rainbow, Ronnie Romero’s rich tenor voice is well-suited to the task. Ritchie Blackmore said that, when he announced Romero as Rainbow’s latest singer, he hoped he could introduce a new star to the world; based on tonight’s performance, he’s done just that.

I only really have a couple of small pieces of criticism to make about this show.  Blackmore only ever intended to form this incarnation of Rainbow for these 3 shows; this is not a well-oiled production and that does show in places.  While the sound quality in the Genting Arena is excellent, Blackmore’s guitar does not come through clearly at times; maybe decades of concentrating on acoustic, rather than electric, music has something to do with this?  Moreover, while the band manages to cram a lot into 2 hours tonight, they could have trimmed a bit of time off the title track from Difficult to Cure (the instrumental one that’s essentially a rock version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy).  If the solo section in the middle was a bit shorter, they could have found space for another song or two.  But hey, tonight’s all about reliving the glory days of 70’s and 80’s Arena Rock; if you can’t have a gratuitous instrumental section, what’s the bloody point!?

As the end notes of Smoke on the Water are still ringing throughout the arena, I doubt anyone’s left tonight with any real disappointment.  We came to see one of rock’s greatest musicians and most enigmatic characters play timeless songs to loyal fans, and no one can say that neither Ritchie Blackmore nor the rest of the band failed to deliver.  It remains to be seen whether more shows (or maybe a new album?) will follow tonight but the signs are promising if they do.  The rainbow has risen again, shining as bright as ever.

Verdict: 9/10

Setlist

  1. Over the Rainbow
  2. Highway Star
  3. Spotlight Kid
  4. Mistreated
  5. Since You Been Gone
  6. Man on the Silver Mountain
  7. Soldier of Fortune
  8. Difficult to Cure (with Drum, Bass and Keyboard solos)
  9. Catch the Rainbow
  10. Perfect Strangers
  11. Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll
  12. Child in Time
  13. Stargazer
  14. Black Night (with Woman From Tokyo excerpt)

Encore

  1. Burn
  2. Smoke on the Water

Evile, Blasphemer, Tyrant @ The Venue, The Parish, Huddersfield 28/05/2016

West Yorkshire as a whole has a strong underground Metal scene, despite the lack of venues willing to host the bands and quality promoters willing to put in the effort to properly promote the shows.  The Parish in Huddersfield is one of the small venues fighting the good fight, helping nurture the underground scene.  In past years, they’ve hosted Gama Bomb, Ginger Wildheart, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Marmozets, Wheatus and everyone’s favourite, Evil Scarecrow.  On this particular night, it was the turn of local heroes, Evile.

Tyrant @ The Venue 28.05.16
Leeds band, Tyrant, making a return from retirement last year, to open for Evile

Before the main event, though, there were two more local bands to hit the small stage in The Venue.  First up were 80’s-style Thrashers, Tyrant.  They’ve been around for a few years, plying their own particular brand of solid classic Thrash, and came out of retirement to play this gig.  The slot they had was a very short opening set to sparse crowd.  Generally they had a pretty decent time of it with some quality musicianship and songs.  Unfortunately, they were hampered by the frontman’s cringeworthy attempts to be funny.  The shame is that his “hilarious” joking around will probably be remembered more than their sadly too-short set.

Verdict: 6/10

Blasphemer @ The Venue 28.05.16

At 9pm, the lights came down and Blasphemer‘s infernal noise roared out of the amps.  Now this is more like it! Powered from the back by My Dying Bride and former Bal Saggoth stixman, Dan Mullins, Blasphemer‘s early 90’s Death-meets-Slayer-tinged Thrash finally gets the venue going, with the mosh pit in full swing by the second song.

Like Tyrant, Blasphemer suffered from having a length of set that didn’t really give us time to get to know them properly, but this short, sharp shock certainly served as a very interesting taster.

Verdict: 8/10

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Evile’s Matt Drake – less banter, more Thrash than before!

Evile are, of course, much more in the vein of classic Bay Area-style Thrash, merging influences from the likes of Exodus and Slayer with more than a splash of Teutonic Titans, Kreator.  It’s been a long time since they’ve played a stage this small, but their level of professionalism shines through, ramping up the intensity in a way you can only get from sweatboxes like this one.

This is a new version of the line-up, having only played a handful of gigs in this formation.  New boy six-stringer Piers Donno-Fuller has stepped in replacing Ol Drake, making the band meaner, Thrashier and most importantly tighter than before.  Matt Drake keeps the banter to a bare minimum, accentuating the band’s more aggressive new attitude.  The rhythm section of bassist Joel Graham and drummer Ben Carter are their usual selves: tight as those things Ben beats the tar out of during the set.

This is a very different beast from the one that headlined the Holmfirth Picturedrome.   The traditional circle pit (egged on by manically-grinning Joel) kicked off during the opening chords of Cult.

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A slightly out-of-focus Joel Graham – It was hard to take decent photos!

From this evidence, it looks like Evile have evolved into a leaner, meaner, tighter, more efficient machine making the Kreator analogy more apt.  This was a welcome return for one of the best UK bands currently on the circuit.  Based on this show, the new album can’t come soon enough.

Verdict: 9/10

Avantasia, O2 Forum Kentish Town, London, 08/03/16

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Three hours, no support, THIRTEEN musicians on stage (Nine of whom are vocalists) AND it’s their first ever headline show in the UK.  This all sounds like a recipe for disaster but Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet has already overcome countless other obstacles in order to make his “Metal Opera” project Avantasia a success.  Besides, his love of all things English is well-known (he even wrote a song about it on Edguy’s last album), so the sold-out crowd at the Forum are no doubt confident that the international line-up Sammet’s assembled will be able to deliver the goods.

Entering to Richard StraussAlso Sprach Zarathustra (the famous music from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and with a stage layout containing raised platforms depicting a gothic graveyard, it doesn’t take long for Avantasia to make an impression and grab the audience’s attention.  Even though there are many things that could go wrong with such an ambitious production, the mood throughout the show is reasonably relaxed, like an intimate gathering of close friends. Tobias Sammet is a consummate entertainer and Master of Ceremonies, with plenty of banter between himself, the crowd and his fellow singers. In addition to regular collaborators Amanda Somerville and Oliver Hartmann, and new addition Herbie Langhans, on additional vocals throughout the show, a succession of guest vocalists are introduced, each contributing to a handful of songs: Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids, Nordic Union), Bob Catley (Magnum), Jørn Lande (ex-Masterplan) and Eric Martin (Mr. Big). Each guest star adds their own unique component, and the effect is that the evening becomes like a Metal version of the Royal Variety Performance.  As with that event though, not every joke or story properly hits the mark tonight; some between-song chats go on a bit, and Eric Martin in particular is nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is.  This is a small concern though, and hardly detracts from the music.

One thing that Tobias Sammet and Avantasia should certainly be commended for is that they’ve made good use of the 3 hour running time here.  Despite the epic nature of the music (several songs are 10+ minutes), this is not a Prog Rock gig where half the time is taken up by tedious drum solos and mind-numbingly boring jams. Tonight, more time = more songs; 24 in total. New album Ghostlights has been generally well-received and so choosing to play 7 songs from it proves to be a sensible decision; Lucifer and Let the Storm Descend Upon You, both featuring the iron-lunged Jørn Lande, go down particularly well.

However, as with pretty much any other gig by any Metal band ever, there are certain people here tonight who just want to hear “the old stuff”. Avantasia’s first two albums, The Metal Opera, Parts 1 & 2, definitely feature a more traditional strain of Symphonic Power Metal than all their subsequent albums, but anyone who came here hoping the band would play lots of earlier songs is bound to be somewhat disappointed.  To be honest, while I think Tobias Sammet is justified in having confidence in his more recent material, I think shuffling the setlist a bit would have been a good idea.  Nine of the first ten songs are from Ghostlights and its immediate predecessor The Mystery of Time, with most of the older songs crammed in together near the end of the show.  Front-ending your setlist with lots of recent material is the sort of thing that makes a lot of long-term fans restless and impatient but hey, you can’t please everyone (and there’s surely no perfect way to coordinate all the different singers!)

Minor quibbles about the setlist and between-song banter aside, Avantasia’s performance tonight cannot really be faulted. Kudos to the band for sustaining a tight, energetic show for three hours, and every singer delivers to the best of their abilities.  Avantasia’s future is always uncertain due to the project’s logistical complexity but Tobias Sammet assures the crowd that, if they tour again, there will certainly be a return to the UK.  I can’t imagine many people here tonight wouldn’t want to return for that.

Verdict: 9/10

Setlist (with singers in brackets)

  1. Mystery of a Blood Red Rose (Sammet)
  2. Ghostlights (Sammet, Kiske)
  3. Invoke the Machine (Sammet, Atkins)
  4. Unchain the Light (Sammet, Atkins, Kiske)
  5. A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies (Sammet, Catley)
  6. The Great Mystery (Sammet, Catley)
  7. The Scarecrow (Sammet, Lande)
  8. Lucifer (Sammet, Lande)
  9. The Watchmakers’ Dream (Sammet, Hartmann)
  10. What’s Left of Me (Sammet, Martin)
  11. The Wicked Symphony (Hartmann, Lande, Somerville, Langhans, Kiske)
  12. Draconian Love (Sammet, Langhans)
  13. Farewell (Sammet, Somerville, Kiske)
  14. Stargazers (Kiske, Lande, Atkins, Hartmann)
  15. Shelter from the Rain (Sammet, Kiske, Catley)
  16. The Story Ain’t Over (Sammet, Catley)
  17. Let the Storm Descend Upon You (Sammet, Lande, Atkins)
  18. Promised Land (Sammet, Lande)
  19. Prelude/Reach Out for the Light (Sammet, Kiske)
  20. Avantasia (Sammet, Kiske)
  21. Twisted Mind (Martin, Atkins)
  22. Dying for an Angel (Sammet, Martin)

-Encore-

  1. Lost in Space (Sammet, Somerville)
  2. Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels (All)