LIVE: Sonisphere 2014 (Saturday, 05/07/14)
Andy Close give us his verdict on the Saturday of this year’s newly-returned Sonisphere festival.
I guess I should make something pretty clear from the off here – I don’t really consider myself to be much of a festival person. Put it down to the fact that I’ve very much turned into a cantankerous middle-aged git in recent years, but I’m the sort of guy who likes my own bed, a nice hot bath, a fridge with food in it and an absence of drunk 18-year-old poshos on their first summer away from mater and pater having a light sabre fight outside my tent at 3 in the morning. In fact, the last festival I’d been to before this year was Download 2004 (location of the aforementioned light sabre fight, which abruptly ended when yours truly told said 18-year-olds that if they didn’t shut up then said light sabre would be inserted into an orifice where it really would’ve been kinder not to).
But anyway, the return of Sonisphere this year meant that there would be a festival a mere half hour drive away from where I now live. And after a bit of umming and ahhing, I decided what the hell and forked out the requisite £75 for a day ticket on the Saturday when most of the best bands were playing (suffice to say that if I’d had the necessary cash then I would have gone on Sunday as well just for Therapy? doing an Infernal Love set and seeing Kerbdog for the first time in two decades, but alas, ’twas not to be).
So anyway, arriving on site at about midday, I find myself heading over to the Bohemia Stage to catch Calling All Cars who you may remember us here at Pure Rawk raving about following their appearance at Camden Rocks last month. I missed them then, but am happy to report that they put on a solid showing today. Think the riffs and attitude of Troublegum era Therapy?, with a bit of the Foo Fighters’ melodic sensibilities mixed in. It makes for a good combination and I’m pretty sure I’ll be going to see them again.
For those who may have over-indulged themselves on the Friday, waking up to the early developments on the main stages must be a serious headf**k. We head over to the Main Stage to catch the last couple of songs of Babymetal‘s insane (but oddly fun) brand of Japanese thrash (with three teenage girls on vocals, obviously) – speaking to a friend later it turns out they even managed to get a Wall of Death going during their set – not bad for a band starting at midday! It doesn’t get any less surreal afterwards as Chas & Dave follow them and manage to cheer people up despite the weather choosing this point to absolutely tank it down. Yes, it’s not metal but hell it puts a smile on your face and sometimes when you’re getting drenched in a field in Hertfordshire that’s a most welcome development.
I decide to stick around the Main Stage for a while and end up catching Swedish metallers Ghost, another band who I had very little prior knowledge about before seeing them today. The intro tape of the theme from The Omen and a singer who looks like a scarier Papa Lazarou from The League Of Gentlemen had me fearing that we’re in for a set of tuneless thrash grunting, but they actually peddle a strangely melodic line in goth metal. Think October Rust era Type O Negative, or maybe fellow Scandinavians the 69 Eyes in one of their heavier moments, and you wouldn’t be too far off.
Still on the Main Stage and next up are The Winery Dogs, featuring the Mr Big duo of Billy Sheehan and Richie Kotzen, plus Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy on drums. They peddle a straight-ahead line of grunge-flavoured blues rock, similar to Black Stone Cherry or Rival Sons but thankfully far less tedious than either of those. There’s at least a bit of fire behind the songs here, and not just blank-eyed showboating.
Unfortunately, the weather has taken a bit of a turn for the worse again by this point so I decide to duck back inside the Bohemia Tent. And promptly I wish I hadn’t, as I end up watching Reckless Love who are essentially Steel Panther without the knob gags. After a few songs of their watered-down brand of Poison-lite poodle rock, I decide that maybe a monsoon outside isn’t necessarily such a bad thing after all and head out to brave the elements and catch The Winery Dogs finishing their set with a breakneck run through Shyboy, originally contributed by Sheehan during his stint with David Lee Roth’s band, which packs more singalongability into three minutes than Reckless Love have managed in the previous fifteen.
Over on the Main Stage, Anthrax draw the first really big crowd of the day and they put in a good honest shift with all the hits – I Am The Law, Got The Time, Indians, etc. They may not be as young as they once were, but they still pack one hell of a punch and it’s good to see them still tearing it up after all these years.
Back into the Bohemia Tent, I finally get the chance to see The Virginmarys live after all this time, and Macclesfield’s finest put in a good set today. They may look more like they should be at Reading Festival than Sonisphere, but as songs like My Little Girl and Dressed To Kill testify, they can rock out with the toughest of ’em. Definitely a case of the hype being justified here I think.
It’s good to see Black Spiders (who follow the VM’s on the Bohemia Stage) for the first time in far too long as well, and songs like Stay Down, St Peter and Kiss Tried To Kill Me are a good reminder of how much fun this band can be when they’re firing on all cylinders. Any chance of that third album some time soon guys?
Frank Turner maybe isn’t quite such an obvious choice for a metal festival, and he ends up getting a considerably smaller crowd than Anthrax an hour ago, but he puts in one of the best sets of the afternoon so far and, after an up and down year, it’s a good reminder of why his music drew so many of us in in the first place. A mixture of down to earth banter and simple honest heart-on-sleeve songs like Glory Hallelujah, If Ever I Stray and especially a heartfelt Reasons Not To Be An Idiot makes for a very worthwhile 45 minutes, and I leave the Main Stage with a big smile across my mug.
Back to the Bohemia Stage and an appointment with Sebastian Bach. Well, sort of – the tent’s actually full, so I end up watching the set from the doorway waiting for an opportunity to get in. Which doesn’t present itself unfortunately despite several people ominously leaving after the first couple of songs. ‘Bas is obviously still game for giving this a go and puts a fair bit of energy into his set but, unfortunately, it feels like there’s something missing. And, he won’t appreciate me saying this but, I think it’s maybe because firstly the new material is a bit anonymous, and secondly I’ve seen the older songs done a lot better by the current Skid Row line-up in recent years. ‘Bas may well have been the voice of Skid Row, and he can still belt those tunes out, but unfortunately I think the soul of the band may lie with his former colleagues nowadays.
You have to feel a bit sorry for Zico Chain who are stuck on the seriously under-populated Jagermeister Stage playing to about 50 fans, if that. Troopers that they are though, they plough on with an impressive energy through songs such as Evasion and Mercury Gift, and it just goes to show that they definitely deserved a bit of a bigger audience to play to today.
No such problem for the Eureka Machines over on the Satellite Stage whose reputation ensures that the tent is well packed by the time they take the stage. Even though I must have seen them doing this set countless times by now, it still isn’t getting old and songs such as Pop Star and Story Of My Life are still the sort of songs that in a just world would have been mega hits, while an epic finale of Zero Hero gets the tent going justifiably ape-wire. Fantastic stuff.
While the Eurekas are justifiably getting a reputation for being a fearsomely well-drilled live unit, fellow Wildhearts alumni The Yo-Yos who follow them are just as endearingly shambolic as ever, with amps going wrong and sound problems aplenty, but the sheer strength of their material still manages to carry them through without any worries. Home From Home, Rumbled, Head Over Heels and You Got Me Out Of My Mind still have the sort of hooks that many inferior bands would kill for, while the frenetic Keep On Keepin’ On and a cover of the Ramones’ I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend make for a suitably awesome finale. Again, another band with the reputation to pack the tent out, and hopefully one day we’ll see ’em back with a third album.
Back for one final trip to the Main Stage for Iron Maiden then, who deliver a suitably epic set to round the evening off. As Bruce Dickinson informs us, this is officially the final night of their Maiden England tour which has been going on for the last three years, and they’re obviously keen to go out with a bang. Let’s be honest, every single one of us out there went through a phase of being an angry teenager listening to Maiden at some point – hell, I think most of us maybe never quite grew out of that. And tonight’s set is everything you could ask for and more, with all of the hits from back in the day getting an airingm including Phantom Of The Opera, Run To The Hills, The Trooper, Aces’ High, Wasted Years, and Can I Play With Madness?
Add to this a stage show to end all stage shows with Bruce going through about a dozen costume changes, the sheer energy shown by all six band members (seriously, if I can sprint around a stage the way this lot can when I reach their age, I’ll consider myself to be very lucky indeed), a zombie Einstein appearing during Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, and flame spewing devils during The Number Of The Beast and you can’t help but be impressed. When Dickinson yells out “SCREAM FOR ME KNEBWORTH!”, you flippin’ well scream. For me though, the highlight is hearing Maiden ripping through Fear Of The Dark just a few minutes after the sun has dipped below a blood-red horizon. For sheer atmosphere and festival moments, it really doesn’t get much better than that.
By the time Maiden finish with a breakneck run through their first single Sanctuary, it’s close on eleven o’clock and I’ve been on my feet for eleven hours as we shamble our way back to the taxi rank. I’m knackered, sunburnt and my voice has well and truly gone from all that bloody screaming during the Maiden set. But it’s been a damn fine day. Enough to convince me to start going to festivals again? Well, let’s not get carried away, but who knows…
Photos courtesy of Trudi Knight Photography – www.bandsonstage.co.uk