ALL GUNS BLAZING
SATURDAY GUNS N’ ROSES, the most dangerous band in the world, take everyone else to school
The show usually starts around seven, Guns N’ Roses go onstage around 20-past. Early? Yeah. But they’re playing for how long?! The thick end of three and a half hours?! Who in their right mind would do such a thing? Either the very foolish, or a band with the songs, power, charisma, class, swagger and surfeit of motherfuckery to make such an epic set feel like a quick, loose jam. Tonight, and do not try to argue with this, Guns N’ Roses are the best band playing on any stage anywhere in the world.
The last time Axl Rose was here, in 2006, he was almost a cartoon of himself, living up to every negative and bad thing ever said about him. It was the nadir of Guns’ history, a great giant felled by its own weight. Here, now, though, he and his reunited gang are absolutely unstoppable. As Duff Mckagan walks onstage, all louche cool behind his shades, and casually rolls up the intro to opener It’s So Easy, even the prospect of three-plus hours of this doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough. Axl marches up the ego-ramp with a stomping stride that’s so cocky it should need a licence, and you feel like you’re watching a hungry young band out to take over the world again. It’s a feeling that comes repeatedly and often: watching Slash tear through the greasy solo on Mr. Brownstone, a Duffled rendition of the Misfits’ Attitude, the 10-minute epic that is Coma. Then there’s the moment during a truly wild Welcome To The Jungle where Axl, with the authority of a military general, screams, “Do you know where you are?” and it feels like the most exciting, joyous thing ever said on this stage.
When they come, even the solo spots and jams that break up the set are killer. A run-through of a portion of Derek And The Dominos’ Layla – complete with Axl tickling the ivories, seated on a truly ghastly motorcycle-piano stool thing – segues into a stunning November Rain, just as a Slashled muckabout with the theme from The Godfather suddenly turns into Sweet Child O’ Mine. They give Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here its second airing of the weekend with an instrumental version backed by tens of thousands, and there’s even an excellent version of Velvet Revolver’s Slither.
As Nightrain, Rocket Queen, You Could Be Mine, Civil War and a truly staggering number of other diamond-plated gems are detonated, you’d feel sorry for Neck Deep over on the Avalanche Stage, if it was possible for your mind to be occupied by anything that wasn’t Guns N’ Roses. Not just because Wrexham’s finest are having to go up against such a colossus, but because they’re missing it. And when you realise that the field-wide party that is Paradise City marks the end, you wonder where the hell the night’s gone already. Guns N’ Roses tonight are absolutely untouchable, and even if they played til Sunday, it still wouldn’t feel like enough time in the company of such absolute greatness. NICK RUSKELL
Predictably, Download is a sea of throbbing heads come Sunday morning. The brilliant, textured rock of DREAM STATE (KKKK) makes it bearable, though.”this is a safe space for you guys to let go of any negative energy you’re hanging on to,” announces frontwoman CJ Gilpin as bangovers are banished into In This Hell’s tumultuous, cathartic swell.
Despite it being only 11:45am, there’s a healthy crowd at the Zippo Encore Stage for GRETA VAN FLEET (KKKK), dispelling any notion that the Michigan quartet could be mistaken for a vehicle hire company. With helium-high vocals and heroic six-string razzle-dazzle, the brothers Kiszka play riffy classic rock utterly wired with youthful energy, easing us into the day perfectly. Talking of lobbing massive riffs about, PUPPY (KKKK) bound around the Avalanche Stage, swerving between mellow vibes and heavier, harder material. Their reputation clearly precedes them, as they pull a gigantic early crowd in and gently melt their faces off.
DEAD CROSS (KKKK), you say? Bloody furious, more like. Mike Patton has made a lot of left-field sounds, but this hardcore supergroup – also featuring original Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo – is as straightforward as he gets. That means serrated noise that goes for the jugular with relatively minimal twists, and a cover of Bauhaus’ Bela Lugosi’s Dead thrown in for good measure.
“So, those dumb motherfuckers let us through customs again,” grins Ice-t as BODY COUNT (KKKK) pile onstage. Featuring an opening cover of Slayer’s Raining Blood, bassist Vincent Price bleeding all over his instrument, and featuring a cameo from Ice’s two-year-old daughter Chanel (on Talk Shit, Get Shot, obvs) the rap-metal thugs are utterly lethal today. And scary.
“Today’s our fifth birthday as a band, and this is an excellent way to spend it!” yells Milk Teeth (KKK) frontwoman Becky Blomfield. Guitarist Billy Hutton celebrates the occasion by clambering up the lighting rig, before the Stroud punks give their special set a send-off with a huge rendition of Owning Your Okayness. Next up, Black Foxxes (KKK) pack a hefty punch, with songs that smoulder slowly before exploding. Manic In Me is particularly colossal, with frontman Mark Holley bellowing through a megaphone in full ‘rockstar fantasy’ mode.
When it comes to dealing with sound problems, BLACK VEIL BRIDES (KKK) have the perfect solution: simply bake everything in a bombardment of pyro, play your best eight songs and leg it. We can barely hear frontman Andy Biersack for the first few minutes, so he takes matters into his own hands, jumping offstage and sharing vocal duties with the crowd during Wake Up. And then, suddenly, the band – and sound – appear to kick into a different gear. Fallen Angels is jubilant, with that hefty hook sung loudly by the initially hesitant audience, before In The End concludes a set that sees BVB on fighty form.
By comparison, Californian post-hardcore legends THRICE (KKK) lack ballast. There’s no doubting the music’s quality, of course, with frontman Dustin Kensrue emotionally launching himself into songs like The Artist In The Ambulance and The Earth Will Shake. Sadly, though, they wilt in the glaring sun.
MYRKUR (KKKK) were always the band least likely to start a massive pit. But power comes in many forms, and Amalie Bruun and her hooded cohorts start not with a bang but an atmospheric caress. There are still injections of metallic aggression, but this is defined by its ethereal finery and the power of the singer’s delivery, cooling us off with its glacial beauty.
The dead walk amongst us! Or, at least, a band that refuses to stay dead. Alexisonfire (KKKK) are back again. Vast pits are thrown open as vocalist George Pettit jokingly grades the crowd’s energy from “Fucking
weak!” to “Bullshit!” When guitarist Dallas Green unleashes his cannon of a voice, you wonder if it might flatten the field, even without thousands of fans roaring along to bangers like This Could Be Anywhere In The World. Hit after hit send chills down the spine to make this a truly special return.
Back on the Main Stage, SHINEDOWN (KKKK) are busy proving that, while their music may be lacking in danger, they never fail to impress live. Brent Smith shows once again that he’s a frontman in the truest sense, as well as a genuinely phenomenal singer, and the enormous crowd watching clearly agree. “We’re not going to talk,” announces ZEAL
& ARDOR (KKKK) mainman Manuel Gagneux in a moment of opening calm for the blackmetal experimentalists. The marriage of frostbitten savagery with the haunting warmth of gospel and chain-gang soul speaks loudly for itself. Indeed, the spectacular Don’t You Dare tugs up the goosebumps far harder in this sweltering tent than on record.
“It’s utter daylight; the opposite of our lives,” drawls MARILYN
MANSON (KKKK) on the Main Stage. It’s good to have the cheerful old sod back on form following last September’s horrific leg fracture. That said, he looks distinctly uncomfortable, and there’s a few unintentionally funny moments – such as during The Dope Show, when he dons an outfit that makes him look weirdly like a turkey. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of menace in the sickening, subversive Antichrist Superstar and The Beautiful People to chill sunburnt skin.
“Days like these are fucking amazing!” grins Rise Against (KKKK) frontman Tim Mcilrath as the sun hangs low over the Zippo Encore Stage. He may be throwing out some sobering reality checks about racism, homophobia and sexism between songs, but he also can’t help but break into a smile as he belts out Savior and Ready To Fall. There is a truly sombre moment when Survive is dedicated to the late Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, but it only serves to add more intensity to an already powerful and often poignant set.
There are times tonight when BARONESS (KKKK) frontman John Baizley looks almost overwhelmed. When spontaneous clapping breaks out to Chlorine & Wine, or rapturous screams greet Shock Me, he throws back his head and laughs with pure joy. And why not? Baroness have lived through enough tribulation for any band, including a bus smash that nearly killed them. When John tells us how happy he is “to still be here” to close the Dogtooth Stage it’s no throwaway sentiment, and the band’s sublime mix of subtlety, power and roof-rending songs provide the perfect closer not by Ozzy…
Another Saturday night being a legend. Sigh…
“If anyone has my shirt, I’d very much like it back…”