Day Two of the Donnington Park festival saw AFI storm their headline set while Rob Zombie leveled up the theatrics.
Today is really the main day at Download – the line-up is epic.
It’s early AF but there’s a substantial crowd for Creeper who open the main stage today at 12pm. That’s because the hype around this Southampton mob is so justifiable. Fusing elements of AFI, Meatloaf and standard pop punk – their infectious hooks, dramatic stylings (Singer Will Ghould is painted partially purple…) and overall energy are poised to make 2017 their year.
They open with ‘Black Rain’ – as catchy as it is furiously fast. Suzanne is another notable highlight – with Ghould sounding like a Meatloaf gone to the dark side. When he stops to address the crowd his awkwardness and Englishness is utterly endearing and as they end on I Choose To Live this is a true defining moment for this band – they’ll be so much higher up the bill next year.
Things have never been easy for metalcore bruisers Of Mice And Men. Predominantly because of former singer Austin Carlisle who left the band late last year due to health issues. Though he’s noticeably absent as an enigmatic frontman and distinctive vocalist, singer/guitarist Aaron Pauley does a brilliant job of holding everything together.
They open on ‘Would You Still Be There’ which rock catchiness at its best, and though new track ‘Unbreakable’ is decent enough it’s still a tad forgettable. Tracks like ‘Never Giving Up’ and ‘Broken Generation’ aren’t super riffy, and create a lull in the set – so much so that a large section of the pit has just sat down. But they do save the best for last – namely ‘Pain’ which is nu-metal inspired brilliance – although you do miss Carlile’s neurotic vocals wailing over the top. They close with ‘The Depths’ – a highlight in a slightly plodding but stoic set – which promises good things for these guys, despite their recent turbulence.
You either get A Day To Remember – or you find them bizarrely chaotic, going from metalcore to cutesy pop punk in the swing of a guitar. Opening with one of their best tracks – ‘All I Want’ – the huge crowd gathered pogoing in unison and pits form. As they launch into ‘A Plot To Bomb The Panhandle’, singer Jeremy McKinnon turns to the crowd and roars “Download, how many people came to dance?” and they unleash the first bit of pyro of the day with fire surging upwards from the stage. They’re always reliably good live, if not a tad uninspired at times. But they end by throwing a tonne of t-shirts off the stage during ADTR classic ‘Naivety’ – and predictably the crowd goes totally batshit.
Wednesday 13 is an unexpected Download weekend highlight. Though he’s best known for fronting the Murderdolls with ex Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison the tent is rammed full of fans singing every word back at this ghoulish creature on stage, with his hair blowing, offset against the green stage lights. The weekend needed a bit of drama and silliness – and Wednesday’s goth-horror-rock is the perfect tonic. He rattles through tracks like ‘Keep Watching The Skies’ and ‘I Love To Say Fuck’ with the addition of fire-performers Pyrohex for even more drama.
But his shlock-rock is nothing compared to Rob Zombie who headline the second stage as Biffy Clyro front the main stage. Zombie opens with Dead City Radio and the stage becomes enveloped in smoke and the many screens across the stage play the kinds of b-movie, gory visuals the White Zombie singer has become known for. The theatrically levels are dialed right up as guitarist John 5 (ex Marilyn Manson) grins with flashing LED grills and a matching flashing guitar.
Predictably, ‘Living Dead Girl’, ‘More Human Than Human’ and dance-floor classic ‘Dragula’ are highs, but the whole set is visual as hell, compelling and exactly the kind of OTT fun this weekend needed.
AFI is a big draw this weekend at Download. They’ve just released ‘Afi -The Blood Album’ their tenth studio album, album and though it’s far more mellow than their earlier punk days, there’s still a loyal crowd here gathered to hear their goth-punk brilliance.
And they’re in luck. They start with ‘Girls Not Grey’ from 2003’s ‘Sing The Sorrow’ and singer Davey Havok sounds as vital as he did about 15 years ago (and also bizarrely ageless.) Flashback to a few weeks ago and this is an entirely different scenario. They recently played Alexandra Palace supporting Deftones which was something of a comeback show, but the sound was appalling and Havok was barely audible. So tonight they’re making up for it an succeed with aplomb – they sound as close to perfection as is sonically possible.
The band blitz through ’17 Crimes’ and ‘Love Like Winter’ effortlessly, as an energetic Havok leaps about the stage like a pint sized Goth commander – all power stances and dramatic stares. They couldn’t be more on top of their game right now as a live band – and unlike so many other acts of the early noughties none of their material sounds retro or irrelevant. ‘Days Of The Phoenix’ is classic iconic AFI and sounds as puncturingly raw as it did in 2000 when it was released. Havok sings the line ‘No one could see me’ into the crowd hanging on the last note pertinently, before taking a moment to pout dramatically into the camera, and stomp off.
The caveat is that their new material, like the singles ‘Snow Cats’ and ‘Aurelia’ sound limp and weak in comparison. Though their softness does give Havok the space for plenty more Zoolander-Esque posing and hair flicking (which he seems to have amped WAY up). Havok says a brief thank you before they finish on ‘Miss Murder’, mic drop, and exit having played one of the best sets of the weekend, and one of the most defining of their careers. And sure the new stuff isn’t particularly compelling – but they do sound incendiary tonight – and that’s never a word used lightly. They’ve warmed the hearts of many die-hard AFI fans tonight, and captured the souls of so many new ones too.