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Live review: Download Festival, Donington Park

Friday, June 11 - Sunday, June 13

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To rock’s rich and gloriously ludicrous history of extravagant posturing and one-upmanship (Led Zep’s plane, ELP’s gazillion trucks and onstage piano tossing, Roger Waters’ wall), AC/DC just added another entry. They turned up today with their own stage. It’s right next to the main stage. And it’s bigger than the main stage. No-one else is using it this weekend, and no-one else is playing when they come onstage. Quite rightly, they’re getting set to OWN Friday at Download.

If you missed it, the set isn’t much different from their 1991 performance right here at Donington: big riffs, drums so rudimentary the guy can smoke his way through the set, choruses riddled with metal metaphor, calls of “get ’em out if you got ’em girls” during ‘The Jack’ and sunburnt titties flashed obligingly in response, Brian’s Quasimodo swinging during ‘Hell’s Bells’, ‘Back In Black’ tossed out as track three by a band well aware of their bulging catalogue, long-haired guys in capes loudly saluting those who rock, confetti, fireworks, obliterated punters retreating broken and bruised from the field during ‘Shoot To Thrill’ (which was less than halfway through) – the usual.

Sure, there were some other bands playing earlier today (36 crazyfists battled bad sound and came out victorious by a whisker, Them Crooked Vultures packed in a few more jams than last time we saw them), but really it’s all about the high-voltage, highly predictable rock’n’roll.

In fact most of the weekend is a joyous celebration of metal tradition and totally welcome cliché that sees bands and punters alike travel down well-worn tracks: Motorhead deploying the phrase “rock out with your cock out” and playing 10 songs that sound like ‘Ace Of Spades’, Megadeth resurrecting hits from ‘Rust In Peace’, Billy Idol as cheesy as ever through ‘White Wedding’. Slash soloing behind his head for a G N’R-packed set (with ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ highlights and Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy doing a pretty good Axl impression).

Saturday, and Rage continue their UK victory lap with the best tracks from all three albums and prove why they’re worthy headliners despite having only that many records. ‘Know Your Enemy’ and ‘Bulls On Parade’ prove particularly potent before the inevitable finale involving THAT tune.

Sunday brings the most surprises. Dillinger Escape Plan cut through the torrential rain like a cattle prod to the forehead, their brutal jazz metal laying waste to the hordes in ’80s wigs and pink leotards waiting for Steel Panther’s sleazy, well-worn-but-quite-funny set. And Aerosmith confound expectation by a) turning up, with b) Steven Tyler being utterly amazing c) changing their set from previous weeks and d) somehow making the pissing rain cease. It’s hard to argue with their opening salvo of mostly Big Ones (‘Love In An Elevator’, ‘Back In The Saddle’, ‘Mama Kin’, ‘Eat The Rich’) and Mr Tyler shows no sign of his helium-huffing self of January in spangly gold waistcoat and trousers paired with boxfresh trainers, deploying variations on the trademark caterwaul throughout. A few blues standards and some harmonica solos later and we’re back in big hit territory, ‘Dream On’ and ‘Walk This Way’ cloaking the sodden site in déjà vu.
Three days in the field and one monsoon later we’re predictably ruined, but we’ll definitely be back next year, Download, with dongs duly out.

Tim Chester

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