High Voltage: Day Two
It’s a hot day in the east of London, as the hordes leave a trail of order and calm at local tube stations and on the buses. Hang on, this a rock festival… where’s the expected chaos? Even the stewards appear relaxed. Trouble? They’re not on the bill this year.
Words: Malcolm Dome
Walking through, the first sight on site are the 21st century morris dancers, who look like black metal nutters dressed up for a posh wedding as they wield what look like baseball bats! Anthony Burgess should have written this into A Clockwork Orange. The droogs would drool with envy.
First band on to the Main Stage on Sunday, July 24 are Love Fungus, introduced by TV personality James May. In fact, this lot are only on the bill because they’re being filmed for the next series of Man Lab. The approach is rap metal and rather clichéd in a late 90s style, but a pleasant enough early diversion.
Heaven’s Basement are the acknowledged and expected opening band on the Main Stage. Just a few years ago, they were hot and happening. British melodic rockers whom some tipped to be the new Def Leppard. But things have been going wrong since then, and today they look and perform like a band who know their time has gone.
On the Metal Hammer Stage, The Treatment emphasise why they’ve now surpassed Heaven’s Basement. Vibrant, focused and full of cranked-up songs. The future belongs the them.
They actually are the second band on this stage, following the impressively intelligent metal of Furyon, a band who can shake any trees yet also have depth of musicianship.
Meantime, over at the Prog Stage, Pallas get everything right into gear with an impassioned performance that climaxes on the deft and evergreen Arrive Alive. They pave the way for The Enid, whose unique brand of classical prog might be bonkers – but is also spellbinding. Robert John Godfrey et al bring back memories of the Reading Festival in 1983 as the set ends with The Dambusters Theme, featuring snippets of Land Of Hope And Glory and Also Sprach Zarathustra. Evocative in the sunlight.
Over on the Main Stage, Saint Jude more than live up to expectations as their groove-riddled blues rock provides the perfect showcase for vocalist Lynne Jackaman’s incredible vocals.
Lynne is the first female on stage at this year’s festival, but she only just beats Sonja Kristina, who leads Curved Air through an extravagant set on the Prog Stage. She really is the earth mother of progressive music, still has a sensual voice and a vital presence.
Dashing over to the Metal Hammer Stage, Gentleman’s Pistols again show why they are such a cult band. Their mix of blues, stoner and hard rock is both a trip back to the early 70s, but also makes them one of the 21st century’s most iconic underground bands.
Sweden’s Graveyard follow the Pistols with a similar approach, albeit much more straightforward. But it’s an enjoyable romp nonetheless.
If only the same were true of Michael Schenker on the Main Stage. He starts well enough, with Into The Arena and Armed & Ready, and one hopes these would be harbinger of a set predicated on classic MSG. Instead, we get two songs from an album not even released as yet, plus Scorpions and UFO tracks. Now, one from each of those bands would have been expected and more than acceptable. But big brother Rudy is on stage, so we get Another Piece Of Meat (fair enough) and Rock You Like A Hurricane, despite Michael having nothing to do with the latter. OK, his drummer today is Herman Rarebell, who is on the Scorpions original. But this is billed as Michael Schenker, not Schenker/Rarebell. We also get Pete Way dancing on for the UFO interlude, and Doogie White stepping out to sing one of the new tunes. All a bit messy, and Michael Schenker’s guitar is often lost in the mix.
Thunder, though, show everyone how it’s all done. They come on to a huge reception and deliver a totally crowd-pleasing set which… well, pleases the crowd. The band sound huge and having the time of their lives, with Danny Bowes once more proving he as an all-time great voice. Thunder are claiming this was a one-off, never to be repeated. Yeah, sure!
Mostly Autumn have come through the gears so well that they seem to be a logical choice for the third-on-the-bill slot on the Prog Stage. Their folk-rock approach is exactly right for this time in the afternoon. And anyone who believes they’ve been elevated above their capacity is soon made to rethink such a rash opinion.
Spock’s Beard are sublime as they follow Mostly Autumn. Their sophisticated, American take on the genre is backed up by an easy manner with the crowd. A definite winner.
As are Black Spiders, in a similar slot on the Metal Hammer Stage. They’ve a vibe somewhere between rock’n’roll and punk. Plus an assertive stage conviction. It all adds up to a band who pull a big crowd and make everyone enjoy the musical heat. The Spiders are surely destined for major honours.
On the Main Stage, it’s Black Country Community who step up next. Eagerly anticipated, this supergroup are still coming to terms with being a band. Glenn Hughes is in his element out front, but the impression is that Joe Bonamassa is taking time to find his niche. But the music is outstanding, the goodwill from the crowd is a torrent and the version of Deep Purple’s Burn is majestic. Hang on, didn’t Hughes recently insist the band won’t be doing any songs from their past? Oh well, it’s a festival. Let’s forgive them.
So, to the headliners. On the Metal Hammer Stage, Neurosis overcome the potentially disastrous situation of playing in daylight. The music is so intense and atmospheric, it usually relies on a light show that’s as much a part of the performance as the instrumentation. But tonight, they overcome all hazards and tripwires. This is a monumental reminder of why they can suck the soul right of out of you, and then replace it in a somewhat damaged yet elevated form.
Not to be outdone, Jethro Tull are at their finest on the Prog Stage. The area is absolutely packed and Ian Anderson leads the band through 80 minutes that pulse with life and some fascinating choices. Thick As A Brick and Hot Night In Budapest are astounding, while it’s fascinating to hear the way they treat Mother Goose and Hymn 43. Inevitably, the main set ends with Aqualung, to major cheers. At this juncture a lot of people drift away; they are quickly sucked back, though, when the band not only return for a well-deserved encore, but are joined by Joe Bonamassa for Locomotive Breath. Hearing the way the Black Country Communion man dovetails with regular Tull guitarist Martin Barre is a revelation. Let’s hope this guest appearance leads to more collaborations between band and the master American guitarist.
Finally, it’s down to Dream Theater to close not only the Main Stage but the whole festival. And they rise to the occasion brilliantly. Mike Portnoy might be gone, but Mike Mangini slots so comfortably into his position that he’s hardly missed. The great thing about the new drummer is that he already has his own reputation, and never feels the need to try and prove he’s worthy of the new position. Even Mangini’s solo has an ease and self-confidence. And the rest of the band seem so relaxed in a set that rightly concentrates on the classics, but has hints at what we can expect from new album A Dramatic Turn Of Events.
It’s a fine way to end two days which made Victoria Park victorious in the world of rock and metal.
Tags: Black Country Communion, Black Spiders, Curved Air, Danny Bowes, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Doogie White, Dream Theater, Furyon, Gentlemans Pistols, Glenn Hughes, graveyard, Heaven's Basement, Herman Rarebell, High Voltage Festival, Ian Anderson, James May, Jethro Tull, Joe Bonamassa, Love Fungus, Lynna Jackaman, Martin Barre, Micchael Schenker, Michael Schenker Group, Mike Mangini, Mike Portnoy, Mostly Autumn, Neurosis, Pallas, Reading Festival, Rudy Schenker, Saint Jude, Scorpions, Sonja Kristina, Spock's Beard, The Enid, The Treatment, Thunder, UFO