Sunday, 29 December 2019

A Decade In Live Music - Favourite Festival Sets

I signed off my 2019 -A Year In Live Music blog saying I would likely knock something together as a best of the decade type affair. That is what I have done with these posts (there is another one nearby this one for best gigs). How I am going to do this is go over all the lists I’ve knocked together and try and drag out the best ones for two lists – favourite festival sets of the decade, and favourite gigs of the decade. I’ve decided to split the two lists into two posts (end of the decade isn’t the sort of thing that comes around every 5 years y’know!) Without further ado – the list!


To determine this list, I’ve gone through all my festival reviews from the last 10 years and extract the sets I’ve given the best scores to, and then whittle them down. Because the long list was over 30 bands long, it felt wrong to not have an honourable mentions section. As such, here are the honourable mentions (in chronological order).

Honourable Mentions

2010: Alice Cooper, Sick Of It All, Rammstein, Skindred, Pendulum, Iron Maiden (Sonisphere 2010).
2011: Skindred, Clutch, Down, System of a Down (Download 2011). Madness (Reading 2011)
2012: Metallica, Refused (Download 2012).
2013: Rammstein, Iron Maiden (Download 2013).
2014: Faith No More, Black Sabbath (British Summer Time 2014). Nine Inch Nails (Belsonic 2014).
2015: Clutch, Muse (Download 2015).
2016: Travis (Victorious 2016).
2019: The Interrupters (Slam Dunk 2019). IDLES (All Points East 2019).

15. Pulp – Reading 2011

Original Words: Absolutely superb, both in performance and in stage show. The show consisted of quite a lot of screens flashing different colours and patterns between songs complimented by a complex lighting show. The band themselves were on top form, with Jarvis Cocker sounding particularly good. Opening with the great “Do You Remember The First Time”, they came out on fire which continued throughout the set, made of the very best of Pulp. Predictably, it was the bigger songs such as Disco 2000 and Common People that got the biggest crowd responses, but the rest of the set was really well received and created a great atmosphere. They were everything I hoped they would be, and it was spectacular.

14. Slipknot – Download 2019

Original Words: Band of the day for me. They were excellent. Could be one of my favourite times seeing them live, but all the times have been pretty great so tough to work out. Opening with People = Shit and Get This was incredible. Unsainted is massive live. It is outrageous when a band can drop a song as big as Before I Forget in the middle of their set as if it is just another song. 

New Words: Not much more to add, given I just wrote about them. Only additional point to add was that I originally was only bothered about going to Download for the day Tool played, and on this list are two bands who played the festival this year on different days.

13. The Interrupters – Download 2019

It was a tough shout as to whether to include this one, or the Slam Dunk set when I was first properly introduced to The Interrupters. I went with this one because I went in roughly knowing what to expect, and still had an amazing time. Without question, of all the bands I discovered in 2019, they are my favourite. I look back on Download 2019 and still don’t regret missing Whitesnake (who I’ve still not seen) in order to see this band for the second time in about 3 weeks. One of my favourite sets at Download 2019, and one of my favourites of the last 10 years.

12. Rammstein – Wacken 2013

Original Words: The headliner of the Night To Remember was Rammstein (10) and they have always been outstanding when I’ve seen them live. This was no exception. If anything, this show was possibly better than others due to the sing-along’s just making the atmosphere even more special. When seeing them in England, you have people singing to what they can, and some people guessing at the rest (myself included at times). In Germany, it is completely different (given that they are a German band that sings, unsurprisingly, in German). The show was identical to Download aside from two things. They teased playing the song Rammstein, which was cool.

New Words: Before the Milton Keynes stadium show, my preference when it came to seeing Rammstein was seeing them indoors. That being said, the festival shows I’ve seen of theirs have all been excellent. This one made this list because of being surrounded by people who knew all the words, aside from a phrase here and there. It was quite something.

11. Black Sabbath – Download 2012

Original Words: I believe the only words I could say during the set were “wow” and “...Black Sabbath!” It was outstanding. Ozzy’s voice sounded better than it was at Wacken, which impressed me as I thought it was good there. The band was just in superb form. There was something so special about seeing Ozzy, Tony and Geezer playing these iconic songs. It could be that I never thought I would see them performed live by Black Sabbath (I’m sure someone will read this and say “Bill Ward wasn’t there!” which is true, he wasn’t. However, he wasn’t missed. At least not by me). When Ozzy first introduced Tony Iommi, the ovation he got was deafening. Throughout the show the band all seem genuinely moved by the reaction they were receiving which is understandable as the crowd from front to back were just on. I am just throwing superlatives and praise at this set but that is what it deserves – it was a superb closing to the festival and I walked away so happy that I had seen them. Their set and the festival concluded with a pretty awesome fireworks display.

New Words: Only amendment to this I would add is that Ozzy’s voice may have sounded fine at Wacken, but this overall performance was head and shoulders above that one. Anyway, this was my first time seeing Black Sabbath and it was bloody ace.

10. Alice Cooper – Wacken 2013

Original Words: First up was Alice Cooper (10) who did the same set he toured in arenas in the UK in 2012. This is such a good show and he is just an excellent performer. I’m not sure how it is possible for him to have topped what I saw him do in Bournemouth, but he did. The band is a tight live unit which really helps. I was thinking at the time that this could be one of the best things I’ve seen ever (that is a long list).

New Words: I’m not sure how it was better than the headline show I saw in 2012, but it was. Maybe it was the band having toured the show for a year and they were just better? Maybe it was the show on a grander stage? I’m not sure, but it was the best Alice Cooper show I’ve seen.

9. Metallica – Sonisphere 2014

Original Words: After a slight wait, it was time for Metallica (10): By Request. I love Metallica and I love watching them live. This set was the 11th time I’d seen them live and it was one of the best. I seem to say that almost every time after seeing them play but it is the truth. I knew we were in for a setlist of greatest hits, plus Whiskey in the Jar and a new song but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the set in the slightest. They were fantastic on this day and the absolute highlight of my festival. I did a blog previewing the By Request setlist and I was slightly off in my setlist prediction but not by much. The opening of Battery into Master of Puppets opened up a mosh pit directly in front of me which made the gig a bit livelier. As happy as I was to hear old favourites performed live (as well as the new song, Lords of Summer, which I thought was great), I was really looking forward to one moment in the set and that came as the first song of the encore when Metallica played their cover of Whiskey In The Jar. I absolutely love their version of the song and live, it did not disappoint. After Whiskey, it was time for the Vote of the Day song, and the song I voted for, And Justice For All, won. I was chuffed with that as it is an excellent song (not that The Four Horseman and Wherever I May Roam aren’t excellent mind). Whiskey into And Justice, oh my! They concluded the set with Seek and Destroy (as per) and I left Sonisphere a happy man.

8. Volbeat – Wacken 2012

Original Words: I had already booked a ticket for Wacken 2012 long before Volbeat were announced (now I’m thinking about it, long before I’d actually been to their London headline show) so when they were announced in a major slot, I was delighted. Their set consisted of the very best of their material, a new song and some awesome special guests. During 7 Shots, the band were joined by Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate guitarist) and Mille Petrozza which was cool (first time seeing Mille on stage without a guitar!) and for Evelyn, much like when I saw them in London, they were joined on stage by Barney Greenway from Napalm Death. Volbeat are a top quality live band and proved it once again with this set. Michael Poulsen announced that Volbeat had just received a Platinum record for their sales in Germany, which was a cool moment. The set closed on their cover of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Wanna Be With You, Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza and Still Counting. After a quick blast through the intro to Raining Blood, they left the stage triumphantly. It really was an outstanding set from Volbeat

7. Slipknot – Sonisphere 2011

Original Words: Just, wow! Considering Paul Gray, the Slipknot bassist, tragically died last year, they were phenomenal live. Paul Gray’s boiler suit and mask were hung on stage next to the drum kit as a reminder that he was still a part of the band and had not been replaced. The band all wore their old jumpsuits and masks (aside from Corey Taylor). Speaking of whom, Corey Taylor is the ultimate front man and this set was more evidence to prove this fact. The rest of the band was also on top form. Curiously, Craig Jones was hidden to the side of the stage again. When I saw them in Hammersmith, he wasn’t even on the stage. I figured at Hammersmith, the stage was too small. Now I’m wondering if he has a fear of large crowds. Sid, at Hammersmith, clambered all over speaker stacks and did chin ups on the rising drums. Sid, at Sonisphere, dived into the crowd a number of times. The most impressive of which was off the top of the huge sound desk. Another thing worth noting was that I am always impressed that Joey Jordison can play the drums as well as his can when he is upside down or at a strange angle. He is probably the best drummer I’ve seen perform live. I could talk about every band member and how good live they were but I would just be wasting words and spewing superlatives about how good they were. One thing which really added to their set was the rain. It rained all the way through their set and usually that might be an annoyance. But this just made the atmosphere so much more special.

The setlist was really strong. The set started with (sic) and Eyeless which was a mental way to start the set and based on the video screens, the front looked crazy. I then finally got to see Wait and Bleed live. I was gutted when they didn’t play this at Hammersmith so this was a big moment for me. It was also epic as it inspired a near whole crowd sing along. The other highlights from the set included Liberate, Before I Forget, Pulse of the Maggots, Psychosocial, The Heretic Anthem, Duality, Spit It Out (my knee got very muddy during the Jump The Fuck Up part). And the encore of People = Shit and Surfacing. Oh, and they played Left Behind which was just as awesome to see live for me as Wait and Bleed, as it was the 2nd Slipknot song I fell in love with. The stage show was phenomenal as well. A great deal of pyrotechnics, fireworks and a very impressive lighting rig all added to a strong setlist played by a genius live band. The end of the show was very emotional as well. Paul Grey’s boiler suit was brought to the front of the stage with the band posing around it for photos. Joey Jordison went up to the suit and hugged it tight. That caused a slight lump in my throat as it just showed how much these 8 men are still missing Paul Grey. An emotional end to a truly amazing set – Slipknot was fantastic. I don’t know if this band will ever play the UK again. If they do, I will be there. If they don’t, I am privileged to have shared this moment with them. They were the perfect choice to end the festival.

6. Nightwish – Wacken 2013

Original Words: I will say this now, I truly hope Floor Jansen remains with Nightwish – she is an excellent front woman and did a fantastic job on all of the Nightwish material. The set list contained songs I’d not seen them play live before which really helped me enjoy the set even more. They also used a lot of pyro, which I just love. Their Wacken set could easily be the best I’ve ever seen them. In a nutshell, everything came together for Nightwish to have a stunning set – they chose the right one to film for a DVD – which is a must buy when it comes out. I walked around the arena blown away by how good it was - an excellent way to end Wacken 2013.

New Words: As of now Floor is still in Nightwish. I’ve seen two arena shows with her in the band, and she is an excellent fit. I did enjoy some of the times I saw the band with Anette Olzen in the band (there were a couple of shows which weren’t great) but in my opinion, Nightwish are in a better place with Floor Jansen as the singer. This show was outstanding and has been matched by the two arena shows I mentioned that I have seen.

5. Aerosmith – Download 2014

Original Words: It was time for Aerosmith. I was so very jealous of a friend of mine for going to Download 2010 and seeing Aerosmith play (I still am as he got to see AC/DC but that’s a different story for another day). I had high expectations of Aerosmith and really hoped they wouldn’t be disappointing. I am very happy to be able to write that they were superb. Aside from the lack of Rag Doll and Back In The Saddle, the setlist was pretty damn good. One indicator to me that Aerosmith were excellent was just how good Steven Tyler still is at singing. As far as I could tell, he hit every note he needed to – an excellent performance by him. It was one of those great festival moments when they started playing I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing and nearly everyone in the crowd sang along with the song. I had buyer’s remorse about buying a ticket to see them again later this month but that has now completely disappeared after that set – it was just superb. Aerosmith are arguably one of the best bands I’ve ever seen headline at Donington Park.

4. Tool – Download 2019

Original Words: When you wait so long for something, and then it happens, and it is as good as you hoped it would be. That is why Tool top the list of my favourite festival sets. If you put a gun to my head and told me to pick a favourite bit of this set, it would be them dropping Vicarious, which hadn’t appeared on festival set lists to that point. Overall, this set was immense. I hope it is not a long wait before they are back here.

3. Avantasia – Wacken 2011

Original Words: Words cannot describe, even now, how excited I was when the slot machine graphic showed Avantasia’s logo. There was a curtain across the stage (which is one of my favourite ways for a band to start, SOAD did it as well) and from behind it, the opening bars of “Twisted Mind” emerged. The atmosphere from then until the end was electric but also constantly changing. From sheer excitement to 60k+ people all swaying in unison, it was a fun crowd to be a part of. As for the band? It was unbelievable seeing them pull off this project live. For those that don’t know, Avantasia isn’t just a straight (EDIT: Standard? Normal?) band – it is a vast number of musicians and seeing it all in front of me was amazing. The set list was pretty much perfection. Since the gig, I’ve got their set list as a regular playlist and I still listen back and think it was incredible. I can’t list the best moments as it was all stunning. I’m sad to say that it was the last show (or it was announced as the last one, who really knows) but I was there. Getting the chance to see them made my Wacken festival. Seriously though, fuck you Corvus Corax for being so bad in 2008 that I left the arena and missed Avantasia. You have a lot to fucking answer for! Don’t think I’ll ever forgive them for that.

New Words: It wasn’t the last one, which is cool. They’ve just been announced for Wacken 2020 as part of their 20th anniversary tour. I won’t be at that one, which is a shame.

2. Metallica – Sonisphere 2011

Original Words: This was the 8th time of seeing Metallica live and it was just as special as all the others as well as being fucking awesome! They mixed the setlist up completely. They didn’t finish on Seek and Destroy, rather finishing with Creeping Death. Master of Puppets was the 2nd song of the night, rather than just before the encore. They opened the set with Hit The Lights, which when I had previously seen before in the encore. They included songs which I had never seen them play before (The Shortest Straw and more importantly, The Call of Ktulu). This continues the streak I have of always seeing Metallica playing a song live I’ve never seen them play before. They also played a song we saw earlier that day, Diamond Head’s Am I Evil. This was played with the members of Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax and the guest musicians on stage that day including a member of Diamond Head.

Another thing I love about seeing Metallica live is them bringing back songs they may not have played in this country for a long time. I have already discussed the two songs that I hadn’t seen live before, but there were also songs which I hadn’t seen for a long time. Songs such as Ride The Lightning, The Memory Remains (as epic, if not more so than when they played it at Wembley), For Whom The Bell Tolls but most importantly, BATTERY! I’m so happy they played these songs as well as all the others. I heard during the last song on their 2009 arena tour, they released big inflatable black balls into the crowd. This happened during Creeping Death and it was awesome. 8th time seeing them, 8th time walking away truly believing that once again, I have seen the best live band on the planet. Metallica truly were a fantastic end to the first day at Sonisphere.

1. Muse – Reading 2011

Original Words: Sometimes, a band’s live presence is hyped up so much, that it can never match it and winds up being disappointing. Muse matched it, and then some. Performance wise they are flawless. The three of them have amazing stage pres
ence and are very faithful to their songs when replicating them live. As for the stage show, it was just mind blowing. I thought Pulp’s was one of the best I have seen but Muse’s completely outshone it. The setlist following Origin of Symmetry as well was awesome. I would have liked to have heard Sing for Absolution but you can’t win them all. An awesome setlist + a stunning performance + a mind-blowing stage show = Muse at Reading 2011. They were the best band of the festival, without doubt.

New Words: This for years has been the benchmark for me for great festival headline sets. Muse at Reading 2011 blew me away and then some.

And that is that for my favourite festival sets of the 2010s. All in all, I've been very lucky to see some amazing bands put on some amazing shows in these environments. I don't know the next time I'll be at a festival (as of yet, I haven't got one booked in for next summer) so it is hard to say when the next time I will write about one will be. This has been fun reflecting back over 10 years and a number of different festivals though. 

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