Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Decade Of Gigs Part Three - Festival Sets

This blog is the next installment in my decade of gigs series and is all about festival headliners. Just like in the previous blog, I’ve not included everything as I’d be here for weeks writing this blog. There are a fair few entries I’ve picked for this blog so the way this will work is in a simple list format – Band, Festival and Year, Discussion with some bits and pieces around that. I should probably warn all reading at this point that there will be a lot of words about Metallica scattered through this blog. Before I start with the words, I want to include a photo from my big black book of tickets which is all of the festival wristbands I have kept (which I’m sure is all of them that gave a wristband).

I will be doing this in chronological order. Unlike the last two blogs, I actually start in the first year of my decade which is 2006. The first festival I went to was Download 2006. The first thought when reflecting back on that festival is just how bloody hot it was that weekend. My main complaint about festivals over the years has been about shitty weather. Download 2006 gets mentioned because it is at the complete other end of the scale in terms of weather. My main expense of the weekend was water (didn’t know they had free water taps available) and 3 of us were all camped in one 4 man tent. I’ve never repeated that since and on reflection, given how hot it was, that was a big error. Anyway, bands!

Strapping Young Lad – Download 2006 – The first great band I saw at Download 2006. I had no idea what to expect with them. They certainly weren’t a disappointment that’s for sure. Despite the fact they weren’t the first band I saw at Download, they were the first set I really enjoyed.
Tool – Download 2006 – The Friday night headliner. I really enjoyed their set and would definitely go to see them again still (I don’t think they’ve toured the UK certainly in the last 8 years). The sun going down took away from their show a bit I think. Not too much, but if you watch a video of them playing indoors, you’ll get what I mean.
Metallica – Download 2006 – This was my first time seeing Metallica and they played Master of Puppets in full – I mean mother of god! I’ve seen them 11 times in total and whilst I have seen them perform better in terms of a live act – this set remains very special to me. Once again, Puppets in full. I could easily launch into a discussion as to whether Puppets is my favourite Metallica album here, but I’ll resist. Another day perhaps!

I debated long and hard over whether or not to include Guns N’ Roses and their headline set from Download 2006. I opted against it as I have very few positive things to say about that set (it will get a mention when I do the part about out of town gigs). I will now move on to Download 2007. It was a much cooler year this time around and me and the mate I went to the festival with left the site more often to utilise the local village, which worked well I thought (aside from missing Bowling For Soup’s set in order to go offsite to a pub).

Machine Head – Download 2007 – My first time seeing Machine Head and it was fantastic. They had just released The Blackening and this set was a band who were already a fantastic live act from accounts celebrating their best ever release.
Motley Crue – Download 2007 – I didn’t see Linkin Park because I was at the second stage watching Motley Crue. I’ve seen the Crue 3 times and this was the only time I’ve walked away from one of their sets thinking they were amazing live. The other two have suffered significantly because of Vince Neil it has to be said. On this night though, they were superb. I’m saddened that I only have one good memory of them live, but at least I have this one.

2008 was an interesting year for me as I travelled abroad for the first time to go to a festival, and then did it again two months later. Both times to Germany – two very different festivals though. I’ve not been back to Rock AM Ring since this first visit and as I understand it, it has since moved. Wonder if they still have people walking 4 miles from where they camped to the festival site? Hope not. As much fun as I had at Wacken 2008, the lasting memory I have of that festival is missing Avantasia. I was going to see them but either The Haunted finished early, or Corvus Corax ran long. Regardless of what it was, I was subjected to some of Corvus Corax and my immediate reaction was to leave the arena. Avantasia are now one of my favourite bands so looking back, this was an error. In 2008, I also went to a day at Reading which Slipknot were originally scheduled to play but pulled out. I would have to wait until December that year to see them for the first time.

Rage Against The Machine – Rock AM Ring 2008 – The Friday night headliner were RATM, and before the festival, I couldn’t have been more excited. At the festival though, I badly planned my nutrition throughout the day (decided I didn’t want to embarrass myself at the food stalls by being unable to speak German so would just live off Calippo ice lollies all day – I never claimed to be a smart man). As a result, I was feeling pretty rough by the end of the day. I was also really far away from the stage. So much so that the band were essentially a blur from where I stood. However, I had a belting view of a video screen so all was well. RATM were everything I wanted them to be and more which made me happy.
Metallica – Rock AM Ring 2008 – Much the same thing as RATM in terms of positioning. This was probably the worst of the 3 times I’d seen them at this point and yet it was still amazing. They played Bleeding Me and Devil’s Dance during this set, both fantastic songs which I wish they would give live airings to more often.
Iron Maiden – Wacken 2008 – The main headliner at Wacken plays on a Thursday night, in theory (Accept in 2014, really?) Anyway, Maiden were on their Somewhere Back In Time tour. I wrote about that a fair bit in the last blog about big gigs. This was just as good as that night, despite Bruce Dickinson losing his cool with a camera man.
Nightwish – Wacken 2008 – Their set at Rock AM Ring 2008 was plagued with sound problems. As a matter of fact, on the Wacken 2008 DVD, they called it their worst ever live show. This was the polar opposite and for many years, was the best I’d ever seen them perform live. I could easily talk about all of the bands that closed out this festival for me, but they were the second to last band in a run that I still think is one of the best days of any festival I’ve been to - Kamelot, Obituary, As I Lay Dying (before the whole awkward attempted murder business), Carcass, Killswitch Engage, At The Gates, Nightwish, Kreator – amazing day.
Metallica – Reading 2008 – After Slipknot had pulled out, I was a bit bummed out. I remember that day being a bit of a mess actually as Avenged Sevenfold pulled out the night before and weren’t replaced, which meant the main stage was off for at least an hour that day. Anyway, the main event was Metallica and they had a blinding set - rivalling Download 2006 as my favourite time seeing them at a festival.

In 2009, I only went to one day at a festival. It was the newly formed Sonisphere festival at Knebworth. I was really excited by this festival as it was so much closer to home than Download was. I only went for the one day, which I really regret now. I would have loved to see Heaven and Hell on the Saturday, which would have been one of, if not, the last time Ronnie James Dio performed at a UK festival with Heaven and Hell. Anyhow, I went on the Sunday to see Metallica and Nine Inch Nails. This would be the first time after a day at a festival that I would sleep rough. It is not a good idea.

Nine Inch Nails – Sonisphere 2009 – This was the third time I’d seen NIN in 2009. Each one of the gigs had their own special moment for me. This one was a very different set to the ones they had played at their two UK arena shows but I loved that. There were a fair few people in the crowd pissed that they did mostly softer songs, but I loved it. From a selfish perspective, I loved the fact they played The Frail and The Wretched as they hadn’t at either arena show. Those songs, plus Gone, Still and Lights In The Sky made for a great set as far as I was concerned. I am one of a very small number of people who loved that set. Whenever this set is spoken about by other people, they talk about their disappointment with it. You’ll never get that view from me.
Metallica – Sonisphere 2009 – I wanted one of four things from this set. 1) Open with Blackened; 2) Dyers Eve; 3) Stone Cold Crazy; 4) Hit The Lights. One of those would have sent me home happy – I got all 4 plus Of Wolf And Man! I was delighted. This became my favourite time seeing Metallica at a festival for a few years.

Alice Cooper – Sonisphere 2010 – Sonisphere did this interesting thing in 2010 of having half a day on their main stages. In that, they just had no bands on the Friday of their main stage. I remember thinking it was a good idea at the time but I don’t remember why I thought that now. Anyhow, the stage was headlined by Alice Cooper and it was my first time seeing him. He did not disappoint. I’ve seen him twice since and both times were significantly better than this set, but this one was still ace.
Rammstein – Sonisphere 2010 – This set was a shortened version of their arena tour from earlier than in the year but (I think) Du Reichst So Gut was added. I was really close to the front for this set and it was a lot of fun down there (and somewhat unsurprisingly, very warm). The only thing which bothered me about their set at Sonisphere was they didn’t close on Engel. They did at all their summer dates that weren’t Sonisphere’s, which was odd. This wasn’t enough of a disappointment to ruin the set for me though.

In 2011, I made my first return to Download since 2007. I only went for the day though because System of a Down were playing. I missed them in 2005 and I wasn’t going to miss them again.

Avenged Sevenfold – Download 2011 – I loved Avenged at Download 2006. I thought they were terrible when they supported Maiden at Twickenham in 2008 and was delighted (as a result) when they pulled out of Reading that year. I missed Twisted Sister to see them because I wanted a good spot in front of the main stage for SOAD. This set was memorable because it was essentially their audition to headline the festival in 2014 and they passed that with flying colours. I wasn’t much of a fan and didn’t know a whole lot of their material – and I thought the set was fantastic. They did headline in 2014 and I didn’t watch them. My reasons will become apparent later in this post.
System of a Down – Download 2011 – So many reviews of this set were sub-par but I loved it. The setlist was near perfection for me and I thought the live performance was fantastic. I wonder how much of that opinion was influenced by the fact I was blinded by the fact I was seeing them live for the first time? Probably a fair bit. Anyway, I’ve seen them since indoors and that was significantly better. I don’t regret going to see them here though. I do regret sleeping in the train station afterwards – that wasn’t fun. You think I would have learned my lesson from after Sonisphere 2009. As I previously stated, I never claimed to be a smart man.

I only went for the one day at Download because I went to Sonisphere but also because I went to Wacken and Reading again that year. It was the third time Sonisphere had been at Knebworth. It was the second time Metallica were going to headline but this time, they were joined by the other bands that formed the Big Four of Thrash Metal for the first time all four bands were on stage together in the UK.

The Big Four – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax – Sonisphere 2011 – A quick whistle stop review of this day – Diamond Head opened for them and they were good. Anthrax, who were playing Sonisphere for the third year in a row (and actually have now played the 4 Sonisphere’s at Knebworth 5 times…) were better the year before. Megadeth had a very solid set. Slayer were the best I’d ever seen them at that point. Metallica, whilst I didn’t enjoy their set as much as the 2009 one, it was still outstanding. The moment of all four bands being on stage at once, with members of Diamond Head, covering Am I Evil?, is one that I hope will stay with me for a long time. It was quite something.
Slipknot – Sonisphere 2011 – It pains me not to have an entry for Weezer before this one. I had a headache and missed them. Damn you head! Anyway, this was Slipknot’s first UK show without Paul Gray. It was an excellent set. Plus, I got to hear them play my favourite song of theirs, Wait and Bleed, which they didn’t do when I saw them back in 2008. It was a great set.
Avantasia – Wacken 2011 – This was my first time seeing them because I left the arena on 2008 because the band on before them, Corvus Corax, were that bad. Just reflecting on that moment, I’m not sure if it is because they ran late, or The Haunted finished early. Regardless, I missed Avantasia in 2008 and that was an error. I’ve had a stern word with myself over this matter. I was not missing them in 2011 however. Not missing them was a great call. After seeing they had been announced for the festival I gave them another listen and almost instantly fell in love with them. I was so excited for this set and it surpassed all my expectations. It was an amazing set.
Pulp – Reading 2011 – I went into this set not knowing if it would be any good. I liked Pulp but had no knowledge of what they were like live. I’m glad I stuck around as they hit a home run with this set. This set was fantastic but my second favourite of the weekend, It was something special that meant it was my second favourite. As a side note, someone from Q Magazine got in contact with me about the photos I took during this set. He was very interested to know if I had any with Richard Hawley on stage with them. I sent him my photos and never heard anything back. I guess they were not up to the required standards, which considering they were taken from the crowd with a handheld digital camera, I guess makes sense.
Muse – Reading 2011 – This was my first time seeing Muse live, and it was mind blowing. At the end of this, I’m going to try and rank my favourite festival headline sets. Spoiler alert, this will be in it. They played their album Origin of Symmetry in full, which was just epic. They then came back out afterwards and did a short “best of” set. I think the best word I can use to describe it is stunning.

There have been a lot of words about Metallica in this blog so far, so I’m actually going to skip talking about them at Download 2012 in any sort of detail. That tour is covered on my big gigs blog. I’ll get back to them later. In 2012, I went to Download and Wacken again. This time, I was at Download for the weekend. Download 2006 was ridiculously hot – Download 2012 at times felt like it was taking place in winter – miserable.

Refused – Download 2012 – Sonisphere had booked Refused to headline their second stage before they cancelled their festival. Download then booked them and stuck them near the top of their second stage. I knew New Noise and that’s about it. I walked away from that set completely sold on Refused. Their gig later that year in London was mind-blowing.
Black Sabbath – Download 2012 – I was nervous. I had seen Ozzy have a somewhat sketchy set at Wacken the year before and I really hoped this would be better. It was, by some margin. This was my set of the weekend and them and Metallica being so good made up for the weather, which had tested my patience and caused me to injure my back. Sets this good made it all worthwhile.
Volbeat – Wacken 2012 – HOW ARE THIS BAND HEADLINING FESTIVALS IN EUROPE BUT NOT HERE?! Sorry but that saddens me. This show was an exclusive European show for Volbeat and it was outstanding. To see what I had seen in a 2000 capacity room in London replicated but improved upon with 80000 people going nuts was pretty cool. I’m not sure if this was their first festival headline set in Europe, but they now seem to top the bill without trouble. Europe does get some things right, as Volbeat are ace.

2013 saw the same festivals on my agenda as the year previous, only this time they came with a lot less rain, which was nice. At both of these festivals, I saw Rammstein. I’m only going to include one entry for reasons which I will make very clear when the time comes.

Iron Maiden – Download 2013 – This show started with a Spitfire flying over main stage. That was so impressive to see. Sonisphere tried to top that the next year with a recreation of a World War battle in the skies above the festival. It was cool, but this was something very special. This set was another nostalgia tour, Maiden England, and it was ace. According to some people in the crowd, they had sound problems but I didn’t hear any problems.
Rammstein – Wacken 2013 – Seeing Rammstein play in Germany was something very special for me. Seeing them in the UK is cool but seeing them surrounded by people who are singing every word is another animal all together. They were still touring their Made In Germany best of album, which made it even better.
Nightwish - Wacken 2013 - I had seen Nightwish the year before at Download for the last time in the UK with Anette Olzon which was great. However not that long after that set, she left/was fired from the band. They replaced her, initially on a temporary basis, with a singer called Floor Jansen. As part of the tour with Floor, they headlined Wacken on the closing night. I couldn't get the money together to see Nightwish when they played the UK with Floor in November of 2012, so I had no idea if this set would be any good or not. Within a few songs, I knew it would be better than good. It became my favourite time seeing them live, replacing their set at Wacken 2008. It was a great set. 

I went to Download and Wacken again in 2014, but I also went to two of the three days of what will likely be the last Sonisphere festival in the UK. It seems as though without Iron Maiden or Metallica, they just can’t run. A real shame really.

The Offspring – Download 2014 – The final three bands on the second stage of Download on the Friday were Flogging Molly, Bad Religion and The Offspring. It was outstanding and Offspring were the best band that day. They played their album Smash in full, which was cool. I remember being concerned about how good they would be after seeing them be somewhat disappointing at Reading in 2011. They were so much better on this day though, which I was very happy about.
Linkin Park – Download 2014 – The only band on this list that I didn’t watch their full set. The reason for that is they opened their set by playing Hybrid Theory in full. This was one of the albums that got me into rock and metal music. It was the only date on their European tour where they played the album in full and it was a very special moment. I left afterwards as there is very little post-Meteora that I like so I felt leaving after Hybrid Theory was the right decision as I didn’t want to talk about a story of two sets – now I can talk about the one time I’ve seen Linkin Park being superb
Aerosmith - Download and Calling Festivals 2014 – The only dual entry on this list, simply because on reflection I cannot decide which set I prefer. They were great at both gigs. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to see them live, so to see them twice in one month was ace – to see them be great twice in a month makes it even better.
Metallica – Sonisphere 2014 – this set was on the Metallica By Request tour, which was a cool idea until everyone voted for the songs they pretty much always play. I had hoped for Frayed Ends of Sanity but oh well, can’t win them all. I got to hear Whiskey In The Jar live, which was just fantastic. They also opened the set with 3 of the first 4 songs from Master of Puppets, which I loved. They reserved one song for on the day votes, which the title track from …And Justice For All won, which was a nice surprise.

A Day To Remember – Download 2015 – I had gone to see them in Portsmouth in 2014 and the gig was fantastic and would have made my top gigs of the year list until someone jumped off the balcony, cutting things short. This set was superb and I could see them rising up the bill further. Future headliner? Quite possible.
Muse – Download 2015 – My only headliner entry from Download 2015. There were a lot of fantastic sets from this weekend but Muse were my band of the weekend. I think the week before this set, they head released their album Drones, which was excellent. This set was almost as good as their Reading one from 2011, which was my benchmark for them. In their encore came a nice surprise. All the sets had Starlight in the encore which is a fantastic song. It was dropped for Download and replaced by Plug In Baby, the song which got me into Muse. I was giddy when that happened.

And that is my festival sets blog. I could have included so many more. I did consider writing several blogs and highlighting the best sets from festivals but that would probably be 4 blogs on its own. Out of the headline sets I’ve discussed here, I have picked what I think are my five favourite. This was a tough list to make. Given the amount of words written about them, it probably won’t come as much of a surprise that Metallica feature twice.,

5. Metallica – Download 2006
4. Muse – Reading 2011
3. Rammstein – Wacken 2013
2. Avantasia – Wacken 2011
1. Metallica – Sonisphere 2011

Part four of this series will be coming very soon. Links to Parts 1 and 2 should be available on the right hand side of this blog (admittedly a lot further up the page), or you can click these helpful links!

Part 1 – The Wedgewood Rooms
Part 2 – Outdoor and Stadium Shows

Part 4 will be the first part of my London entry – the first 5 years of the gigs I went to in London. That will be coming soon!


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