Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sonisphere and Loathing in, er Hertfordshire.

Knebworth House
July 7-10 2011

Loads of great bands. And some really crap ones.

Bit of a huge undertaking this one. So many acts. So much Cider. And Jagermeister. But here goes. I’ll keep it brief. Well, I’ll try.


Japanese Voyeurs *****
A game start to the weekend in the blue cavern of the Bohemia stage. Romily Alice (apart from being very hot) has a great stage presence and a fabulously quirky and flexible voice. And she kicks bottoms. Shame the sound wasn’t that great. All a bit bottom heavy, but an enthusiastic crowd were royally entertained and lapped up the grungy vibes accordingly. balls please
Lower Than Atlantis*****
Stupidly early slot for Mike Duce and the boys. They really should have been further into the bowels of the festival. But no matter. They nailed it. Duce’s snarling, chippy and spiky delivery went down a storm. Cajoling the ‘not broken in yet’ crowd to metamorphosise into an impressive, baying, moshing, crowd-surfing sea. The big tunes kept coming, The Deadliest Catch and I'm not bulimic I just wanted to see how far I could stick my fingers down my throat went down a storm. Duce, even getting the whole tent (apart from ‘one nob with a beard’) to sit down before jumping up in unison. As the epic Beech (Like A Tree) came to an end, a thoroughly entertained mob stumbled out of the stygian gloom into the bright Hertfordshire countryside plastered with smiles and sweat. Top job.

Protest the Hero*****
Oh dear. What a kick in the cock. One of the more anticipated and vaunted acts of the weekend fell flat. Not because of their performance. They were energetic, technical, kick-ass and brilliant. Nor was it the crowd. A baying finger-pointing very vocal pack did their bit. In spades. Nope, it was let horribly down by the sodding sound. Terrible. The sound man was either a) deaf. B) shit. C) an intern doing his first ever gig or d) a drummer. The amount of superfluous pfaffing over every micro sound from the kit in the soundcheck boded badly. Then the bass was tortured equally as the deaf idiotic shit intern twiddled the knobs. But the tit forgot to get the vox up. Totally killed the experience. The guitar was muddy, the drums far too dominant and, as I say, the vox sounded like they were coming from a tent half a mile away. Bollocks.

Rolo Tomassi*****
Don’t like Slayer. Or Megadeath. Or Anthrax. And, apart from one or two tunes, can’t really get even a bit tumescent over much of Metallica’s oeuvre. But bollocks to all the hairy, black-clad sweary types. This was one of the festival’s highlights. And it made it sweeter that it clashed with ‘The Big 4’. Massive noise from the weeny northerners. Eva Spence is the size of a Barbie doll but produces noise like being in a broom cupboard with a BSA with no silencer revving its arse off. Technical mathy sections give way to spacey almost Gong-like diversions, big guitars, bass drops, growls, screams, pops, whirrs, quacks and precision scalpel work totally eviscerate the enlightened slavering pack. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Yeah, yeah yeah. Had to catch them for half an hour or so. Just to add some counterpoint and a dollop of traditional metal sludge. Big show, big crowd, big noise. Almost perfect hi-fi quality sound. And big riffs. Caught the best ones. Chuggy chuggy. Exit light.Yeah.

And that's Jaz
Killing Joke*****
Shamefacedly I have to admit I don’t know an awful lot of Killing Joke’s work. But a Salmon like homing instinct impelled me to swim against the throng and through a milling crowd only to arrive at the front of an empty Bohemia Tent. But not for long. Soon the tent was bulging full (to be honest there was nowt else on at the time, so all the Metallica fans had popped in for a gander). Jaz Coleman took to the stage to a rapturous welcome. And then it kicked off. A powerful, heavy set was belted out. The only slight bemusement was that they played ‘that song’ – you know, Love like Blood – second. Yup, second. Not as a finale. Not as a set ending rebel-rousing anthem. Or even as a contrived ‘oh go on then’ encore. Second.  Well I never.

Anyway. We moshed, we sweated we sang along to the ones we could actually remember. Or at least thought we could remember. Smiley stuff. In a vaguely survivalist way. Spooky.

Far too tired to stay up for the Tek One set and far too drunk to be able to hold much of a conversation, I headed for the Dodgems then to bed with mother Jager. A good first day. Rolo Tomassi were the winners. From LTA. Just.  


Savage hangover. But soon soothed by the intake of more apple-based nostrums and Swiss herb-based magical elixir it was time for the lugubrious Mr Richard Cheese.

Richard Cheese and Lounge against the machine*****
Brilliant. Just brilliant. The loungiest lizard smooched and crooned his oleaginous way through Metallica, Snoop Dogg, Weezer, Limp Bizkit and even Big Butts. A perfect hangover restorative. 20,000 or so people snapping fingers, laughing, singing along and dancing. Like your dad. Special.

Architects *****
So, with the hangover consigned to history, it was time for something loud to shake off any residual fugginess. And Architects should be the boys to administer the sonic shock treatment.

Sam strolled on all smiles, energy and blond locks and launched into the big noise fest. A notoriously difficult slot, lunchtime on the second day, the boys did themselves proud. Huge noise. Huge crowd. Huge pits. Huge things ahead.

On a slightly picky note, the sound was less than perfect. And considering it was the very stage from which Metallica had squeezed out perfect audio, it was puzzling and frustrating. But, as I say the boys kicked some anuses.

Twitter had been bombarded with the news that Frank was leaving the Gallows and it cast an eerie low level of cloud over proceedings. Well, al least for a wee while. The set was just about perfect. The crowd frenzied. The Ginga tattoo canvas psyched and throwing himself into the adoring masses. The first wall of death of the festival was fairly impressive, but it kicked off properly when Frankie boy urged everyone to form the biggest circle pit ever, they duly obliged. Actually, it looked more like those scenes at the beginning of The London Marathon. With everyone dressed as freaks and miscreants running in a massive loop. All the way round the sound booth. Hilarious. Freaky. And impressive. A bit like the set really.

SUM 41*****
Meh. No good, til they did their ‘oh so spontaneous’ Metallica medley. Then the three songs that anyone actually knows. Which got people jigging about. A bit. But generally no good.

You Me At 6*****
The crowd sounded like a women’s hockey international. All fizzy knickers and screams. A big Marshall backline looked menacing and impressive. But that’s as rock and roll as it got really. Don’t get me wrong, I like this lot. As a kind of guilty pleasure; when they rock, they really are the real deal. But, whether it was the massive rain or just a blip, it was all a bit, well, wet. Josh’s voice was (unusually) labouring as though he’d been on the uncapped Capstans and despite his best attempts he couldn’t really get the soaked crowd up for much at all. A real shame. But it won’t stop them getting bigger and bigger. They’re on tour soon with Deaf Havana and LTA, so the future is a lot brighter than the Knebworth sky today.

No words. Couldn’t get in the fucking tent. Stood outside for as long as I could bear and they certainly seemed to take no prisoners. But disappointedly, we trudged off through the mud to go and find Pulled Apart By Horses.

Pulled Apart By Horses*****
Managed to secure a view in right at the back, but couldn’t really say that I got involved. Which was a criminal shame.  Missed the whiting-out of the guitarist, but really enjoyed it. They truly are a one off. Brilliant lyrics. Quirky, chirpy and thistly vox. Cracking heavy indie vibe with a malevolent aggression and energy melding it all together. Can’t wait to see them support the fantastic Deftones in August. Definitley want more.


Sadly, couldn’t get in to the tent for Periphery, but decided to head off to the main stage to see Weezer to cheer myself up. Bizarre but brilliant. As always.  You always get the feeling that Rivers Cuomo is smirking at a big ‘in joke’ and is so far ahead of us both philosophically and intellectually, but he’s always great value. Couldn’t stop smiling throughout. The wonderful sarcasm of playing Wheatus’s Teenage Dirtbag was lost on most of the grobs but raised a knowing eyebrow among the more tuned in heads. And all the hits were given a solid and well buffed airing with Hash Pipe getting the collective knees bending and fingers stabbing heavenwards. Fun, freaky and far too effete for most; but I loved it.

The Mars Water
The Mars Volta*****
A kettle. Brought onstage. Drinking hot water. Wanker! Don’t get me wrong, I love these weirdos. I totally buy into their acid-infused kaleidoscopic epic cerebellum cruises. But hot water? And Cuban heels? Jeez. That all said, they were fabulous. If not playing a bit over the heads of most of the assembled bemused heads and scene hipsters. However, I have to admit that I got a bit bored. Too quickly. The early evening watery sunlight and the chilled vibe did little to appease my ennui. And I don’t know why. The scene was perfect. The performance equally so. But it failed to get the old tally whacker interested. At all. Meh.

Rival Sons*****
Disappointedly running away from The Mars Volta, I was in a bit of no man’s land. Didn’t really know where to look for some entertainment to lift my mysteriously flagging heart. But then redemption: I stumbled upon an oasis of genius on the Jagermeister stage. A quartet in the old school model. Geetar, drums, bass and sideburns. Blues tinged rock and fucking roll. Jack Daniels coursing through the veins. A Percy Plant-esque singer holding nothing back Real boogie. Bottleneck guitar riffs. Solid, thudding basslines. I was in heaven.
Memories of Zeppelin on this very field back in ’79 flooded back (actually the volume from the sizeable and crystal clear rig on this tiny stage was probably emitting the same level of din as the behemoth of cabs and bins that the Zeps had at their disposal in front of 200,000 heads). I loved it. Totally loved it. No blast beats, pig squeals, screaming, air tapping, sweeping or wanky shredding. Just huge bollocked testosterone-fuelled cock out rock and roll.Hallefuckingluliah!

Bif I ruled the world...
Biffy Clyro*****
All I can say is wow! They bloody blew the park apart. Precision performance. Pyro. Lights. Streamers. Singalongs. Mr Vennart from the late and lamented Oceansize adding so much extra depth with his brilliant plank spanking (even though he was dressed like an insurance broker on dress down Friday). The sceptics surely must have been won over. Even though the crowd was a bit ‘polite’ and the legendary shyness and insouciance of the shirtless Caledonians did little to get the atmosphere even slightly bubbling in the pan. Amazing performance though.

Dave McPherson*****
Drunk, flagging, bruised, battered and with mild trench foot, I hauled my aching carcass into the Rock Royalty bar in time to catch a totally stunning acoustic performance from the INME front man. Covers, INME tunes, work from his extensive and impressive acoustic catalogue and even a song about facial moles totally enraptured the attendant throng. Many performers laminates were spotted among the adoring onlookers and a musician’s musician didn’t disappoint. His banter was as lively as his set was beautifully delivered. Vocally perfect gymnastics fuelled by a chugged 4 pack of lager soared above the appreciative and enthusiastic late night murmur. I certainly wasn’t going to miss the full band set the next lunchtime. A stunning end to a stunning day. And so to bed.


Two legged Groves Machine
Arcane Roots*****
This was one of the sets I’d marked down as an absolute must see. This lot are rapidly becoming one of my favourite bands. Ever. So, an early start, despite a monster hangover was never going to stop me dragging my damaged body into The Red Bull Bedroom Jam stage. And thankfully, I wasn’t alone. While the tent was hardly bursting at the seams, a really good crowd had gathered as Andy Groves and the boys meandered on stage. That was to be the last meandering. Everything from here on in was delivered with a precision and verve that surely places this lot right up there as one of the very best live acts in Britain at the moment. This Town of Such Weather got the assembled throng bouncing, nodding, twitching and smiling knowingly. There was a real feeling that we were all in the presence of something genuinely special. Those knowing smiles spread among the enthusiastic assembly and while there were obviously quite a few folk who knew the material, there was a contagious appreciation spreading through the crowd. You Are provided a great showcase for the full range of Grove’s remarkable range. From searing soprano through to aggressive growls and blood-curdling gruff screams. They really do defy categorisation, but there are genuine echoes of At The Drive In, Ruben, early Biffy, and even smatterings of Rush and dare I say Budgie (ask your dads kids). But any comparisons are as specious as they are unfair.  They rock, surprise, mesmerise, bludgeon and seduce all at the same time. Brilliant polyrhythmic funky and rocky guitar riffs welded with a tight as a shark’s arse at 25,000 feet rhythm section (even with a cracked ride cymbal!), harmony, dissonance, beautiful melodic diversions and interludes. And even time for Groves to throw himself around like a mescalin-fuelled lemur, leaping off stage and getting involved with the crowd while still maintaining perfect control over his magician’s Gibson SG. The spellbinding Habibty was a highlight, but the set ended with the truly beautiful and astonishing Long & Low; just goosebumps everywhere. Fucking fantastic. Best set of the whole festival so far. By a country mile. Nah, further. Make that a country’s length. And a big one at that, not Luxembourg. Genius. They are true originals and absolutely killed it on a hangover-infused Sunday morning. Corey Taylor was standing just behind me and was rightly totally enraptured too. Can’t wait ‘til the Lexington show next week.

House of Pain*****
After Arcane Roots tour de force, I really couldn’t be bothered who I saw next. In fact, I could have gone home there and then, as satisfied as Mr Creosote. But I wandered over to the Saturn Stage and caught 10 minutes of House of Pain (is there any more than 10 minutes of House of Pain?). And, as luck would have it, caught the only tune of theirs that anyone actually knows. And yes, we did jump around.

Mojo Fury*****
Tucked away on the Jagermeister stage, next up were Mojo Fury. I saw this bunch from Belfast a few weeks ago supporting the incredible And So I Watch You From Afar, and I thought they were quite good. And, to be fair, that’s what they are. Quite good. A sparse Sunday morning crowd were treated to an eclectic mix of electronica, pop , indie vibes wand Oceansize-esque proggy bits. Can’t say they’re the obvious choice for a festival like Sonisphere, but they did ok. Just about.

McPherson...some quality INME time
Only caught a tiny bit of Parkway Drive regrettably. I just needed to be in the Bohemia tent for INME. At any cost. So can’t really give a review. But the rubber boat and boogie board crowd surfing, coupled with a guitarist in a wheelchair with a broken leg will live long in the mind. Anyway, got into an already packed tent nice and early and was immediately hit by the huge murmur of expectation and excitement. To be honest, INME had slipped off my radar a bit (and everyone else’s by all accounts), but having seen Dave the night before had truly whetted my appetite. And did they deliver? Oh yus. A cracking set full of bounce, energy, brilliant playing and sing-a-longs got the sweat streaming and the heart pounding. Big pits, bouncing, crowd surfing and fist pumping accompanied a cracking set: (Nova Armada, Myths & Photographs, Faster The Chase, Cracking The Whip, Underdose and Ferocity in Desire for anyone interested). Dave and the crew look as though they really enjoyed it. Several thousand packed into a big, blue tent certainly did. More soon please lads.

A Mastodon. Meh.
Mahoosive crowd. Mahoosive beards. Mahoosive sound. But for me, just a little meh. Don’t get me wrong, they are fabulous. Intelligent heaviness and perfect execution. But, it just seemed to lack a bit of energy. I saw them last year at The Roundhouse on the Crack In The Skye tour and they were remarkable. But today, they left me feeling less than enraptured. Ok, it wasn’t helped by the fact that I was still almost fully erect after Arcane Roots and INME but just needed a lie down and a beer. Wrong time, wrong place. Shame.

Ridiculous. Just ridiculous. The Aussie perennial festival favourites came, saw, drank beer, put smiles on everyone’s faces and kicked botties. Real rock and roll. Not the merest whiff of the hackneyed dirty vox/clean vox schtick, machine gun blast beats or drop A tunings. Just energy-soused boogie. Derivative? Of course. Out dated? Maybe. AC/DC reincarnation? You betcha. Fun? Fuck yeah. 45 minutes of balls out rock and roll was just what the doctor ordered. Smiles all round as they tore through all their favourites. Joel did his obligatory human fly bit, shinning right to the top of the gantry still spanking the life out of his trademark white Gibson Explorer, he threw beer bombs into the adoring masses and thoroughly ignited the place. Rock and fucking roll. Indeed.

Title Fight*****
Sad to hear the news of Wurzle’s demise, I forced my aching hulk to within viewing distance to catch a bit of Motorhead as a mark of respect, but after my retro jaunt with Airbourne, wasn’t really in the mood for any more anachronistic or halcyon entertainment; I was already so stoked about the impending Don Broco, so I thought I’d indulge in a bit of punktastic mayhem as an amuse bouche. Title Fight apparently tore The Old Blue Last apart last week, so I was looking forward to a dangerous, energetic pick-me-up. They didn’t disappoint. Not quite my sort of thing, but they got the tent and assembled flagging souls up for it. File in a similar place to Four Year Strong and Such Gold. With a touch of Minor Threat and Glassjaw. Loud, louche and laddy. A heady mix.

Damiani...twiglet anyone?
Don Broco*****
The tent emptied dramatically after Title Fight and I began to get concerned that the lure of Mr Fred Turds’  Soggy Biscuits was going to seriously impair the forthcoming party that Bobby Damage and the herberts were about to administer. I needn’t have worried. The tent swelled. The atmosphere built. The Jagers downed. We were in the mood to paaaaaarty. No cheese straws, twiglets or cheese and pineapple on sticks here though. Oh no. This was going to be a real party. And it didn’t disappoint. One iota. Fuck no. From the traditional opener Thug Workout through to the ridiculously infectious Dreamboy, via crowd-pleasers like Beautiful Morning and Do What We Do, Monsieur Damiani and his gentleman’s collective blew the place to bits. When the over-indulgence and sedantry excesses of this life finally get the better of me and I either descend to the fiery pits or manage to blag a guest pass to St Peter’s place, there won’t be a better party in either venue. This bunch of ne’erdowells bestride the smiley joy of the good place and the cock-grabbing, uretha-burning hell pits of the underworld to deliver the finest rock and roll party you can shake a burning stick at. The crowd lapped it up. Dutifully forming hell pits, shoulder jousting and jovial walls of death/joy. There can’t be a better feelgood band in the land than these Bedfordshire bad boys. But that does the music side of it scant credit. Their riffs are precision engineered and executed expertly. Their tunes draw on disparate and varied sources and influences. Yes there’s a punky vibe at times, but Ska and Europop poke their heads in from time to time. As does dirty metal and dare I say prog. The playing throughout is brilliant as always and Damiani’s original and melifluous baritone delivery tops of the party cake even better than thick chocolate icing or those little silver balls. A big fat Yes! And, of course, big fat smiles all round. Amazing.

Limp Bizkit*****
Hmmm. Same as last time. And the time before. Still swimming in endorphins and adrenalin from Don Broco’s brilliance, I wasn’t really in the mood for earnest Fred Turds and his old/nu-metal contrivances. So I won’t be too mean or curmudgeonly, suffice to say that the crowd seemed to fall for it and appeared to have a good time. The Mission Impossible theme and Rolling got people shaking and looning but it was all just too predictable and, well, Limp.

Bill Bailey*****
I needed something to fill the hole left by Don Broco’s feel good funness and the dour predictability of the wet biscuits. Stand up Mr William Bailey. Really odd one; 50,000 or so wet rock fans watching a balding surreal troll performing a Rammstein-inspired version of Scarboro Fayre. But my God it worked. Initial sound problems aside, this was awe-inspiring. It truly will be one of those moments in history that everyone will recount with glassy eyes and a massive grin. Hearing that many people laugh uncontrollably in unison is a sound that’ll live with me forever. Fabulous stuff.

Not really a die-hard fan by any means. But it’s one of those things that needs crossing off the list. All fire and brimstone, theatre and bombast. It needed doing. And I did it. Well, at least for a bit. After 4 or five songs, the weekend, the rain, the trenchfoost and my age all got to me. So we schlenked off to get good red wine, dry clothes and head to VIP for a bit of a dance. The Qemists and The ever brilliant Animals As Leaders provided the perfect closing moments to what had been a brilliant and diverse festival.

Best in show? Arcane Roots. Closely followed by Don Broco, LTA, Rolo Tomassi and INME. Good times indeed.

Deaf Havana up next. More tunes soon. Bwoooar!

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