Sonisphere 2014 Review (Part 1)

By on Thursday, 17th July 2014 at 5:50 pm
 

From the moment I arrived there was a definite air of nostalgia around the place. Sonisphere is undeniably a festival for a section of the gig-going public, that is too lethargic and stubborn to embrace the pace of change music is making at the moment. They lament the days ska disappeared (if it ever was) from the mainstream music agenda and don the t-shirts of band who are certainly not playing the festival, but they want you to know ‘THEY CARE!’

Underlining the wistful air of sentimentality were ageing veterans of ska Reel Big Fish. They’re a band who knows how to cater for the longingly nostalgic audience, and that’s by playing nothing but the hits. There was only one song from their newest release ‘Candy Coated Fury’, which consequently got the same kind of reaction from the crowd that you would expect if Aaron Barrett came out onstage dressed as Vladimir Putin and started spouting anti-Ukranian propaganda.

The rest of the set was a journey through the nether regions of the California six-piece’s assorted back catalogue, which finished somewhat triumphantly with their rather enjoyable cover of ‘Take On Me’ by a-ha. They received a lukewarm reaction from the crowd for the majority of their set, barring the final cover which provoked slightly more frivolity. (6/10) But, their inclusion on the line-up is one of the things which confuses me about Sonisphere as a festival.

It’s a metal festival, targeted at the black t-shirt wearing population who choose to grow their hair past their neck, swing it around them like a lasso at random times, seemingly to display their dominance as either the smelliest or sweatiest member of any crowd. So what is a ska band like Reel Big Fish doing there? And what have bands like All Time Low and Weezer been doing hanging around the likes of Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth?

Somehow though, when it works, it works beautifully, as the Dropkick Murphys showed later on the Saturn Stage, emerging after a musical prelude that was almost long enough to rival the theatricality of ‘Glastallica’ the previous week. The run-up doesn’t serve to stifle the flow of the show though, as the seven-piece bound onstage like a bag of excitable puppies let loose in the kitchen when you’re chopping the veg for dinner. They aren’t bloody annoying like those puppies though (I’ve got a thing against dogs at the moment as I think I’m allergic, OK?).

Set opener ‘The Boys Are Back’ is flowing with the kind of good cheer you find at your local pub when it’s Irish night and the beer is flowing. Ken Casey has the pride his music enthuses rolling out of him in droves, whilst vocalist Al Barr looks every bit as mean as ever dressed in the kind of polo shirt and cap you see Frodo Baggins wearing in Green Street before he slogs someone right in the gob.

Barr is a marauding presence, as he paces menacingly along the front of the stage, stirring the crowd into a frenzied whirlpool. It’s singalong anthem after singalong anthem from the Massachusetts homeboys. My personal highlight had to be a rip-roaring cover of the traditional folk number ‘Black Velvet Band’, which was furnished with a gloss of punk bite. The audience was joined in unison for the penultimate tune, as they covered AC/DC’s classic ‘Dirty Deeds Done Cheap’, before skipping of the stage to one of their classics, ‘I’m Shipping Up to Boston’.

This all proved to me that you didn’t need to be a roaring, denim jacket wearing, Satan-worshiping metal band to fit in at Sonisphere. You were welcomed with open arms as long as your music had a bit of an edge to it. Dropkick Murphys had that in spades and left Knebworth Park as champions, after a rabble-rousing set that William Wallace himself would have been proud of. (10/10)

Sandwiched in between Reel Big Fish and Dropkick Murphys are titans of sludge, Mastodon, who troop through a set with just enough of their classics to justify a good outing for songs from their new record ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’. ‘Chimes at Midnight’, ’High Road’ and ‘The Motherload’ sit unobtrusively next to tracks like ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Blasteroid’, as the band take you away to a starry-skied world with their thudding, yet entirely melodic tunes.

At the helm, Troy Sanders conducted the orchestra of majesty behind him, whilst still grasping the 30,000 strong audience within the palm of his hand, from up high on the Saturn Stage. The titanic melodies that Mastodon have made their trademark over the past decade soared out over the fields of Knebworth, drawing in a considerable crowd. They’re the kind of outfit that the smaller bands who graced the weekend’s line-up can watch slam out a set of huge tunes and give them the will to aspire to play higher on the bill. (8/10)

By comparison on the same Stage, Alice in Chains produced an utterly flaccid performance, devoid of any real showmanship. They bumbled through a set which catered for anyone wanting to hear the hits, as ‘Man in the Box’ and ‘Them Bones’ received an airing. For a band gracing the upper echelons of rock royalty, the crowd could most definitely have expected something more than the dour showing they got from the titans of grunge.

Perhaps with all the line-up changes William DuVall and co. have gone and lost what made them so brilliant to watch. Or maybe the four-piece couldn’t handle the almost unbearable rays of the sun beating down from high upon the Saturn Stage. (5/10)

Stay tuned tomorrow for the rest of John’s review of Sonisphere 2014.

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