High Voltage Festival 2010: Rated!
Victoria Park, London
Overall - 8/10
The first ever High Voltage was a well-organised event despite the attendance for Saturday, at least, being disappointing. Victoria Park is a decent location and the diverse mix of prog and metal, new and old meant there was something for near enough everyone. Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s 40th anniversary was well marked and the likes of veteran acts like Heaven And Hell matching up with modern masters like Opeth was a delight. The were some gripes however such as the extortionate bar prices - £4 for a beer, £2 for a Pepsi, anyone? Still this event was a great celebration of all forms of rock.
Other great performances were that of New Orleans supergroup Down, prog metal masters Opeth and the mighty Clutch. It was a bold move by the organisers to add another date to the already crowded festival calendar but it was clear that the gig-going public has reaffirmed its affections for rock and metal recently.
The central London location also meant that High Voltage was more likely to appeal to the casual festival-goer than, for example, Download. High ticket prices and a late attempt to fill numbers with a two-for-one ticket offer are bad omens for a debut and organisers could be in danger of pricing themselves out of an already crowded market if they aren’t careful.
Getting there and back - 8/10
Easily found from Mile End tube station, High Voltage is set in a prime location for those travelling from in and outside of London. Headliners ending at quarter past ten doesn’t sound very rock ‘n’ roll, but it sure made it easier to get the tube back to where you were staying. Although a hotel or hostel may have been required for many on the Sunday night, it did still mean that a few punters left early to drive or travel to places further afield.
The site - 6/10
The site was easy to navigate with plenty of bars and food stalls available to quench thirst and quell hunger. The cinema area showing films about the likes of The Rolling Stones and the exhibition of rock photography prominently featuring Ronnie James Dio was a nice touch.
There was a decent selection of food to choose from with burgers, hog roast, and noodles all available, although the steak burger VF had in the V.I.P. area was very expensive at £7.50 for the size of the thing. The exceptional hot weather also meant that sucking Down as much water as possible was preferred to the consumption of beer, although the terrible prices and lack of free water access can’t have helped. With little in terms of shaded areas where patrons could relax in the shade it was unsurprising to see many sunburned faces.
Atmosphere - 9/10
The line-up ensured that High Voltage was not just an exercise in nostalgia but also a fitting advertisement for the modern rock scene. While the age range may have an average of ten years higher than say Download Festival, it catered for those of heavier tastes as well as the likes of the older classic rock enthusiast. In general people were quite relaxed with no noticeable crowd trouble and a good time vibe throughout the weekend.
Heaven And Hell - 9/10
To say Heaven and Hell’s Dio tribute set was an emotional occasion would be a vast understatement. ‘The Mob Rules’ kicked us into gear with Masterplan vocalist Jorn Lange manning the mic for a couple of numbers before Glen Hughes gets introduced to the stage. In testament to RJD’S legacy, it takes two men to fill the little Italian’s boots and both Lange and Hughes prove commanding performers who lend their voices to the Heaven And Hell and Sabbath-era stuff most effectively. It was also a nice touch to see Ronnie’s widow Wendy Dio take to the stage to thank the fans for their support and following a mighty rendition of ‘Heaven and Hell’ we got the treat of seeing Phil Anselmo fresh from performing with Down join the band for a rousing rendition of ‘Neon Knights’. A fitting tribute to a legend of rock.
Black Label Society - 9/10
Black Label Society hit High Voltage for a much-needed UK visit to road test some new material from their forthcoming opus and to blast through some staples of their booze-soaked assault. They sounded huge, with Wilde peeling off licks that would have many guitarists scratching their heads in awe as they launched a balls out, take no prisoners, set of testosterone-fuelled brutality.
Zakk played his guitar like he wants to fuck or kill the thing and set highlights ‘Suicide Messiah’, complete with megaphone wielding roadie, and ‘Stillborn’ are greeted with a hero’s welcome. A classy performance from one of the best guitar players of his generation. Tonight belongs to them.
Down - 9/10
The sludgy New Orleans redneck supergroup Down were on fire. Phil Anselmo looked healthier than he has for ages and despite having to rely on throat spray during the set he is undoubtedly a great entertainer, even cracking jokes with the crowd. Digging through their trilogy of albums, songs like Temptation’s ‘Wings’ and ‘New Orleans is a Dying Whore’ were massive and even playing tracks from the third album, which Phil tells us we like the least, more than do justice. A titanic ‘Bury Me in Smoke’ brought the Metal Stage to a close and with it a stage invasion of family and friends such as High On Fire’s Matt Pike.
Opeth - 8/10
Opeth suffered a technical hitch before they began but the mild hiccup didn’t stop Mikael Åkerfeld and company from putting on their usual master class. Having blurred the boundaries of prog and extreme metal for years, the Swedes have become incredibly popular and deservedly so. From opener ‘Windowpane’, the majestic beauty of ‘The Drapery Falls’ to the titanic finish of ‘Deliverance’, their performance was spellbindingly good even from an act where excellence is expected. Opeth deliver the goods again.
Clutch – 9/10
Clutch were a revelation with their good time boogie rock. The infectious grooves of ‘Struck Down’ and the soaring ‘Mice and Gods’ are numbers which never fail to get everyone’s asses shaking. Vocalist Neil Fallon was on top form, his gravely baritone injecting soul and sass into the songs in a fashion few frontmen can match. When Opeth keyboardist Per Windberg joined the band for ‘100011’, the audience are in the palm of their collective hands singing and clapping like it’s the last chance they will get. If only there was time for more.
Gary Moore - 3/10
After an unnecessarily long intro tape, the band plunged into ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ and from the outset it was clear that all was not well with Gary’s voice with the keyboard player performing most of the vocals. There was also a real lack of any stage banter between songs which made you feel disconnected from the performance onstage. This was clearly an off day for the blues rock mastermind.
Hammerfall - 3/10
Clichés abound as the cheesy power metallers romped through a set which reeked of pomposity and arrogance. ‘Hearts of Fire’ was a catchy number but the rest of the songs only seemed to lead up to it. A predictable by numbers set of very safe music which was rather dull today.
U.F.O. - 5/10
For all Phil Mogg and companies efforts they don’t quite hold it together. Lacking energy and poise for such a veteran act their Main Stage performance came across as somewhat apathetic and lacking in enthusiasm. While they are accomplished musicians it’s certainly frustrating that they seem to wish they were somewhere else, content to be cruising on auto-pilot toward the inevitable rendition of ‘Doctor, Doctor’.
ZZ Top – 5/10
That leaves it to ZZ Top to close day one with a trawl through their extensive catalogue of blues rock. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill may look like anorexic Santa Clauses out of uniform with what was a strangely sedate start to the set from the original Texas bad boys. ‘Pin Cushion’ was trotted out almost in their sleep and a couple of blues numbers just drag. The audience came alive once again for the likes of ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and strip bar anthem ‘Legs’ which show Top can still win them over while belting out the hits but how long they have left as a live act, however, is anyone’s guess.
A rather odd looking couple wearing sumo suits dancing to Steve Hackett while those around them stared blankly in their direction.