High Voltage Festival 2011 - June 23rd / 24th - London (GB) -
Von Hertzen Brothers, Skin, Primitai, Caravan, Queensrÿche, Thin Lizzy, Grand Magus, Judas Priest
Pallas, The Enid, Mostly Autumn, Spock's Beard, Jethro Tull, Dream Theater
Electric Wizard were due to headline the Hammer Stage today. Unfortunately, due to the tragic events in Norway, they had to cancel. However, they did leave a message stating their condolences with the organizers of High Voltage, which was read out after Grand Magus' set on the stage. On a personal note, I would like to thank the band for doing this. You earned a deeper level of respect from your fans, and doubtless families and friends of the victims would thank you too.
Von Hertzen Brothers - This band was brilliant live - absolutely marvelous. They played to a modestly sized audience, and they put a lot of heart and soul into their set. The stage wasn't gilded and dressed with ornate pyrotechnics and fantastic lasers, but this allowed the audience to concentrate on what was truly overflowing from the stage: fantastic, mind-blowing music. Von Hertzen Brothers were a fantastic starting band at the festival, and the audience gave them the praise and respect that they so rightly deserved. They opened with the song Miracle which was a good start for them, before moving onto Angel's Eyes, another fantastic song. Let They Will Be Done and Gloria were two brilliant songs which the audience seemed to really enjoy, and they followed up with Kiss A Wish. Freedom Fighter was their final song of the set, and it was a brilliant end to a brilliant show.
Skin - Neville MacDonald - what an astounding singer! Actually, the whole band are just such an amazing product of British hard rock. Skin opened their set with Born To Rock 'n' Roll, followed by House Of Love. Take Me Down To The River was performed gracefully, and the cheers of the audience were an appropriate indication of how good it was. Look But Don't Touch and Tower Of Strength were played next, with a similar warm reception. Shine Your Light finished off Skin's set at the festival, and what a wonderful set it was. The band are so full of energy and life for their age - it was a wonderful sight to behold! The band were definitely worth watching, and watching the older generations feel young again was excellent to see. Bands like this just go to show that you can't stop rock and roll...
Primitai - Oh dear, the sound was awful, simply awful, borderline unbearable. Admittedly, after witnessing other bands on the same stage, it would seem that the sound problems probably had more to do with the stage itself, rather than any particular band. Primitai were a rather small band, obviously not as in a band of dwarves or anything like that - just in the sense that they had a modest status about them, and the audience area was visibly far from overcrowded. They weren't a particularly good band, but they weren't half bad either: they just seemed like another heavy/thrash metal band trying to get on in the scene, and not failing either; the audience, as small as it was, seemed to love them, and they certainly got a respectable amount of applauding and cheering. Overall, not too shabby, but nothing to get worked up over.
Caravan - Two songs. That is all, and after watching Primitai's set to the end, I didn't catch the first quarter of an hour of their set. However, Nine Feet Underground didn't manage to escape me, and oh, how glorious it was. The extra instruments and the beautiful voice and the top notch percussion, all simply out of this world. Caravan's entire set was a journey through the human mind, an adventure of the soul. Bands that can compose and perform music so brilliant, so extraordinary, so heart-breakingly beautiful are few and far between, and Caravan are, without a shadow of a doubt, one of those bands. Bands that are as good live as they are recorded are also rare, and Caravan are also one of those bands. They are just superb, absolutely optimal. It was a pleasure to see such a spectacular band perform live, and hopefully the audience realized how truly fortunate they were.
Queensrÿche - Wow. Just wow. What a show. Queensrÿche are just one of those bands that seem to get better with time. They opened their set, quite fittingly, with Get Started, followed by Damaged and then I Don't Believe In Love, which were played to perfection. NM 156, Screaming In Digital and Jet City Woman were next on the Queensrÿche list, and as with every other song, they were played fantastically. They were soon to grace the audience with Empire and Eyes Of A Stranger, before finishing with the astonishing instrumental, Anarchy-X. Not much can be said about their set, other than the fact that it was fantastic. The crowd was as wild as the band, and they filled the whole festival with such an amazing buzz and energy that it could be felt for virtually the rest of the night. All this in such a short set.
Thin Lizzy - These guys may have been going since 1969, but they've still got it. After decades and decades of their rock and metal antics, and many a line-up change, there is still an eerie presence about Thin Lizzy that makes them a force to be reckoned with. Their High Voltage set began rather appropriately with Are You Ready, followed by Waiting For An Alibi, Jailbreak and Dancing In The Moonlight (It's Caught Me In Its Spotlight) the last of which featured the wonderful Michael Monroe on saxophone, and what a wonderful guest he was for the song - another fantastic musician to add to the line-up! After Michael had left, Emerald shortly followed, and that in its turn was followed by spectacular performances of Whiskey In The Jar and Cowboy Song. Afterwards, they played The Boys Are Back In Town, that old classic that audience members old and young seemed to adore. They played Rosalie before finishing with a brilliant performance of Black Rose.
Grand Magus - Opening with the mighty Kingslayer, they got off to a fantastic start. The crowd were rowdy and ready for some Grand Magus. They followed Kingslayer up with Like The Oar Strikes The Water, and it must be said that, as was mentioned with regards to Primitai's set earlier, the sound on the stage were dreadful. Just to go off on a slight rant for a moment, it is totally unacceptable that the other two stages received such obvious attention and care that was almost totally lacking on this one. Nevertheless, Grand Magus played on, doing Iron Will and the amazing track Hammer Of The North justice, despite technical difficulties. The Shadow Knows and Ravens Guide Our Way were up next, and they were just as good as every song before them. It must be said that Grand Magus are a band so fully of energy and life that, well, it is almost unbelievable.
Judas Priest - Ah, how the people did run from Grand Magus to Judas Priest! Thankfully for everybody who was over at that stage, Judas Priest were running late (or Grand Magus finished early - one or the other), so the beginning was not missed for the majority. As soon as the mood changed, and as soon as the first hints of sound hit our ears, 'this is it' ran through the minds of the crowd, and as soon as the clear riff of Rapid Fire could be heard, the show had well and truly started. The entire set list was diverse and fantastic, delving into the depths of albums ranging from Rocka Rolla all the way through to Nostradamus. The stage show? Breathtaking. Rob Halford had his usual costume changes and the stage itself was done up nicely. Obviously, there were pyrotechnics galore, and wow, were they of just the most impeccable quality you have ever seen in your life. To top it all off, Judas Priest had four encores. Yes, four. You read that correctly, and they deserved every one of them.
After having experienced the horrors of the Hammer Stage the previous day, I decided to avoid it Sunday, unfortunately missing Furyon and Neurosis who I had very much been looking forward to seeing. However, in comparison to the Hammer Stage, the Prog Stage had very much impressed me, so I decided to dabble in a day of prog. Sure, a lot of the bands I wanted to see were on that stage anyway, but even I was surprised that the only band I ended up seeing on the Main Stage on Sunday were headliners Dream Theater, who are prog anyway.
Pallas - First up on Sunday were British (neo-)prog rock band Pallas, ready to get the party started. They opened their set with Falling Down, a brilliant, hard-hitting song. They then played Young God and Monster in front of quite a small but certainly an enthusiastic crowd. Next came Alien Messiah and XXV (Part 1), before Pallas finally closed with Arrive Alive. Overall, the band's performance was excellent. The band were brimming with as much energy as the audience, many of whom obviously seemed to be enjoying these hard proggers. Although a lot of the music and show was on the hard and heavy side, the band's music and persona overall was, and is, quite diverse, which is why they probably seemed to go down so well. Keyboardist Ronnie Brown was also undeniably spectacular; one would have to be a fool to deny the sheer epic talent that flows through his fingers.
The Enid - Yet another prog band with ridiculously long songs. The Enid's brand of symphonic rock was truly a magnificent sight to behold live. Making full use of a trumpet quartet and backing singers, you would have to be mad to miss this show. The band opened with Something Wicked This Way Comes, and immediately the entire crowd was swept off their feet by the awesome conglomeration of harmonies and melodies. Shiva was the next song - or rather journey, as it should be called; an exploration of the far corners of the musical world and any limits it may have; an experience that every member of the audience was truly lucky to have. After announcing that they would be playing with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) at the Symphony Hall on 15th October (clearly not to be missed), being the lovely English band that they are, The Enid ended on somewhat of a patriotic note, playing The Dambusters march, and also Land Of Hope And Glory.
Mostly Autumn - Alas! The LOTR tribute band failed to actually play any of their LOTR tribute music, although they did play some fairly decent songs. They opened with Distant Train, a beautiful song to open with. The next couple of songs they played - Answer The Question, Evergreen and Deep In Borrowdale - seemed pretty generic to be honest, although the audience seemed to love them. After that, they played an absolutely stunning version of Questioning Eyes. To finish off, they played Heroes Never Die and dedicated it to the victims of the attacks in Norway. Mostly Autumn occasionally had a lively atmosphere about them, playing delightful tunes on flute, and singer Olivia Sparnenn tapping away on a tambourine, but overall the band came over as monotonous and repetitive, despite how talented the musicians seemed.
Spock's Beard - On A Perfect Day was the perfect way to open a set and it was played to perfection. After much jesting and talking to the audience, Spock's Beard moved onto their next song, The Doorway - yet another performance that doubtless left people asking how on earth these prog rock bands seem to be able to remember over ten minutes of song... After that marathon of a song was a considerably shorter, but still excellent, one - The Emperor's Clothes - which was yet another astounding performance. Just as the people thought it couldn't get any better, it did, as fantastic ex-member and multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse graced the stage with his presence to perform the magnificent harmonic trip The Light and, finally, the song June. Neal Morse rejoining his old band members for this show really was the icing on the cake, and Spock's Beard proved to all what a splendid group of musicians they can be.
Jethro Tull - The very words themselves are enough to send shivers down your spine. This is a band with such a backlog of high quality prog that anything but perfection would not be tolerated. Perfection is what they delivered. The band played their earlier works from the 60s and 70s, and this seemed to go down just fine with the audience. The entire set was amazing and thrilling, accompanied by youthful energy and skipping around the stage. Ian Anderson and his cronies came on stage and were playing Living In The Past in no time. From there on in, things only got better. The songs Thick As A Brick and Farm On The Freeway were separated by friendly banter and mingled with lively dancing around the stage. After these were a jolly well played Mother Goose and the band's fantastic version of Bach's Bourée. They then started to play Hymn 43, and...
Dream Theater - ...I went to watch Dream Theater. They were a fantastic band live, and James LaBrie's voice has certainly improved over the past few years. The crowd let out a roar as they started playing Under A Glass Moon, and what an impressive and first-class performance it was! Afterwards they played These Walls, Forsaken and Endless Sacrifice cleverly, and then it was time for drummer Mike Mangini to show off his drumming prowess...and he certainly possesses plenty. His drumming was impeccable, and the audience cheered and gave him the acclaim that he deserved. After his solo, the band rocked through the likes of Peruvian Skies, their latest single On The Backs Of Angels and Fatal Tragedy, and for their hard-earned encore, they played Learning To Live. They played songs from every part of their career, from When Dream And Day Unite to A Dramatic Turn Of Events, and this show truly was a beautifully and well presented brief history of Dream Theater.