Review: Hard Rock Hell 10 – Friday

Mason Hill, looking right at home on the big stage, absorbed the energy in the room, and threw it right back out there, engaging with the crowd, and being duly rewarded with having their name enthusiastically chanted back at them. No one left that room disappointed. Mason Hill was a name on the lips of many outside afterwards. Chase The Ace kept the momentum going on the main stage with their brand of 80’s inspired, sleazy arena rock. Opening with the infectious chant-along ‘The Cat Is On The Loose’, through their reimagining of ‘Fortunate Son’, to the ‘let-me-hear-ya’ raucousness of ‘Hell, Yeah’, even taking an excursion into the crowd for an extended solo, the energy level never dropped. Notably, they didn’t look quite so energetic earlier in the day, when they were fumbling to get the key to their accommodation into our door! True story. I based many of my listening choices this weekend on the names I heard cropping up repeatedly in conversations, or on my own curiosity. That meant I spent a large chunk of Friday around Stage Two. The first band I experienced (and I do mean ‘experienced’) was the completely uncategorizable Vodun. Painted, and dressed in tribal garb, this three-piece certainly made a visual impression. To say ‘drums, guitar, and vocals’ would be to seriously understate Vodun. Rhythm, noise, and juxtaposed heavenly, soulful vocals would be closer. The more ‘experimental’ HRHers sagely nodded their approval. Hard Rock Hell has a habit of throwing these curveballs at you. Where do they find them? Following them were a band I first saw at only their fourth gig (I am reliably informed). Since then, Departed have toured relentlessly, seemingly taking any break they can get. The band holds a wealth of previous experience. This comes through not only in their songwriting, but also in the delivery. Many bands are guilty of performing a collection of songs, rather than putting a show together. Often, there are seemingly endless periods of silence between songs. Not the case here. Departed took the time to craft a set. The gaps between songs are filled with audience engagement, or a drum segue. There was plenty of showboating, strutting, and posing to keep eyes pointing the right way, and even a blistering cover of ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ to anchor the attention of the crowd. It won’t be long before the main stage beckons. Staying with Stage 2, and the impressive The Last Vegas from Chicago, Il. Front man, Chad Cherry, has the look of early Alice with the voice of Tom Kiefer, the band delivering dirty edged rock ‘n’roll with a tinge of glam, and a truck-load of riffs and melody. The Last Vegas certainly have the tunes, the look, the attitude, and the presence to go far. Please go check ‘em out. Set closer, ‘Love Me (When I’m Bad)’ would be a good starting point. Up next were one of the bands on my hitlist to check out, JOANovARC. This all-female four-piece appeared on my radar when I heard a preview of their album “Ride Of Your Life”, and I was interested to hear how they carried themselves live… turns out, better than I could have hoped. On record, they have a polished, classic rock sound, á la Heart or Pat Benatar. Live, the harmonies are as good, but they are more powerful, slightly rougher (in a good way), and by Christ, can Shelley shred! With a set unsurprisingly plucked from the album, the surprise was the big finale, a ‘proper’ version of ‘Freebird’, complete with the finger-melting extended solo at the end. A huge wind-down, with behind-the head and tooth picking antics, ensures the crowd go wild. Thank you, and goodnight, drop the mic, and walk off… but… what’s that? The stage manager is gesticulating, “10 more minutes!”. Fuck! In a heartbeat, JOANovARC pulled themselves together, and launched straight into ‘Whole Lotta Love’, in a “Yeah, we meant that” style. Again, the crowd go wild. This time it is goodnight, and we all catch our breath… but we had to be quick. White Miles are a band I hadn’t heard anyone mention beforehand, I just kind of stumbled across them. White Miles are a band that a lot of people were talking about at the end of the festival. White Miles are an Austrian two-piece that create a heavy, stoner-type, bluesy noise that simply mesmerises. I take notes as I review (my addled brain isn’t what it was!), but so transfixed was I during this set, looking down at my pad, all I had written was “Fucking Awesome!”. So there’s my review; White Miles were fucking awesome! Welcome Back Delta finished my Stage 2 stint in fine style, with some heavy, stoner blues with more groove than Austin Powers playing vinyl in a tin shack… eating McCoys crisps (that’s a lot of groove!). This is a band who are not afraid to put the miles in to get seen, and appreciated what Hard Rock Hell offers. To use their own words; “We’ve played a lot of muddy fields, but this is the poshest festival we’ve played. We’re taking showers just because we can!”. If you can’t get to a muddy field, check out their Bandcamp page. I thought it only right to spend some time at Stage 1, even though Stage 2 had blown me away, so why not do it for the main draws, Ugly Kid Joe and Vixen. Ugly Kid Joe are no strangers to our shores, completing a couple of tours in recent years. They know the British crowds and used that knowledge to full effect, keeping a rammed venue onside throughout with a greatest hits package delivered with an energy and fluidity that puts many younger bands to shame. ‘Neighbour’ set out the stall early. ‘Cat’s In The Cradle’, whilst performed well, felt like it was just tucked into the middle of the set because it was expected. The crowd loved it though, singing every syllable with gusto. As with many of the American bands that played this weekend, there was an anti-Trump statement. UKJ’s way was for Whitfield Crane to invite the Area 51 dancers on stage to do a suggestive routine wearing Tump masks… I think that might put me off sex forever, with its Clockwork Orange kind of therapy! Aargh! In hindsight, it may have been prudent to have switched UKJ and Vixen around on the bill, as the crowd was notably thinner for the latter act… not embarrassingly sparse, but certainly less ‘rammed’. I wonder if it was a lack of expectation, or Janet Gardner’s misjudgement of calling us Welsh and attempting a hideous accent, but it was a shame not to see more stay. The show was fantasic, by all accounts. The sound was clear, the playing was great, and Janet’s voice, while a little huskier (which actually added to the sound, in my opinion), is absolutely pitch perfect. Like UKJ before them, Vixen treated us to a greatest hits package, launching with ‘Rev It Up’, blistering through ‘Cryin’, chucking in a couple of covers (‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ and ‘Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love’), and ending with my favourite, ‘Edge Of A Broken Heart’. Oh, and in case you’re wondering… yes, Janet is still as sexy as hell! Friday at Hard Rock Hell delivered in spades. The crowds were massive and enthusiastic (drunk!), the weather (almost) behaved, and the standard and variety of bands on offer were second to none. This is why Hard Rock Hell sells out long before the full bill is announced. This is why Hard Rock Hell is celebrating its tenth year. This is why Hard Rock Hell has been aped by others… and we’ve still got Saturday to go!   Review: Rob Nankivell Images: Jamie Sweetlove/Rob Nankivell     [gallery type='flickr' user_id='132278830@N06' view='photosets' photoset_id='72157675190177902' columns='3' tag_mode='any' sort='date-posted-desc' per_page='85' layout='random' ]]]>

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