I awoke early to the sound of it raining inside the tent. The water was dripping on my face. I wrung everything out and carefully placed it all in the centre of the tent – the only place that wasn’t submerged. My friend appeared and we held a conference. We would sleep in her tent and try and move anything water-sensitive in there, because hers was considerably less wet than mine.
Download 2015 Review Day 1: Slipknot can be found here.
We went to see Apocalyptica around lunchtime. We got there just as they were starting and got a place reasonably towards the front, where we could see what was going on quite well. They played their cellos, got to the end of their set, then said “well, we were only supposed to be on for half an hour but f**k it; we want to play another song” and they proceeded to do so. It was awesome. I think there were more than a few people in the crowd who didn’t know who they were, so it was nice to see people discovering awesome electric cello industrial music. They also played our national anthem which was amusing because half the people in the crowd started singing (myself included) and half of them kind of mumbled and blustered like they were in a school assembly. It was hilarious to think that we must be the only nation in the world where we don’t all know every word to our national anthem, but it doesn’t get taught in many schools and is distinctly lacking from the national curriculum – as a child, I didn’t know what the words were until I was about fourteen after reading an article that is sadly not findable on the internet, which basically showed that in a random survey of 500 people, something like 25% didn’t know what our national anthem was (it’s God Save The Queen, natch), and only 46% knew any of the words! But Finnish band Apocalyptica can play it on the cello and it sounds awesome (like all their music does). I was particularly interested to read that they started out as a Metallica tribute band, and later branched into their own music. I was very impressed by how much music they managed to cram into their half hour slot whilst at the same time talking to the audience, not long conversations, but just enough little snippets so you knew what they were playing and that they had noticed a rather large crowd had gathered in front of their stage.
Later in the day (I’ll spare you the day), we got back very late, and had a few minutes to find a spot so we could watch some of Marilyn Manson before we went to see Muse. Unfortunately, my friend wanted food, so we went to get her some food instead of getting a good spot, and while we were waiting for the food to appear, Marilyn Manson started. We stood at the top of the hill and watched from a distance, we got two songs in, Mobscene and Disposable Teens (both excellent tracks) but then I dragged us away to see Muse, because from our vantage point, I could hear the bass lines from Chris Wolstenholme’s bass guitar and they were calling to me, compelling me, dragging me away from the spectacle of Marilyn to observe the performance of the masters.
Muse were as technically accomplished as you would expect (probably the only way they could be more accomplished at playing music is if they hired Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page on second and third guitars), and I think a lot of the reason for their credible, un-astonishing but significant popularity is because of their ability to play their instruments. Oh God, they can play their instruments. And the time flew by as they played a nice selection of their songs (and they have so many to choose from).
However, I felt that both Marilyn Manson and Muse were distinctly lacking in the kind of showmanship and character that I’d been expecting. Particularly Marilyn Manson, although I don’t know if his show got better after I left, so I can’t say as much about it.
Muse had some incredible pyrotechnics and the giant silver balloons they released into the audience were really fun and cool, but they barely said hello, and didn’t really interact (apart from the perfunctory ‘I can identify which venue I’m playing’ greeting) and this created a distinct distance between performers and audience that directly contradicted the song lyrics for the setlist and made their lyrical persona feel hollow and pretentious. I would hope it’s just the kind of stage fright that comes with playing for such a crowd. Still, they put on a damn good show and they really can play their instruments, so I know I’m being over-analytical.
Marilyn Manson also felt hollow for the same reason – as the founder of the performance theory that states the artists’ existence is the performance, I expected more. A grand entrance that never came. A stage with some sort of a set. Backing dancers. I probably should keep all these notes to myself for if I ever play in my own band because I’ve learned so much about performance from watching all the great masters at work on my quest to fulfil my bands bucket list.
Day two ended after a spectacular firework display courtesy of Muse. They are clearly trying to establish themselves as an “alternative rock” band (a la their Wikipedia page), and they certainly deserve to transcend Britpop (where they languished for most of the 2000s, as far as most people were concerned – Blur met the same fate in the ’90s, it was terribly sad), but I feel they need to shake off the performance nuances that make you seem awesome in a pop performance but in alternative rock, just don’t fly. Alt fans want interaction, they want to know that the words of the songs have a wider meaning and significance. They want to feel that you care about the fact that they’ve driven hundreds of miles, put up with awful weather, slept in puddles of water, not to mention spent a lot of money, just to see you. And while I don’t think bands necessarily owe their fans anything, at the same time, it’s polite to acknowledge the people who are paying for you to do what you love full-time rather than put up that wall of idolatry. It’s clearly a trade-off between talking too much (so you don’t get to play as many songs) and not talking enough, but they could definitely have stood to spend 60 more seconds chatting to the crowd, to tear down that barrier that they put up when they went into their musical trance and played their songs. They had all the other elements of being the best band in the world ever, but the distance between performer and observer was profound, although I only think it was noticeable when compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Who. If I hadn’t gone to so many concerts recently I don’t think I would have seen it, I would have just been left with a feeling of isolation.
Apocalyptica, then, won the day for their stage presence, performance skills and musical talent, all of which they had in buckets, and for 2016, I would like to see Apocalyptica headlining or co-headlining at either Download, Sonisphere or Bloodstock, because they deserve a lot more accolade for their work and I do think they would draw the same size crowd as Slayer, Within Temptation or Slipknot; I hope the half-hour slot was due to scheduling conflicts rather than because the organizers didn’t know how awesome they were, and I for one would love to see them do a longer set. I was just glad we didn’t miss Apocalyptica, because they really made my Saturday.
The first part of Download 2015 Day 3 can be found here.