Memory of a Festival: 007: Sonisphere 2009

After a night DJing at Autonomy, my girlfriend couldn’t make the next day, so one of my best friends joined me to head south to Sonisphere instead. I’d declined the recently-won tickets earlier in the week, but much to my surprise they arrived on the Saturday, and the decision was taken that we should go anyway, at least for the Sunday (especially as that was the day when most of the bands I wanted to see were on).

Sonisphere 2009
Live @ Knebworth
02 August 2009

Getting there was surprisingly easy – going A6/A14/A1 may not have been the most direct way from Leicester, but it was probably less hassle than the M1 to Luton and then across – and as the won-tickets were VIP guest ones we had easy, and free, car park access and a much shorter walk to the main arena. As we walked up to the arena, we heard the rampaging beast of sound that is Blood and Thunder by Mastodon – and indeed the rest of the set was heard from the VIP bar area. A quick catch-up with a passing friend, a rushed drink and then a bit of a sprint into the main arena, as we found out late-on that the “special guests” were, as expected, Machine Head, and they were onstage about five minutes hence.

Machine Head setlist:
Ten Ton Hammer
Beautiful Mourning
Struck A Nerve

A good spot obtained, we were treated to a triumphant and brilliant hour of metal from a band who are clearly still immensely popular. A clearly taken aback and overwhelmed Robb Flynn was left speechless at points with the huge swell of chants for the band (“Machine Fucking Head” at every opportunity interspersed with “Fuck Limp Bizkit” in reference to the apparently simmering feud that is not over yet!), and the fearsome reaction in the ‘pit as they unleashed classic after classic. Oh, and the reported twenty one circle pits that erupted during Struck A Nerve. Highlights from this were all but impossible to pick, as frankly the whole set was bulletproof, but a personal favourite was hearing Old roared out. Needless to say that Imperium was a damned good choice as opener to whip up a storm, too, and Davidian did it’s usual job of crowd participation for the chorus… So, following the unbelievable recent album The Blackening, this was proof – as if any were needed – that MH remain one of the most vital and exhilirating metal bands in existence. Oh, and MH 1, Limp Bizkit 0.

The well-laid out site – with the second stage at the other end, opposite the main stage – meant that sets were alternating on each stage, with a few minutes between each to ensure that people could move between the two. Which worked well, although poor old Feeder had to follow Machine Head. We only saw bits of the set, which appeared to something of a “best of” set, but seemingly ignored their first album entirely, which was a shame. Still, their cover of Nirvana’s Breed was fantastic and the closing Just A Day left me grinning like a loon. In between, we took a wander around the stalls and generally had a mooch around.

Limp Bizkit setlist:
My Generation
Livin’ It Up
Show Me What You Got
Hot Dog
Eat You Alive
Break Stuff
My Way
Take A Look Around

And as Feeder finished, it was back to the main stage to see what the recently reformed Limp Bizkit could offer us. And the answer? Not a lot. A half-arsed show that for the first half of the set struggled to get much of a crowd involvement, and only really kicked off sporadically even when the “hits” were, umm, rolled out at the end. Never has it been made so plainly clear that a band are reforming purely for the money – and quite why they were above Machine Head on the bill I have no idea.

Alice In Chains setlist:
Angry Chair
Man In The Box
A Looking In View
Them Bones
Dam That River
Check My Brain

Then it was passing back through the crowd to go and get a decent spot for the next band on the second stage, a chance to see a rejuvenated Alice In Chains. Remarkably, this was the first time I’d ever seen any of the Seattle grunge band, and I was not disappointed. Ok, so the late vocalist Layne Staley seemed to cast something of a shadow over things, but new vocalist William DuVall has an equally distinctive voice, and indeed at points he sounded exactly like Layne. Not unexpectedly, the crowd for this was somewhat, er, older that some of the other performances during the day, but it was still an enthusiastic crowd that sung along with pretty much every word for all of the old songs, and the two new songs aired proved that this was no nostalgia trip – the new stuff easily stands up to the old and should make the new album worth hearing when it arrives at the end of September. Things hit an extraordinary peak at the end, though, with a spine-chilling Would? followed by a mass-singalong to Rooster that even surprised Jerry Cantrell when the wordless harmonies at the beginning were sang pitch-perfect by the whole crowd!

Nine Inch Nails setlist:
I Do Not Want This
Something I Can Never Have
Gone, Still
The Frail
The Wretched
Lights In The Sky
The Downward Spiral

The day also brought another opportunity to see Nine Inch Nails, for the second time on this tour after their relentlessly powerful show in Manchester the other week. This show was billed as the last NIN show in Europe prior to the final shows in North America in the next month. And maybe, then, that is it for NIN. So, it was something of a surprise, even by the standards of Trent Reznor’s policy of changing the set every night, to get such a downbeat – and short – set. Apparently the set was cut by ten minutes or so due to a little earlier overrunning, to ensure that Metallica could get their allotted two hours before the 2300 curfew on the main stage. Whatever the reasons, this was vastly different to Manchester. No covers, barely any “hits”, either, instead treating the fans to a selection of more introspective material. Particular things to mention were an outstanding I Do Not Want This, and a gorgeous Something I Can Never Have, and instrumental The Downward Spiral that was probably louder and heavier than Wish as it closed. The usual finish with Hurt, and that was it – overhearing comments afterwards from other people as we headed back to the bar area suggested that this was a performance that really split the fans.

The rest after that was well needed, in the evening sunshine (remarkably it didn’t rain all day, and instead we were blessed with warm sunshine for much of it), and we really weren’t keen on seeing Avenged Sevenfold, so instead headed back to the VIP bar area to stop for a while.

After that well-earned break, it was time to see at least some of Metallica. Clearly old pros at the business of enormo-gigs, their intro was typically huge and loud, their cliched banter with the crowd amusing, and musically they are tighter than almost any band I’ve seen. Opener Blackened sounded utterly, utterly huge, and Creeping Death sounded like the four horsemen of the apocalypse had arrived to take the world with them. I’ve never been a huge Metallica fan, by any stretch, although I’ve heard much of it so many times over the years that it’s impossible not to at least recognise most of it, but of the few tracks I do like a lot, I was lucky enough to get one of them – a snarling Of Wolf and Man. At that point, with the long drive ahead to get home, we decided to bail, and we walked back to the car to the strains of Fade To Black, which still hadn’t finished when we drove off…

Metallica setlist:
(that we saw, anyway)
Creeping Death
Of Wolf and Man
Fade To Black…

As gigs for free go, that was a pretty fucking epic day, anyway. Awesome entertainment from start to finish, and yeah, we missed a few things earlier on that we wouldn’t have minded seeing, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Great to catch up with various people, and just generally soak up the atmosphere – amazingly this was my first outdoor festival in eight years, and you know what? I’ll happily consider doing Sonisphere again next year. It was well organised, with a good vibe to everything, no trouble that I saw, and most importantly most of the bands pretty much ran to time, and the sound quality was fantastic (and very, very loud). Even the drive home, on a pretty-much deserted A1 for most of the way, was a breeze. and I was eventually home and in bed by 0045. Thank god for the morning off the next morning…

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