This was the first day of the inaugural Stone Free festival. Held at the O2 in London, it offers a big advantage over other festivals – the fact it’s indoors means the traditional British summer weather isn’t going to dampen spirits. Of course there are equally big downsides – the bar and food outlets seem to be run by Dick Turpin, so you’ll be charged a fortune for food and drink – in comparison Download festival has bargain prices for food and drink.
The first few bands of the day took to the stage in the IndigO2 venue, with the last part of the day moving to the main O2 arena.
The first act of the day was Jared James Nichols, an American Blues rock guitarist. Along with his bassist and drummer he gets things off to a great start. He’s a superb guitarist, and watching him play without a plectrum you have to wonder how his fingers have any flesh left on them. Playing to a mostly empty venue would put some artists off but Jared James Nichols takes it in his stride and does his best to get the crowd involved. A great set to start the day.
Next up was Jackaman, the new band of Lynne Jackaman, former Saint Jude singer. They’ve released an EP with a debut album due later in the year. With this new band, Lynne Jackaman is showing much more of a soulful side to her vocals, and I have to say I was really impressed – she’s got a superb voice and really goes down well with the crowd. After the great set, I ordered a copy of their EP.
The Virginmarys came next. A three-piece, they’re a band I’ve seen several times before, and their hard rock always goes down well. Tonight is no differnt and the crowd clearly enjoys their set.
Next up was Michael Monroe, and by this time the IndigO2 was fairly full downstairs – so maybe 300-400 people. Michael Monroe never disappoints, and tonight was no exception. It’s a high energy set as he leaps around, climbs up onto the barrier and gets up close with the fans, swings his microphone around and generally burns more calories in a short set than most people do at the gym. We get plenty of his solo stuff – “78”, “Superpowered superfly”, “Nothin’s alright”, “Trick of the wrist” and “Dead jail or rock’n’roll”, and also included a couple of Hanoi Rocks songs – “Tragedy” and “Malibu beach nightmare”. A hard act to follow.
Rather than stay in the IndigO2 to see Therapy? I decided to head over to the Fireball stage in the entrance to the O2 and see The Lounge Kittens. The three of them perform with just keyboards and vocals, and perform rock or metal cover versions with their lounge singing style, so you get songs from Metallica, Slipknot, Alice Cooper, Andrew WK, Steel panther and more performed as you’ve never heard them before. Whoever put them on a stage in the entrance where families heading to the cinema, bowling alley or restaurants would have to walk past really didnt think things through as I doubt the families were impressed by hearing the lyrics to the Steel Panther song “Glory hole”. A great set.
By the time The Lounge Kittens finished, the main arena had opened with Blackberry smoke due on stage first. They finally came on stage around 20 minutes late, explaining they’d been delayed by Immigration at Heathrow Airport. Sadly the arena was not exactly busy – in fact to be blunt the attendance was crap, which made it hard to get any sort of atmosphere going. Blackberry smoke put in a great set with their country infused southern rock
Apocalyptica were next up. Three cellos playing metallica covers as well as their own material, it’s a mainly instrumental set although they do have a singer who comes on for some songs. The problem with Apocalyptica is that for say a 20 minute set then it’s very enjoyable, but for a longer set it starts to drag, especially with so many instrumental numbers. If they had vocals for the whole set then I’d enjoy them far more.
The Darkness were next and Justin Hawkins came on stage looking like a pimp from a 70s movie. By now the venue was as full as it was going to get (so not vey busy), and the Darkness were the first band in the arena to get any real crowd enthusiasm going. They are a great live band and really know how to put on a great show. I’ve never been a fan of the band purely down to the high pitched vocals, but even I have to admit they are a great choice for this high spot on the bill.
Finally it was time for tonight’s headliner, Alice cooper. It’s obvious that most of the people here today were here mainly for Alice Cooper and once the lights go down there’s a cheer before the curtain drops and Alice Cooper and his band make an appearance. What can I sawy – it’s Alice Cooper doing what he does best – entertain. The show contains many of the usual staples – a snake draped around his neck, him in a straightjacket, him being executed (guillotined tonight), a giant Frankenstein (during “Feed my Frankenstein”), and many more theatrical elements. Throughout the show his band put in great performances, and this was my first time seeing him with his new guitarist, Nita Strauss (from the band “The Iron Maidens”). When it comes to the part of the show where he pays tributes to some of the musicians who are no longer with us, there were a couple of new additions – we got a Bowie tribute, and then to pay tribute to Lemmy, they played “Ace of spades” (and did an impressively good job of it too), a tribute that brought huge cheers. Classics like “Schools out” and “Elected” bring the night to a close in true Alice Cooper party style. A great end to a day that saw a load of excellent bands playing.
So, thought’s on the day? Well it was clear that ticket sales were poor – very poor in fact, with my estimate of attendance being around 4,000 people. This led to lots of empty seats, and the floor area being half empty which isn’t great, and it’s clear from speaking to people why sales were poor – the event was overpriced. It gets worse when you realise you don’t need a ticket for the IndigO2 stage or the entrance stage, so that ticket is just for the few bands playing the arena. With tickets for the second day being available for just £2 each in the last couple of days it’s clear sales for the second day are likely to be even worse..