Hard Rock Calling Festival 2012 (Day 1)

Hyde Park, London - July 13
event website | venue website

Since changing their name from Hyde Park Calling due to the long-term sponsorship from Hard Rock Café, Hard Rock Calling can barely be accused of having a hard rock line-up. However this year with the booking of the reformed Soundgarden as Friday night headliners, they did elect to make that day a predominantly heavy bill, adding veterans Iggy & The Stooges and Cold Chisel alongside younger guns Black Stone Cherry, The Mars Volta, Kids In Glass Houses, and Skindred, amongst many others.

With huge draws like Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon on Saturday and Sunday, coupled with Friday being a work/school day, the bill didn't pull in the same volumes of people and saw tickets being sold on two-for-one offers a couple of weeks beforehand. The crowd swelled by the time Soundgarden took the stage at 20:30 of course, but the rest of the bill didn't fare so well. In truth, beyond Iggy & The Stooges, and possibly The Mars Volta headlining the second stage, the line-up was somewhat lacking in crowd-pullers; all three days tailed off after the top four or five bands, but Friday more so. Nevertheless, those who knew their stuff recognised the strengths in the line-up and some of the bands playing the middle of the afternoon enjoyed some enthusiastic responses, and the best of the weather.

The festival itself in terms of layout and organisation from a ticket-holder's point of view hasn't changed much since before the new name came into effect (Aerosmith headlined the last one under the Hyde Park Calling moniker). The second and third stages are still in quite small tents, there still aren't enough entrances to the festival area, and they still struggle with sound, unaided of course by the strict noise limits imposed upon them by the local council. However some good effort has been made to improve the quality of the food on offer since then, as well as the number of options available, while prices for admission, merchandise and food/drink have remained reasonably static over the course of the last five years.

In the end though it all comes down to the bands and their performances, and there seemed to be very little concern in that regard.


Black Stone Cherry

Main Stage
16:50 - 17:30

While Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry have continued to steadily grow in prominence and popularity since forming in 2001, progressing from headlining at the Astoria (2000 people) in London with their debut album in 2007 to headlining Brixton Academy and Hammersmith Apollo (each 5000 people) in 2008 and 2009 respectively, today was not their finest day.

A combination of a highly unimaginative setlist, restrictively short set time, and lifeless performance from everyone except live-wire guitarist Ben Wells added up to a poor showing in front of a relatively sparse crowd. They actually provided the clearest evidence yet that the time of day (Friday afternoon) had severely affected attendance. The general lack of interest, unaided by clashing with , visibly affected the band two, who couldn't wait to finish and get off the stage.

It was a shame that circumstances conspired against Black Stone Cherry, who have just released a very strong new album and are obviously keen to showcase songs from it. In a nine-song set (not counting their joke closer 30 Seconds of Death Metal) four came from Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea, with only two from their self-titled debut, and three from Folklore And Superstition. For a festival crowd, most of which either didn't know Black Stone Cherry at all, or weren't big fans, this made the set quite inaccessible, in addition to the previously mentioned problems.

The set was the exception rather than the rule though, for both today's event and for Black Stone Cherry's live reputation. These things happen sometimes, and both will recover.

“ today was not their finest day ”

Setlist: Maybe Someday / Blind Man / Yeah Man / Soulcreek / In My Blood / Like I Roll / White Trash Millionaire / Blame It On The Boom-Boom / Lonely Train / 30 Seconds of Death Metal


Iggy & The Stooges

Main Stage
19:10 - 20:00

Although comfortably the oldest performer of the day (and indeed one of the oldest of the whole weekend), Iggy Pop stole the show from headliners Soundgarden with consummate ease.

He and his current line-up of The Stooges, including long-time guitarist James Williamson, saxophonist Steve Mackay, and bassist Mike Watt, who has been in the band since the 2003 reunion, didn't do anything especially different to their normal shows, they just do what they do exceptionally well. The setlist was standard, there were no special set-pieces on stage, no pyro, just a seasoned rock 'n' roll band performing classic songs with energy and passion.

The main focus for everything, including everyone's undivided attention, was of course the leather-skinned Iggy Pop, writhing and cavorting across the front of the stage as only he can. And being able to do it in a short space of time, playing just the hits, made for a high-impact, full energy set which easily entertained both fans and casual viewers alike. Iggy is the kind of performer who can convert people, even people who wouldn't choose to listen to The Stooges at home, and that rare combination of uniqueness and skill was in full evidence in the early evening sunshine. In particular lesser-played songs Kill City and Night Theme really stood at as classier tracks amidst the raw, punky blasts of well-known classics like Search And Destroy, No Fun, Raw Power and a surprisingly heavy I Wanna Be Your Dog mid-set.

And they did it without really acknowledging they were doing it too. If they had been sportsmen people would have used the term "in the zone". They came on, they relentlessly did their thing, and they left again, with no fanfare. Just the way it should be.

“ stole the show ”

Setlist: Raw Power / Search and Destroy / Gimme Danger / 1970 / Fun House / Night Theme / Beyond the Law / I Wanna Be Your Dog / I Got a Right / No Fun / Johanna / Kill City / Open Up and Bleed


Soundgarden

Main Stage
20:30 - 22:30

Following The Stooges was not the easiest task the reformed Soundgarden have had to face so far. Nor was headlining the least popular day of a three-day event, but they didn't let it show at all.

And just to make that point, they opened their set in style with a constant string of big-riff classics. Indeed some of their biggest and most well-known songs, including Outshined, Jesus Christ Pose, a devastatingly heavy Gun, Spoonman and mega-hit Black Hole Sun, all featured in the first six songs of a 20-song set.

For many bands making such a move would be a huge risk as it would leave them with very few, if any, crowd-pleasers for later in the set, but Soundgarden have a strong depth of material to draw from, and are one of the few major rock bands around who actually bother to mine those depths, that to them it was no risk at all. They play different setlists every night, keeping their fans both guessing, and always hungry to see them again just to see which gems they'll pull out next time.

So with those big hitters already gone they dug deep, resurrecting the title track from the Superunknown album, which at that pointed had barely been played at all on the European tour and never in the UK, alongside songs from the pre-chart success days with Beyond The Wheel, Hunted Down, and Ugly Truth all getting airings, and Superunknown providing the other sing-along moments with Blow Up The Outside World and Fell On Black Days.

Of all the high-profile shows on Soundgarden's comeback trail, this one probably had some of the toughest circumstances. Following a massive performance from The Stooges, in the rain, with sound restriction issues and a poor crowd, it really highlighted the renewed pleasure the band are taking in their work, as they played for two hours without missing a beat or showing any signs of annoyance or disinterest. For the Soundgarden fans in attendance, they made sure they delivered.

“ a strong depth of material ”

Setlist: Searching With My Good Eye Closed / Spoonman / Gun / Jesus Christ Pose / Black Hole Sun / Outshined / Hunted Down / Drawing Flies / Blow Up the Outside World / Fell on Black Days / Ugly Truth / My Wave / The Day I Tried to Live / Beyond the Wheel / Let Me Drown / Pretty Noose / Superunknown / 4th of July // Rusty Cage / Slaves & Bulldozers

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2012, Festivals, Grunge, Hard/Heavy Rock, , ,

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