On July 24th and 25th 2010, the inaugural High Voltage Festival was held at Victoria Park in London, England. Promoted as a hard rock festival that is "built for the fans", the festival is a new concept (in comparison to the standard European summer festivals there was no camping) in that it was held right in the heart of a major city. As a result, a large emphasis was placed on making the festival conditions and options as premium as possible and of course offering up the best hard rock artists to the fans. Divided into three formats and stages (classic rock stage, metal stage, progressive rock stage), the festival delivered with a superb mix of bands on each day.
Day #1 featured many veteran heavyweights such as ZZ TOP, the HEAVEN & HELL tribute to Ronnie James Dio, FOREIGNER, Gary Moore (rock band format), ASIA, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY and SAXON (other artists included: THE ANSWER, ORANGE GOBLIN, HAMMERFALL, CATHEDRAL, BIG ELF, Dweezil Zappa, TRANSATLANTIC and others).
Day #2 presented the reunion of EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER (first concert since 1998), the debut of DOWN N' OUTZ (including Joe Elliot with special guest Ian Hunter), UFO, THE QUIREBOYS, DOWN, OPETH, CLUTCH, MARILLION and URIAH HEEP (other artists included: Joe Bonamassa, BACHMAN & TURNER, HIGH ON FIRE, MAGNUM, Steve Hackett and others).
In general, the festival was well attended and the setup made it convenient to move between the three stages within 5 minutes of walking. In addition there was a large section in the middle with a great variety of food, drink and merchandise to choose from as well as several carnival type rides and a small theater showcasing films and documentaries from various hard rock bands (and a great photo gallery of Ronnie James Dio!). The downside to large festivals with multiple stages is that many of the bands overlap on their performance times, hence the fans essentially have to pick and choose who they want to see and/ or see partial performances.
Review/ highlights of bands witnessed:
ZZ TOP: The set list was their standard mix of 70's and 80's favorites mixed in with a few deep tracks, some blues and a Jimi Hendrix cover. The band keeps to this formula very well, and they always look "i" with their various stage gimmicks (funky guitars, colorful drum kit, etc.) but the overall performance didn't seem well suited for a large festival.
HEAVEN & HELL: Since this would be the final performance under this band name, Glenn Hughes and Jorn Lande were given the honor of handling the vocals. Although there was the somber feeling that this was a part of the grieving process for the late Ronnie James Dio, there was also the excitement of knowing that the band "needed" to do this for Ronnie, themselves and the fans and that this should be a celebration of his music. During the performance each singer traded off on pairs of songs, and at the end sang together for HEAVEN & HELL and NEON KNIGHTS. Overall the band was tight and swiftly moved through their set and each singer effectively brought their unique style and skills to the vocals. In addition the fans were also treated to an emotional speech from Wendy Dio as well as some unplanned guest background vocals from Phil Anselmo during the encore. In summary it can be said that this truly was a one-off special performance as the band paid the utmost respect to their legendary singer. For the fans, no one knows what the future may hold for Tony and GEEZER, but it was a special moment to be able to hear those songs, many of them perhaps for the last time.
FOREIGNER: This band put on a great performance (coupled with fantastic crowd enthusiasm!), but that should not be a surprise to anyone who has seen the revamped lineup in the past few years (they have a much more hard rock edge to them since the lineup includes Kelly Hansen and Jeff Pilson). Although they only had one hour to play, they more than made up for it with a solid set list of all of their best known hits, which included a children's choir joining them onstage for "I Want To Know What Love Is".
Gary Moore: There was much excitement about he and his band playing a rock set, but the actual performance was quite laid back and mellow. Although he effectively mixed in several classic tracks with a handful of new ones, the one hour show didn't seem to capture much of the audiences' enthusiasm (it felt more like watching the band rehearse). Despite this, it was still great to hear this material again as we got a temporary break from the blues format.
ELP: This was billed as probably the most anticipated show of the weekend since it was a one-off reunion show with no other dates planned for the future. With their rich history and experience, the band delivered a solid and well rehearsed set, although they only had 90 minutes to play. The band members are extremely talented and their individual skills were well showcased (Carl Palmer also drummed with ASIA on the first day of the festival!). The only negative was that the band would have benefited by having the Saturday headlining slot instead of closing out the festival on Sunday as the crowd enthusiasm was winding down.
DOWN N' OUTZ: The band is a hybrid between standard hard rock with a cool throwback to 70's glam sprinkled in. Although the material is all cover songs, the music got a good reception due to it's modern and updated sound. Overall the band was tight (featuring members of THE QUIREBOYS who performed earlier in the day) and Joe Elliot was in better vocal form that in recent DEF LEPPARD tours. In addition the legendary Ian Hunter joined the band at the end for several songs at the end (although the show was abruptly stopped by ELP's road crew which led to backstage fisticuffs afterwards!).
UFO: The band was limited to less than an hour to play and lost close to 10 minutes due to technical issues with the guitars, so overall only performed 7 songs. Although the show seemed rushed and very short, the band was dead on as always.
URIAH HEEP: The band performed "Demons And Wizards" in it's entirety with no other material performed. Throughout the show, Micky Moody (early WHITESNAKE) assisted by playing slide guitar.
DOWN, OPETH, HIGH ON FIRE (it doesn't get any more "metal" than these three!):
DOWN concluded the festival on the metal stage with a seriously intense/ high-energy show that proved that they are a true metal giant of the times. Because their members are all such veterans of metal, it was difficult to focus on any one member but such a treat to watch them blend as a band. It goes without saying that Phil Anselmo is a "character" to say the least, but I challenge you to find a front man that is better than him at working the crowd and selling the songs and the band. These guys are pro's at what they do!
OPETH'S performance in the dusk of the evening combined with a partial smoke filled stage projected a unique mood during the one hour show. Although they only performed 6 songs, they flawlessly gave the fans their signature combination of metal and acoustic passages mixed in with bursts of progressive, folk and psychedelic segments. Despite OPETH'S reputation of being a dark band, they displayed their witty humor buy referencing themselves as "Poison" in between songs, with several funny tidbits about the songs being written in the 80's by Bret Michaels with assistance from Slash!
HIGH ON FIRE is not a new band by any means (they were formed in 1998), but they have become much better known and respected in the metal community. Also, their stock has greatly risen in the past 2 or 3 years by supporting powerhouses METALLICA and MASTODON on several tours and this band is one super-sonic metal trio! Offering up heavy, fast licks combined with thundering drums, the band does a superb job that would please any fan of stoner and thrash metal. Although their performance was in the middle of the afternoon daylight, they simply kicked-ass all the way though the solid 45-minute set.