We headed down to the Saturday of this years Stone Free Festival at the O2 Arena, catering to all sorts of prog rockers, classic metallers and everything in between. There was so much going on that we didn’t catch every single band, so we thought we’d review the biggest and best instead. Onward!
The Lounge Kittens
Southampton’s sultry, slightly smutty songstresses opened the cannily named Entrance Stage in their own interminable style. Their tongue-in-someone’s-cheek covers of classic rock and metal hits draw a respectable crowd this early in the day, piquing the interest of random passers by as well as those here for the fest. Red Kitten (Jenny Deacon) plinky-plonks away behind her keyboard, her jaunty chords infectiously upbeat. The harmonies from the trio are pitch perfect, Deacon, Blue Kitten (Timia Gwnedoline) and Pink Kitten (Zan Lawther) are clearly well rehearsed and loving every minute. Bookended by some delicious pop-punk/90’s medleys, the set includes the first-time-airing of ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ (AC/DC), a fantastically original spin on Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ and a thoroughly filthy ‘Glory Hole’ (Steel Panther) for which they are apologetically unapologetic, and is rounded out by lashings of bawdy banter. They even through in a fitting cover of Alice Cooper’s ‘Poison’, assuring us they are going to track him down and attempt to ‘rub their bums’ on him. You won’t find their like anywhere else. Good clean(ish) fun. [9/10]
Finnish ‘cello metallers’ Apocalyptica emphasise the true breadth of the weird and wonderful that festival like Stone Free have to offer. Despite seeming like a novelty, the band have more than 20 years of career behind them, and a wealth of studio albums to pull material from. Of course, a good portion of their set is made up of what they’re known best for – Metallica covers. Despite their unwieldy instruments, the band still manage to rock out, windmill-headbanging in unison, busting out frantic solos and prowling around the stage. They seem delighted to be here, and while the pedigree of their musicianship is obvious, it’s a shame that most of their original compositions are taken to be little more than a passing fancy by most of the crowd. [6/10]
Many would have been excited to relive their youth with a slice of Lowestoft’s finest The Darkness, and many would have been disappointed. They’re late onstage, and whilst musically tight, Dan Hawkins slaying solos with practiced ease and new(ish) sticksman Rufus Taylor acquitting himself well, there’s a slight listlessness to their performance, a sense of going through the motions. Compounded by frankly forgettable new material, perhaps the biggest flaw is their erratic frontman Justin Hawkins. Strutting the stage in a kitsch outfit, he seems more interested in striking poses and meting our agonisingly flat banter to a disinterested crowd than his trademark caterwauling. Even a rousing parting shot of ‘One Way Ticket doesn’t forgive all their sins. Next time, play more songs. [3/10]
There’s a palpable sense of anticipation that precedes the undisputed king of shock rock before he takes to the stage. When he does, he gets an uproarious reception. What comes next is an absolute masterclass in what it takes to be a rock icon. Cooper stalks the stage in a variety of guises and outfits, all the while belting out his signature snarling yowl. He owns every inch of the O2, cocksure and regal in equal measure, each track bettering the last. ‘The Black Widow’ is suitably predatory, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ has almost every voice in the crowd raised alongside the refrain. ‘Under My Wheels’ races along, unstoppable, and ‘Poison’ is absolutely sublime, with his backing band throwing in some almost angelic harmonies, Nita Strauss busting out and fearsome, blazing guitar solo with effortless grace.
Pyro pops off almost constantly, the lightshow is dazzling. This isn’t a mere gig – it’s a spectacle. Some will complain that Cooper doesn’t connect with the audience – he doesn’t need to. He is here to perform, and you are here to watch. In the words of a couple of famous Illinois metallers – “We are not worthy!”. [9/10]