“Will the people in the upper-class sections clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your loose change”, the bare-chested, slightly intoxicated male shouts from a distance as he leans against the barrier. From where he is, the stage is not too far, but the view is obstructed by one of the many delay towers adorning Hyde Park today. Someone (hopefully, possibly an engineer) hung some speakers bang in the middle of the big screens on both sides of the stage, thus forcing the audience to use their imagination to try to guess what is being framed. The semi-naked beauty is now shouting something while looking in our direction, when his sober looks are broken by a smile: “Thank fuck for Sabbath!” he raves. And this, we can safely argue, pretty much sums up the general opinion.
As the afternoon unfolds, we are treated to some delicacies that we rarely enjoy together. On the main stage, the likes of Soulfly, Motörhead, Soundgarden, Faith No More and Black Sabbath monopolise the attention, while Bo Ningen, Wolfmother, Hell and Gallows make sure their hardcore fans are handsomely rewarded for missing bits and pieces of the big names’ action. But that is a task that requires commitment. Because even if it looks as if the sun has remained at its zenith for the last three hours, Soulfly make sure their audience are treated to a healthy dose of decibels with “Prophecy”, “Back to the Primitive” and a fleeting reunion of the Cavalera brothers for what is a stunning cover (?) of Sepultura’s “Roots Bloody Roots”.
Faith No More / Photo: Adam Stuart Harman
And what about Motörhead? As Lemmy takes the stage, you can see his iconic stutter made more careful by his recovering state. One can’t help but appreciate the notable effort made by this man, but the Motörhead set lacks the brutality of its finest days and the very attitude that has made these Englishmen what they have been for the last 30 years. Whitfield Crane, of Ugly Kid Joe fame, joins the band for “Killed by Death” before leaving Mr Kilmister and company to perform the obligatory last bit that includes, guess what, “Ace of Spades” and “Overkill”. And this is where the trio regains its form, morphing their frailty into pure punk attitude, fooling everyone, temporarily cheating ageing and making a grand exit. Hyde Park roars in the heat and we are left with a bittersweet taste quickly cured by cold beer.
The sun is still high when amps, keyboards and microphones – all covered in candid white – are arranged for the next band. Faith No More, that is. “The power of Christ compels you!”, murmurs Mike Patton right after “Zombie Eaters”, but his statement doesn’t feel out of place, as all four musicians wear priest garbs, and most of the crowd is here for them. You can feel it in the higher density reached by the bodies nearer the stage. You can hear it every time a chorus kicks in (“Ashes to Ashes”, “Midlife Crisis”), and a few thousand people almost completely conceal the sound coming from the speakers, whose intensity is already limited by the strict regulations imposed by Westminster’s council. But it looks as if Patton could not care less, as the band works its way in chronological order, covering the whole spectrum of its career, and I am somehow sure that Wolfmother wish they were here to enjoy the show. He shouts and growls, mimicking a musical exorcism through the patterns determined by “From Out of Nowhere”, “Epic”, “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies”, “Easy” and “We Care a Lot”, but it’s the two new songs (“Motherfucker” and “Superhero”) that are welcomed in (religious?) silence by the audience. Amen.
The long queues at the food stands welcome Soundgarden with lukewarm sympathy. Most of them will remain trapped there for the whole entirety of their set, but the rest of the audience seems to appreciate old numbers like “Let Me Drown”, “Fell on Black Days”, “Black Hole Sun” and “Spoonman”. Chris Cornell appears to have recovered from that terrible (seriously: terrible) stint with R&B that had worried hordes of fans. Kim Thayil has aged gracefully, and his style has greatly benefitted from the intervening years. The same applies to Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd, whose rhythm section seals the band’s cohesive force, which finds its most visible expression in a frontman who is able to give lessons in confidence and stage presence. Contrary to Patton’s rant (“Today we celebrate the day when we kicked your asses!”), Cornell’s introduction of “4th of July” is a polite apology and an assurance that, yes, that is the title of the next song but, no, it has nothing to do with the frictions we had in the past. The VIPs in the swank area feel the need to put their mojito down and give this man a round of applause. The rest of the crowd are, by now, queuing or singing (or the two things combined). Good old Soundgarden are probably the nicest surprise of the day, on the main stage.
As the evening unfolds, the rest of the festival continues without hiccups. Wolfmother fill The Theatre stage with a set that comprises of songs covering their whole discography. No exceptions. While Gallows please their crowd with “Cult of Mary”, “Everybody Loves You (When You’re Dead)” and “Chains”.
Black Sabbath / Photo: Adam Stuart Harman
But as the minutes pass, the density right in front of the main stage increases once again, because Black Sabbath are here to deliver what appears (but rumours haven’t been confirmed) to be their last live performance ever. True or not, “War Pigs” fuels the tension to breaking point. Ozzy Osbourne, Toni Iommi, Geezer Butler and session man Tommy Clufetos hail the twilight with “Into the Void”, “Snowblind” and the first song they ever wrote, aptly bearing the band’s name. What the average punter expects from a Black Sabbath gig is a comforting predictability, and this is exactly what the band delivers. Osbourne’s recurring incitements to make his audience lift their hands in the air may smack of cheap showmanship, if done by someone, anybody else. But this is the Madman himself and what he says goes. Especially tonight, when not even a drum solo (although a great one) manages to put the bystanders off, and even the two most recent tunes (“Age of Reason” and “God is Dead?”) seem to flow and fit right in the middle of a set that no other band can claim to have. The fireworks display bids farewell to the festival and, perhaps, to this legendary band. Somehow, by some means, the Sabbath will return, or so says the still bare-chested individual as we happen to cross his path on the way out. “And so as you hear these words telling you now of my state / I tell you to enjoy life: I wish I could but it’s too late”. The lyrics are raucously shouted, as the streets of London are filled with his voice and melancholically loud presence.
Photos: All photographs © Adam Stuart Harman