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11th Jun 2018

Download Festival delivers again with epic Guns N’ Roses set closing out Saturday

Will Lavin

If there were ever any doubts on whether or not Guns N’ Roses still had it then these doubts were dismissed this past weekend at Download Festival

Year after year Download Festival continues to prove that it really is the true home of rock and heavy metal music in the UK. 

Every time I’ve been I’ve enjoyed myself, like REALLY enjoyed myself. It’s like a community more so than a live music event. Whether you’re a goth, a classic rocker, a geek, a live music fanatic regardless of genre, or simply a fan of a good day out, you’re welcomed with open (and heavily tattooed) arms and there’s plenty for you to see and do.

Getting bigger and better as each 365 days passes, this year saw the introduction of DO.OMYOGA, where complimentary yoga classes set to a heavy soundtrack were offered to festival goers. 

There was also the return of WWE NXT Live! Giving fans the opportunity to sit ringside as some of their favourite wrestlers battled it out for supremacy, Download partnered with the WWE to offer an action-packed schedule full of aerial assaults and sleeper holds spread out across the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Add to this the Air Guitar World Championships, Demolition Download, Infernal Varanne Globe of Death, Lords of Lightning, Area 51, the Old Sarum tattoo parlour, the Village Cinema, a fairground and so much more, there really is something for everyone at Download.

But of course music is the bread and butter of the festival, and boy did they deliver this year.

Making my way up the M1 to Donington on what turned out to be a surprisingly sunny Saturday (those that have been to Download before know that it usually chucks it down), I put myself in the mood for the festival by playing some Guns N’ Roses (Saturday’s headliners), Alexisonfire (who played the Sunday) and 30 Seconds To Mars (I know they didn’t play but they always put me in a festival mood) loud and proud in the car, windows open, singing at the top of my lungs at the passersby who were staring awkwardly not knowing which way to look.

Arriving on site I had to get stuck in straight away. Managing to catch the end of Rolo Tomassi’s set on the Avalanche stage I then rushed over to the Zippo Encore stage to enjoy a bit of North Yorkshire rockers Asking Alexandria’s performance.

For the next hour or so I found myself talking backstage to various artists, including Winston McCall of Parkway Drive, who proceeded to tell me about the time the band’s drummer, Ben Gordon, almost got eaten by a whale whilst kayaking. I also spent some time with Sen Dog (of Cypress Hill and Powerflo fame), who aside from sharing his thoughts on the Drake and Pusha T beef that has had social media in a spin for the past few weeks, he also confirmed that there is a new Cypress Hill album scheduled for later this year.

Then making sure I caught some of Parkway Drive’s headlining set over on the Zippo stage – which was apparently pushed forward at the request of the band in order for them to be able to catch Guns N’ Roses main stage performance – regardless of whether you’re a fan of their music or not you would have enjoyed their performance, and if not the performance the fire at the very least – their pyro came straight from hell itself.

Then it was time for Guns N’ Roses.

Now, I’m going to be real here for a second. Going into Download this year part of me was excited for seeing Guns N’ Roses and part of me wasn’t. I’d never seen the band live before, yet, like most music fans my age, grew up a big fan and because of that cursed my parents for not letting me see them in their prime – I was only 10 when they put out their final album, not counting that piece of shit Chinese Democracy (sorry Axl). So getting the opportunity to see them live was a dream. 

But I was hesitant, especially with lead singer Axl Rose historically known for turning up late to many of the band’s shows and reportedly being a difficult person to deal with. And not only that, would they be too far over the hill to really give me the performance I desired? After all Axl is 56 and Slash is 52.

My worries were quashed the very second the first chords of “It’s So Easy” were played to the 100,000 fans in attendance – the festival’s biggest crowd since its inception in 2003 – through the mammoth main stage speakers. I knew I was about to enjoy myself, regardless of the fact I was sandwiched in amongst heavy smokers, messy kebab eaters and a sea of drunk people either falling into me or throwing up on their shoes. If truth be told I didn’t care.

For the next three hours I was transported somewhere where time and space apparently didn’t exist – I say this because I went back to the guest area after the set and was talking to someone about what I had just witnessed and I genuinely believed I had only been stood watching them for an hour and a half, max.

With a setlist made up of all the classics: “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Live and Let Die”, “You Could Be Mine” (a song that every time I hear it makes me think about Terminator 2), “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, that Axl still proved his voice was the perfect vessel for, these moments alone would have satisfied my GNR cravings.

But add to this the multiple costume changes from Axl (he even donned a Mad Hatter type top hat that brandished the Union Jack), a dozen guitar changes from Slash that saw him shred the hell out of every single one of them, and an insane stage backdrop that featured a selection of stunning digital images made up of skulls, bullets and silhouettes of women, and you realise pretty quickly that the band left no stone unturned and made sure to leave it all out on the stage.

Oh, and did I mention that the band’s lineup was made up of original members Axl Rose, Slash, and original bassist Duff McKagan, as well as Dizzy Reed (who joined the band in 1990) and later additions Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer and Melissa Reese? Yeah, it was an incredible thing to witness.

Do you know what else was incredible to witness? “November Rain” live. The only thing that could have made it better was if it actually rained. But Axl sitting at a piano passionately singing and playing one of the greatest songs ever written was just fine.

Rumoured to have been paid £5million to headline – the most that the festival has ever paid out to a headliner – it was worth every single penny and Download proved once again that they were willing to go above and beyond to give festival goers the very best in live entertainment. 

Download Festival 2019 takes place June 14th-16th and tickets go on sale June 13th 2018 that can be purchased here.