For the second year running my luck was in for this event, held at a holiday centre in North Wales, not too far from Ronsterland. Last year I got to see Black Label Society (plus Clutch and others) thanks to some connections
and this year, a friend of mine won tickets to the 2009 renewal.
So it was that we headed over to Prestatyn late Friday afternoon; we were unable to leave sooner owing to commitments and we got to the main stage to find Gun already on and playing. (We'd missed Logan, unfortunately, and had no hope of catching Voodoo Johnson as I might have liked, so you'll both just have to come back to Liverpool!)
I've never seen Gun before but have seen their new singer Toby Jepson on numerous occasions; it did sometimes feel a bit like Little Angels but Toby is a fine frontman and has been accepted warmly by Gun's fans. Being an Englishman fronting a Scottish band, that in itself is worth a pat on the back (!). A pleasant hour reliving Gun's hits, then, ending of course with 'Word Up'. Quite what that song's writer (Larry Blackmon, of Cameo) may think of his song being played at a Hard Rock event, one can only guess at, but here, it was delivered well, and Toby sounded close to original vocalist Mark Rankin.
A quick 'fred durst' later, we were back in the crowd for what we thought would be Terrorvision. Instead, what looked like Steel Panther's dads emerged - I failed to recognise any of them at first and it was only when I heard the song that I twigged: it was Ratt next on the bill, not Terrorvision! A closer look at the line-up revealed former Quiet Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo in place of the late Robbin Crosby, and as it had been 23 years since last I saw this band I had few expectations. However, I really enjoyed them! Admittedly Pearcy's vocal is not the best, (then again he never has claimed to be a Dio) but they delivered a short set full of their favourite old songs, mostly from the 'Out of the Cellar' and 'Invasion of your Privacy' albums from their mid-80s glory days. Guitarist Warren deMartini still sounds fluid and they went down very well with the crowd, probably all of whom still have the vinyl LPs in their attics (!)
A pleasant surprise, then and upon double-checking the programme, Terrorvision would follow Ratt (or should that be 'Quiet Ratt'?)
When they came out, I was surprised to see them dressed in suits (apart from drummer Shutty) - Tony Wright was looking very resplendent, as was bassist Leigh Marklew. Guitarist Mark Yates held up the rock look though, wearing suit trousers and a waistcoat with no shirt, showing numerous tattoos! The band ran through all their 90s favourites, yes, that included 'Tequila' (but played properly with the guitars intact - yah boo sucks to Zoe Ball! ) Their set was a short snappy party, Wright was unable to keep still all night, bounding around the stage with commendable energy for a forty-something! They've split and come back a few times now, if they're still capable of this kind of performance they ought to stick around a little longer this time.
Next up were the headliners and a band I'd been looking forward to seeing: Monster Magnet. I've been a fan of these 90s stoners for years but have only seen them live once before, and this promised to be a highlight of the weekend. I got a shock at the sight of vocalist Dave Wyndorf when he came onstage though; he's now a Monster by nature as well as by name! The formerly slim figure has been replaced by a seriously chubby Dave; not so much Stoner rock as 16-Stoner rock!
That said, having been through all manner of drug addictions in the past, if his present addiction is just pies, that is probably the least of his troubles! The band were still awesome, still weighty (in the right sense of the word!) and still produce a 70s-style, satisfyingly sludgy Metal sound that nobody else seems to do any more. They did a long set including an encore with (by my reckoning) 4 songs, so we got the full value here. I'd love to see more from the Magnet, even if Dave stops at every branch of Waterfield's in the UK along the way!!
The crowd had evaporated after the headliners' set, but they were not the last band on. Hard Rock Hell has an unusual setup where they have another band afterward, and this slot was given to Sonata Arctica. I'd actually planned to go to one of their other gigs during this brief UK stop but as I'll be at the second night of Hard Rock Hell instead now, that will have to be postponed. I've seen the Finnish band several times now and thoroughly enjoyed them each time; and I was really looking forward to this especially as they now have a new album out: 'The Days of Grays'. I had managed to grab a spot on the barrier for this set as many of the crowd had left, so I was in a prime spot. They delivered a typically energetic and technically excellent performance, with the expected great playing from guitarist Elias 'E.Vil' Viljanen and keyboard player Henrik Klingenberg. The sound wasn't the best from my spot though, the drums tended to dominate. My only real problem with the set was that it was just too short! They played four songs from the new album, with the only oldies being '8th Commandment', 'Full Moon', 'In Black and White' and 'Don't Say A Word' (with 'Vodka' ending). With it being such a short set I'd have liked one or two more old songs, but I got the impression the band thought that as they were not so well known to this crowd, they may as well play their new stuff as it would all be unfamiliar to the crowd.
Judging from the between-song chat from vocalist Tony Kakko, that seemed to be the case. I still enjoyed it, but it just was not enough for me and I hope that they return to the UK in 2010 for some more dates.
So that was the first night of Hard Rock Hell; a report on the second night will follow, if I can remember it!