By Natalie Salvo
Sydney was wet and it wasn’t David Lee Roth’s fault. Saturday morning had seen the heavens open again and again but rock ain’t about being comfortable and a little water never killed anyone. On day one of the inaugural Stone Music Festival, guitar heroes were king and no one was going to let a few showers rain on their musical parade.
A small but dedicated crowd watched LA Band, Buckcherry make their Sydney debut. They ploughed through hard rock songs like “Rescue Me” while “Gluttony” saw the rock ‘n’ roll forced up to 11. Lead singer, Josh Todd closed the set by asking how many crazy b**ches were in the house and it warmed my heart to see people getting into the spirit of the fest (i.e. “celebrating music, life and freedom”) by hollering about the deranged.
Jon Stevens looked positively squeaky-clean by comparison as he greeted us with a formal “Good afternoon” before declaring that “For us rock ‘n’ rollers this is way too f**king early!” Noiseworks put on one solid and varied set. The classics naturally fitted into the pub-rock oeuvre (like “Take Me Back”) but a song like “Touch” positively soared. They also played hits like “Simple Man” and “Hot Chilli Woman” before dedicating the defiant rock anthem, “No Lies” to “Our illustrious Prime Minister”. It was good but their faithful cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock & Roll” saw Stevens in exceptionally fine voice and was a real highlight.
There was a technical hiccup during The Living End’s set but that didn’t stop the boys from playing a good 40 minutes of their punk rock-via-rockabilly sounds. If you’ve seen the band live before you wouldn’t have noticed anything new. Scott Owen stood on his bass near the end of “Second Solution” as he’s always done while guitarist, Chris Cheney did the same while playing those great power chords in “West End Riot”. The boys are a tight band and are renowned for their excellent live shows, meaning they make the perfect choice of act for a festival like this. Plus, there was no denying the fist-pumping goodness of “Prisoner Of Society” (especially for the old man on the barrier who was wearing an Aerosmith t-shirt and singing along to all the lyrics). Fact.
The biggest surprise of the day came wrapped up in the band with the best looking woman backstage AKA the supergroup, Kings Of Chaos. This collective boasts no less than three members of Guns N’ Roses (Matt Sorum, Duff McKagan and Gilby Clarke), Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple), Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Joe Elliott (Def Leppard) and Billy Idol’s guitarist, Steve Stevens. These guys brought enthusiasm and energy in spades to their set and they actually confessed to all liking one another and this was apparent in their song choices.
The Gunners’ “Welcome To The Jungle” set the bar set high rather early on. But the rock royalty saw the stakes raised when Hughes lead “Highway Star” and dedicated this to his late bandmate, Jon Lord. Hughes won us over with every bit of screaming vitriol before Elliott took over the mic for a huge, “Rebel Yell”. This proved a great sing-along and when the group finished with a fun “Paradise City” you could see more than a few new fans taking note of the fact they’d be back next year.
The following set by Jimmy Barnes seemed like an ill-fit for many different reasons. While Australia’s finest shrieker was joined by a large backing band that included a few family members (who were giving it their all) the reception they received was quite flat. The crowd had swollen in size but you got the sense that quite a few people just wanted a good vantage point for the acts to follow. Things really only seemed to heat up at the very end when we all embraced our inner bogan with the Cold Chisel classics “Flame Trees” and “Khe Sahn” and Australia’s very own unofficial national anthem, “Working Class Man”.
Aerosmith were pencilled in to play second fiddle to headliners, Van Halen but they wound up doing their own full set and encore and without a doubt stole the show. Steve Tyler was an immense joy to watch as he gyrated and sung. There were times he looked windswept while singing into a fan; he clasped his “lick me” mic stand like a giant phallus; and that’s when he wasn’t running around playing a mean harmonica or an even sweeter piano. The guy did not still for one minute and commanded you to pay attention in much the same way as Mick Jagger.
Brad Whitford and Joe Perry’s guitars crunched during “Love In An Elevator” while newer song “Oh Yeah” fit in well amongst the classics and had an awesome, animated video. “Livin’ On The Edge” boasted some fine pulsating drums from Joey Kramer, while the guitar riffs would challenge even the most enthusiastic air guitar student. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” sparkled while hits like “Walk This Way” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” were like a great old punch in the gut. They also did two covers which were respectful while retaining their own trademark, rock goodness. Fleetwood Mac’s “Stop Messin’ Around” was dedicated by Perry to the police in Boston while “Come Together” had as much meaty goodness as an Angus beef pie.
The headliners were unfortunately a late, noisy letdown. They too followed the Aerosmith road by including a couple of covers with Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”. But for the most part the hard rock band seemed to be a shadow of their former selves.
The day had seen many frontmen competing with a full-throttle rock band (some including legendary and virtuoso guitarists) but put simply, David Lee Roth was drowned out by a wall of distortion and riffs. They failed to make the same impact as Aerosmith and even Kings Of Chaos. And while their big drawcard and finale, “Jump” was good and included some cool glitter canons, it failed to redeem what was for the most part a tepid set.
Stone Music Festival had delivered an interesting line-up of bands on day one. There were veterans and youngsters, locals and internationals and this had meant that the crowd was a varied mix of people. But we had all come together in the spirit of a very special day (record store day, no less) to worship at the altar of rock and bask in the glory of the guitar, drums and bass. It was a heady mix that proved there might be a sore head or two before the next instalment.