Brand new for 2016, Stone Free Festival raised some eyebrows when announcing Alice Cooper and Rick Wakeman to headline the 20,000 capacity The O2 Arena but the promise of a full day festival extravaganza encompassing the whole site was an exciting prospect. Though the term “extravaganza” may have been pushing the boat out quite a bit, with the stages (some non-music) and rare vinyl sales holding a disconnect, thankfully the line-up was full of gems to keep the day exciting, despite some inconveniences along the way.
APOCALYPTICA – 4/10
Glorified cover band Apocalyptica are almost celebrating the 20 year anniversary of their debut album, but stopped in beforehand to treat Stone Free to their Finnish cello metal experience. Not ones to disappoint a generic metal crowd, an early cover of ‘Master Of Puppets’ arrives to either uncontrollable joy or limitless confusion depending on who you ask, but sadly after all these years, no one has told Apocalyptica that it doesn’t really work. The novelty element wears off very quickly, as if they were on an TV talent show, but their persistence is admirable to say the least. ‘I’m Not Jesus’ sang by Scar On Broadway’s Franky Perez is far superior, and the band are far more enjoyable with a vocalist amongst them, but it doesn’t last forever as they can’t resist but play more Metallica in ‘Seek & Destroy’ and Sepultra’s ‘Inquisition Symphony’. Great for a minute or two, but the length of Apocalyptica’s set is draining, and any magic there was is long gone by the end.
THE DARKNESS – 8/10
Even after all these years of The Darkness, Justin Hawkins is still able to surprise an arena of people with his attire for the evening as he’s dressed as a gold and black admiral on a golfing day; it’s safe to say that his shares in Catsuits R Us are still ticking over nicely. The Lowestoft heroes launch into ‘Barbarian’ from 2015’s excellent ‘Last Of Our Kind’, which gives Hawkins the best opportunity to show off his ridiculous vocal range before treating The O2 to ‘Growing On Me’ with kids and adults of all ages singing every single word. Regardless of how good the 2 records since their reunion have been, 95% of this crowd want to hear ‘Permission To Land’, so that’s what they’re going to get. The Darkness’ seminal record is one of the biggest things to happen to rock music since the turn of the century, and they’ll reap their rewards ’til they’re buried in the ground, because ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ and ‘Stuck In A Rut’ are anthems made for the masses. The timeless ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ cuts the show short (thanks to Apocalyptica over running), but the charming nature of the band throughout their truly unique rock ‘n’ roll set leaves a great taste in the mouth.
ALICE COOPER – 9/10
The Godfather of Shock Rock is in the building, yet mysteriously takes to the stage with a cape wrapped around himself for ‘The Black Widow’, all of which is prepared so he can unveil his black and white pinstripe suit for the killer start to ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ as he stands at the front of the stage with a curtain of fireworks behind him. Alice Cooper’s tradition for the theatrical is second to none, and, to the delight of The O2, it doesn’t take long for the singer to have his trademark snake around his neck for ‘Is It My Body’, and the prop of choice for ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ tonight is a sword with cash impaled on it, which the headliner then slowly pulls off and throws around the stage at his various touring guitarists.
Lead guitarist Nina Strauss looks and sounds the part, and, although her big solo surrounded by multi-coloured smoke is purely to kill some time for a costume change for the main man, it works perfectly as pretence before ‘Poison’ smashes the set into pieces. Some of the horror circus themed props on stage look a bit tacky in truth, but when Cooper arrives in his blood covered white overalls and ‘Feed My Frankenstein’ blares out of the speakers, you know you’re in for the real stage show. Evil orderlies with bags on their heads wheel out the electrocution machine and place the accepting Alice inside, which triggers an explosion on stage and Frankenstein’s Monster to run around in all of his 10 foot glory. Not to take anything away from his signature move, the Detroit singer famously dies on stage every night, and ‘I Love The Dead’ leaves him in his usual sorry state. After being put in a straight jacket, the orderlies are back with a guillotine and take the head of the man that we’re all to see here this evening, but not without waving it around in pride first. Thankfully, we get to see Alice in the afterlife where he pays his respects to his old friends by playing covers of ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Fire’, ‘Suffragette City’, and ‘Ace Of Spades’ before delving into his own huge classics of ‘I’m Eighteen’ and ‘School’s Out’ to close out with a huge crescendo.
The legend that is Alice Cooper wouldn’t dare leave without an encore, and he returns to the stage with a stars and stripes suit (where does he get all these from?!) for the political ‘Elected’, and is even joined by Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump themselves who end up with their tongues down each other’s throats. The amount of hits that Cooper brings to his show is almost countless tonight, as his set heavily concentrated on the fan favourites from his original band days. He certainly still has the antics to maintain his fanbase in 2016, and he’ll keep bringing a new show every few years for as long as he can still get on that stage and sing those songs.
THE VIRGINMARYS – 7/10
Macclesfield trio The Virginmarys have always kept their options open when picking tours and festivals, and even though they’ve toured with indie bands like The View and We Are Scientists, the classic rock scene are waiting for them with open arms. Tracks like ‘For You My Love’ and the particularly great ‘Just A Ride’ have more in common with The Subways than the golden oldie bands that cover the black t-shirts in the room, but singer/guitarist Ally Dickaty adds the aggression and technical prowess that earns the applause from the crowd, and the Northern guys have pulled in another corner of the fan pool.
MICHAEL MONROE – 6/10
Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe has made a decent go of his solo career, and made it to a milestone ten individual albums last year with the release of ‘Blackout States’, which provides a chunk of the setlist today. The Finnish multi-instrumentalist is almost incomprehensible between songs and sounds like an auctioneer with tourette syndrome, but somehow it all still works and he is on it during ‘Superpowered Superfly’ and ‘Dead Hearts On Denmark Street’ nonetheless. Fans of Monroe’s whole CV are ecstatic at hearing Demolition 23’s fun but silly ‘Nothin’s Alright’ and Hanoi Rocks’ classic riff in ‘Tragedy’, but it’s ‘Dead, Jail Or Rock ‘n’ Roll’ that closes the show with a masterclass in how to be a glam rock singer.
THERAPY? – 8/10
It’s easy to forget that Therapy? were a mammoth force in metal twenty years ago, and, although the music industry has been extremely unkind to them, the Northern Ireland trio remain as a consistant highlight on the circuit and are rewarded with a headline slot on the Indigo Stage at The O2 this afternoon. ‘Still Hurts’ starts the set to prove that the band are still writing huge tracks all the way into 2015’s ‘Disquiet’ before blaring out a cover of Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ and the hugely popular ‘Die Laughing’. Andy Cairns is having a blast on stage, and even has time between pulling his eccentric facial expressions to poke fun at the Black Sabbath similarities in new doom inspired ‘Deathstimate’. When you’ve been around for as long as Therapy?, your sets just prove how many hits you’ve really had as the reactions to ‘Stories’ and ‘Teethgrinder’ leave grins from ear-to-ear around the venue, but the sing-a-long fun during ‘Potato Junkie’ tops them both. You just can’t beat shouting “James Joyce is fucking my sister!” on repeat. You’ll struggle to find a bigger crowd pleasing finish than what Therapy? have in store today, as a triple threat ‘Troublegum’ finish of ‘Knives’, ‘Nowhere’, and ‘Screamager’ close a triumphant show which was very much worthy of being on the main stage with the big boys.
Written by Mike Heath (@MikeBeef)