STONE FREE FESTIVAL 2016 – London – O2 Arena
The first day of the inaugural Stone Free Festival in London was something that we had been looking forward to attending for quite a few months by the time we arrived at the O2 Arena on a cloudy Saturday afternoon. As we approached the entrance, hundreds of like-minded fans of classic kick-ass hard rock were already there and, by the looks of it, having a pretty cool time. The thing is, Saturday was more or less devoted to classic rock while Sunday was devoted to progressive rock, yet Saturday’s roster was very diverse in terms of style and sound, which made it all the more fun to attend.
One of the greatest things about Stone Free Festival was that it was an indoor festival, which meant no mud, no rain, or any of that lousy bullshit camping that I so abhor. What initially attracted us to the event was the prospect of watching the shock rock maestro himself, namely Alice Cooper, in action in front of a rapid London crowd. After all, London is said to be his home away from home. While Alice Cooper was the main attraction, there were a whole lot of other highly interesting bands and artists that were scheduled to perform on this particular day. From around noon until 5 PM a whole bunch of bands took to the stage at the Indigo O2 and right next to the entrance on the Fireball Stage. Unfortunately, we arrived somewhat late and spent about an hour checking out the vinyl fairs and merchandise stands, but we did manage to catch to entire set by the fabulous Lounge Kittens, which was hugely entertaining. While we were standing there and enjoying their humorous performance, it dawned on me just how cool the atmosphere at the festival was. Everything just had this really cool vibe to it. It is somewhat difficult to put into words, but it was just really pleasant, fun, and comfortable to be there. Anyway, the Lounge Kittens were a lot of laughs, but highly talented as well. Three good-looking females who possess heavenly voices and perform lounge-like versions of classic tunes such as "Poison" by Alice Cooper, "Sad But True" by Metallica, and even "Gloryhole" by the scummy sleaze-fuckers known as Steel Panther. The audience loved them and gave them lots of applause, which was well earned, because these ladies truly were awesome. Unless you are complete dick devoid of any sense of humor, do me favor and check this outfit out on the web. I think their album will be out in October if I remember correctly.
Following the Lounge Kittens show, we went inside the arena and located our seats. You could tell that the festival was not sold out, which was a damn shame in my opinion. This particular festival was one of those events that truly deserved a lot of support and a large audience in my opinion. Blackberry Smoke were up first and launched into their awesome southern vintage rock without any fucking around and totally delivered on all fronts. They were slightly delayed on stage, but blamed that on the Heathrow authorities detaining them at the airport. The Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top vibes that ooze from Blackberry Smoke’s material is a beauty to behold, but these guys are no mere clone act. Songs such as "Six Ways to Sunday" and "Rock & Roll Again" ruled in this particular live setting. We totally dug this band.
The Finnish cello institution known as Apocalyptica were up next and did a great job. The fans loved their riveting renditions of "Master of Puppets" and "Seek and Destroy", but their own material held up quite well in a live setting as well. Truth be told, I preferred the instrumental songs as opposed to the ones that contained vocals. All in all, these dudes gave new meaning to the words "bombastic" and "heavy". The combination of intense percussion and those insane cello melodies is hard to beat.
The Darkness had to cut their show short, which seemed to piss off vocalist Justin Hawkins, but that did not prevent the band from taking us on a highly entertaining musical journey through such crazy tunes and anthems as "Barbarian", "One Way Ticket", and "I Believe in a Thing Called Love". Hawkins looked like some sleazy pimp from a trashy and forgotten 70s flick, which made him even cooler and fun to watch. The band as a whole was born to entertain people and they knew exactly how to turn the London crowd on. People went ape-shit for these fuckers.
At exactly 9.15 PM the demigod himself, Alice Cooper, and his otherworldly talented band went on stage, and it turned out to be a trill like no other. Alice was in great shape and sounded brilliant. While the sound inside the arena was somewhat rough around the edges and uneven, this did not change the fact that Ryan Roxie, Nita Strauss, Chuck Garric, Tommy Henriksen, and Glen Sobel never missed a beat. It was inhumanly tight to the point where it became almost uncanny. If that isn’t professionalism, then what is? It had been ten years since I saw Alice perform live, but he has not lost one single step with age. The consummate professional. The whole show turned into a rather mesmerizing affair where it was just brilliance all around. The stage show itself is legendary and I hardly need to elaborate on what goes on at a Cooper gig, do I? The cane, the snake, the doll, the Vincent Price sample, and so on and so forth. Opening the show with "Black Widow", "No More Mr. Nice Guy", and "Under My Wheels" was a stroke of genius. The crowd lapped it up and were in the palm of Cooper’s sinister hand on this particular night. Songs such as "Billion Dollar Babies", "Woman of Mass Distraction", "Long Way to Go", "I Love the Dead", "Only Women Bleed", "Feed My Frankenstein", and "Ballad of Dwight Fry" sounded as razor-sharp and state of the art as they ever did. The heartfelt tributes to Keith Moon ("Pinball Wizard"), Jimi Hendrix ("Fire"), David Bowie ("Suffragette City"), and Lemmy (an insanely heavy version of "Ace of Spades" featuring Mr. Garric on over-the-top vocals) went down a storm while "I’m Eighteen", "School’s Out", and the encore "Elected" marked the ending of a truly memorable and epic show. It gave me the chills in places. It was that good. I guess the bottom line is that Alice Cooper still rules beyond belief. A troubled man for troubled times indeed!
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you what went on at Stone Free Festival on day two as we had another engagement in town that day, but if it was even half-way as great as day one then it must have been loads of fun. I truly hope that Stone Free Festival will return next year. It was a celebration of true and honest musical talent both old and new, and for that, I think the festival deserves praise.