After two days of torrential rain and biting wind, to just about everyone’s surprise the last day of Download dawned with clear skies and a blazing sun. By evening, the only patch of mud to not have been baked away by England’s reliably idiosyncratic weather remained in front of the Zippo Encore stage – more commonly known as the “Second Stage” – and it was there I found myself ankle deep in the mire and surrounded by happy, sweaty, shoving folks who were all out to see the stage’s headliners, Rise Against.
Despite this year’s fantastic lineup the abysmal weather had put rather a dampener on the whole weekend, but Sunday’s sunshine brought a party atmosphere to the festival that the bands over on the main stage had been making the most of, with Anthrax and Lamb Of God pulling off lively sets that kept the circle pits going all afternoon. That night the main stage belonged to classic grunge and metal (in the form of Soundgarden and Black Sabbath), but I headed over to the Second Stage to finish my festival off with a good old dance.
Capably kicking off the festivities were second-headliners Dropkick Murphys, who warmed up the crowd with their Boston-Irish ska-punk (complete with bagpipes, violins and penny-whistles) and likely caused more than a few minor injuries in the impressive and numerous moshpits breaking out in front of the stage. Jostling my way to a place up front after their set, I was kept entertained by a native Belfastian telling dirty jokes about Catholic priests to anyone and everyone within earshot until Rise Against took to the stage.
Ripping through 12 songs during their hour-long slot and setting a frenetic pace – no “Hero Of War” here, folks – their set leant heavily on crowd-friendly sing-a-long choruses and fast-paced numbers drawn mainly from their last three album releases.
After opening relatively gently with “Survivor Guilt” and “Ready To Fall”, they launched into their first major crowd-pleaser “Collapse (Post-Amerika)”, leading to our first wave of stage-divers down the front and the beginning of the end for my vocal chords.
They continued with “The Good Left Undone” – slowing the pace a little but showing no mercy on our strained esophaguses – before all broke loose when they followed it up with fan favourite “Help Is On The Way”.
Singer Tim McIlrath introduced their next song “Re-Education (Through Labour)” with a dedication to punk legends Refused, who had graced the Second Stage earlier that evening and who McIlrath credited as being one of the bands who incited their own political re-education.
Continuing the string of mosh-friendly numbers with “Satellite” and “Prayer of the Refugee”, McIlrath went on to lead the crowd in a mass sing-a-long to anthem “Make It Stop (September’s Children)”.
Winding down with “Give It All” – the only track from early album Siren Song Of The Counter Culture – and “Midnight Hands”, they went out with a blistering extended version of “Savior”, leaving many of us leaving the set – and the festival – with the iconic chorus well and truly ensconced in our ear canals.
Despite nipping over to the main stage after their set to catch the end of Black Sabbath, it’s the raw energy of Rise Against and the exuberant crowd over on the Second Stage that I’ll be remembering over and above all memories of mud and miserable weather at Download this year.