What Olympics? The Hard Rock Calling music festival is on every Londoner’s lips this weekend, as organizers turned the legendary Hyde Park into a not-so-small city within a city. One shop keeper warned us that it was going to “piss down with rain,” but that didn’t stop thousands of music lovers who turned up in their wellies yesterday for a chance to hear Soundgarden, Iggy and the Stooges and more! No fair weather fans here, folks.
While the festival is (and should be) all about the music, the first thing that hits you as your enter that site is the sheer size. This site is a sight, man. A whopping four stages lay within the rock compound, and depending on where you stand at any given moment, the experience can be like listening to a radio jammed between two frequencies. Wall-to-wall food stands offer any kind of fare you could possibly imagine, but the backstage realm is pure fantasy. Located literally right behind the main pavilion, this miniature resort boasts a full sized pool, a vintage double decker bus with an open air cafe on top, a spa, a DJ booth, a full bar and a separate bar specializing in Red Bull concoctions, a bakery, a photo booth, a smaller stage for intimate performances, and a candy cart. Rock and roll!
Before things got moving at full speed, we caught a band called Cold Chisel on the main stage. We weren’t familiar ourselves, but if you imagine a musical love child of The Who and Guns & Roses raised in the outback of Australia, you’ll have a decent approximation of these burly blokes. Despite knowing very little (ok, none) of their songs, they were actually incredibly fun and delivered some pretty sweet pub rock from lead singer Jimmy Barnes. Any band who greets the crowd with a “How the f–k are ya!? This is a song about pies and chicks!” gets our seal of approval!
Next up came proto-punk princes Iggy and the Stooges, who took to the boards amid massive applause from both the crowd, as well as icons Jimmy Page and Robert Plant who were watching from the wings! Sadly they didn’t join Iggy on stage, but he definitely didn’t need the help when he launched into the aptly titled “Raw Power.” Although technically a senior citizen -he turned 65 in April- Iggy’s stage persona is somewhere between a defiant 8-year old boy and a young Freddie Mercury in his prime. He strutted his moves like Mick Jagger on bathsalts, pursing his lips in arrogance as he spit out classics like “Search And Destroy,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and “1970.”
With his seemingly flat-ironed Jennifer Aniston-blonde hair, his appearance is actually the most shocking thing about him these days. He is hopelessly jacked, and his body looks oddly spray-tanned. Simply put, this is a beautiful man and the effect is truly weird. He’s one who clearly cares about his appearance, which we suppose is fairly obvious; you don’t get abs like that without putting in some serious effort. Especially at his age. But this is the man who used to slice up his chest with broken glass and vomit on the stage. Now he’s wearing skinny jeans! Perhaps it’s just a reaction to unpolished punk uniform of torn up bloodied t-shirts, mohawks and safety pins stuck in eyelids. Rebelling goes both ways.
How do you stay punk rock in a world full of “fight the power” anti-establishment 99 percenters? Maybe doing bank commercials and signing “Lust For Life” over to a cruise company is the most alt thing he could do. Even after 40 years, Iggy still finds ways to be shocking. Just not the ways you’d expect. Still, there are still many traces of the Iggy of old at Hard Rock Calling. He pauses every now and again to flip off the crowd, and he swigs from a bottle of water for what seems to be the sole purpose of dribbling it down his chest. But he does it with a self-aware smirk, as if it’s merely for old time sake.
As the Stooges kicked into the opening chords of “Open Up And Bleed” for their final number, Iggy swung his mic cord wildly around himself, tying up his body like a strait jacket. He ran down to the pit, kicking like a demented can-can dancer, stretching the mic cable as far as it would go and serenading the security people. Then the man who invented the stage dive ran over to the crowd, who clasped his hand and sang right along with him. For a moment, all was right with the world.
We save what little hearing we have left for the main event, as Soundgarden then takes on London for the first time in 15 years. They must have been slightly nervous following their idol Iggy, but the grunge gods didn’t show it as they hit the foggy stage in very Seattle-like weather that probably made them feel right at home. Back together after a 12 year hiatus, the group go for mostly older material from their “Louder Than Love” and “Badmotorfinger” records (1989 and 1991, respectively). The opening notes of “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” fell out of lead guitarist Kim Thayil’s guitar and cut through the night’s haze like a knife. Frontman Chris Cornell let loose his genre-defining voice, sending out layrnx-shredding screams that the dude from Creed can only dream about. No one sings like Chris anymore.
“Spoonman,” “Gun” and “Jesus Christ Pose” followed before we were surprised to hear the opening strains of their biggest claim to fame, “Black Hole Sun.” So soon!? We assumed they’d be saving it for the encore. Although they gave the song their all musically, their body language made it seem like they’re definitely ”over” that one. Chris raised his arm in the universal “epic cellphone waving” gesture and exchanged wry smiles with Kim. It definitely wasn’t the fifth song in the set by accident, but more of a way to address the Billboard-topping elephant in the room.
What was lacking in their enthusiasm was made up for by mother nature when the skies opened up and “pissed down with rain” right as they launched into the chorus. But the soggy crowd didn’t mind one bit. ”The park looks best in the rain,” laughed Cornell from the stage. “Anyone can go to a f–king park when it’s sunny.” The guys kept it pretty light durning the evening, despite their troubled past. Chris Cornell even made light of the band’s age by saying, “If you’re 17 -which means you’re old enough to be my child- let me reintroduce the band to you.”
They followed up some of their familiar tracks with new songs off their upcoming record, the first in 16 years. ”We’re going to come back in a few months with a new record,” Cornell assured the crowd. By this point the rain was coming full force, and all the mud was giving us some serious Woodstock vibes. The band must have been feeling it too, because their encore of “Slaves & Bulldozers” devolved into a noise jam that would do Jimi Hendrix proud. Bassist Ben Shepherd turned his bass up all the way and shoved it up against his speaker cab, creating shrill feedback and a rumble that could probably be felt back in Seattle. Kim slid his pick up and down his strings, while Chris laid his Gibson SG on the stage like a wounded animal and slammed the body with his fists while twirling the knobs of his guitar pedals. At the height of the noise, the band simply let their instruments finish the job and they walked off stage with guitars still humming.
All this and it’s only the first day! Tune in tomorrow to hear about Bruce Springsteen, Lady Antebellum, Gary Clark Jr. and so many more. See you then!
[Photo: Getty Images]