Hard Rock Calling: Mars Volta and Dive Bella Dive warm up the crowd before Soundgarden
Hard Rock Calling returns for another year of massive guitar bands playing just what the name suggests in London’s Hyde Park. With a roster including Soundgarden, Iggy and the Stooges and Paul Simon, it’s a year featuring some of the great legends of rock music.
Day one of the festival landed somewhat troublingly on Friday 13th, fuelling concerns of rain turning the park into a quagmire. The weather was merciful though – until headliners Soundgarden’s performance – and it was a great day to check out bands, old and new.
Deap Vally delivered a potent set of Blues-inspired eccentricity, belting out a ferocious collection of songs with bratty attitude. Their powerful female vocals melded with sleazy guitar lines into a jagged and raw concoction reminiscent of The Kills that made for an engaging performance. Though not a particularly varied set they were still a lot of fun and they seemed like a band in their element performing live.
Playing to a fairly small crowd (they did share their timeslot with Iggy and the Stooges) Dive Bella Dive were brimming with energy and played a tight, punchy set. It was a shame that their music couldn’t really back up the obvious ability of the musicians. With nods to modern Pop-Punk bands such as Fall Out Boy, they sounded a bit like a watered down Green Day mixed with Rockstar Supanova and their painstakingly constructed “Punk” image was so polished and precisely ripped that it was unfortunately a case of style over substance.
When The Mars Volta took to the stage, lead singer Cedric Bixler (whose hair could be seen from the Tube station) instantly drew the audience in with his unique brand of eerie charisma. The band launched into a powerhouse performance dominated by Bixler’s soaring voice and a drummer who was absolutely hypnotic to watch. With a set-list comprised largely of more recent material, jaunty thunderous stabs played in unusual, disorienting time signatures gave way to long, effects-heavy, ambient passages. Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s guitar work was unfortunately rather buried in the bass-heavy mix, but when a flash of his incendiary fret-work did cut through, it was a colourful and mesmerising outburst. The audience bounced along rapturously to the odd rhythms, the crowd’s enthusiasm culminating in an ambitious group at the front, setting a section of the steel barricade aloft and sending it crowd-surfing. And as if the band’s performance alone wasn’t entertainment enough, Cedric’s care of his vocal cords necessitated the presence of tea-making facilities right on the stage, which included a constantly steaming kettle and the continuous attention of a roadie. Without doubt a stunning live act their energy and dense, detailed sound made them a force to be reckoned with.
With Soundgarden, Iggy, Cold Chisel and Skindred amongst the others completing the line-up of the day it was a truly impressive selection of world-class acts playing back to back. The likes of Tom Morello, Bruce Springsteen and Alison Krauss on the bill for the rest of the festival make it a pretty killer weekend.