The last time I went to a huge outdoor event it was Reading Festival when Arcade Fire played a blinder, Blink 182 were sadly mediocre and Guns ’N’ Roses did their best to ruin their legacy forever, so heading to British Summer Time in Hyde Park it felt like going to an entirely new kind of show for me, a pronounced lover of smaller, more intimate gigs rather than huge concerts.
The line up though certainly had a lot that appealed to from vintage punk rock to a couple of my favourite bands and some interesting diversions besides so all was looking well as Stiff Little Fingers took to the enormous Great Oak Stage.
Despite being somewhat dwarfed by their surroundings and only having 30 minutes to play with the veteran Northern Ireland four-piece blasted through a set of powerful and positive, surprisingly poppy, classic punk rock.
Having a self-admitted reputation as a dour, political band they more than dispelled this as, while songs like Tin Soldiers, Suspect Device and set closing classic (and highlight) Alternative Ulster have an obvious point to make they do it in the most upbeat way possible.
While being on first meant the crowd weren’t totally in dancing mood the band played a great set that was just the opposite of Buzzcocks when I saw them a couple of years ago which is where I had been worried this might head and Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae was a surprise skank along belter.
The vintage punk continued with The Damned but they upped the ante in terms of putting on a show, once Captain Sensible had done his own soundcheck and had a bit of friendly ‘banter’ with the crowd – I’m assuming shouting ‘Fuck off Sensible’ and getting the V’s in return is a thing… if not it all seemed good-natured fun anyway.
As most of the bands did The Damned delivered a greatest hits set par excellence, pulling in all the big songs you could want spanning their 70s and 80s heyday from the likes of Neat Neat Neat, to Love Song, to Eloise to Video Nasty.
While the Captain had something of the fool character on stage (not to discredit his spot on guitar playing), Dave Vanian was a perfect counterpoint stalking the stage looking like a cross between Bela Lugosi and Lux Interior with a deep American twang to a vintage rock ’n’ roll voice over the goth tinged punk.
This juxtaposition between Vanian and Sensible was something I’d had trouble getting my head around on record but seeing them live it all came into place leading to another set that defied the age of the performers and made possibly my highlight of the day.
With some very nice looking vintage amplifiers being rolled onto the stage it was time for The Hives to bring the rock ’n’ roll and they did with their usual tight, precise, high energy aplomb.
Of course the focus of the performance was Howlin’ Pele Almvqvist who, for the forty minutes they had, never stood still for a second ranging from side to side of the huge stage and as far down the dividing barricade into the crowd as his mic lead would allow, delivering every rock ’n’ roll frontman pose you can think of.
While his performance could come across as too mannered and arrogant in some hands, Almvqvist packs it with enough good nature and fun to make sure that never happens and the frequent quips about them being a European band winking at Brexit just added to this.
The rest of the band were as tight as you could want with Nicholaus Arson (Almqvist’s brother) taking his share of centre stage and showing that the infectious energy obviously runs in the family.
While the set was packed with their well-known songs like Die, All Right!, Walk Idiot Walk and Main Offender, taking ten minutes at its conclusion to deliver the usually two and bit minute Tick Tick Boom did feel a little much, but it was still enjoyable and the trick of introducing the crowd as well as the band was a nice twist on a usual conceit.
Even though Gogol Bordello looked and sounded like they played a stormer I found it hard to properly listen to their set as I made my way over to the smaller Barclaycard Stage at the far end of the park to catch Australia punkabillys, The Living End.
As with all the other bands with short sets they blasted through a greatest hits style set in a way that had the feel of huge fun party.
With many in the crowd clearly being die-hard fans and singing every word of the likes of Roll On, Prisoner of Society and West End Riot back at Chris, Scott and Andy it had a feel of a smaller club gig in the environs of this huge outdoor arena and that made it something of a special set and, while only six songs long, was up there with The Damned for most memorable moments of the day.
With a little more time to play with than the other bands Rancid’s set had the feel of more of a proper show and they didn’t waste any time in delivering crowd pleasers aplenty.
While it was clear that most of the crowd were here for the headliners these fellow Bay Area punks took the chance to make their mark and win over many new fans as they played material ranging from the hardcore Dead Bodies (from their eponymous 2000 album) to ska heavy Where I’m Going (from new album Trouble Maker) and of course the hits like Time Bomb, Fall Back Down and set closer Ruby Soho.
Through all of this Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen remain the perfect complementing front duo (a little like Sensible/Vanian earlier but in a totally different way) and with seemingly every song dedicated to someone it brought to fore the community aspect that makes punk rock like this the special thing that is and they even got a couple of pits going despite the generally family demographic in the audience.
While Green Day’s crew were changing the stage around for the stadium rock show to come I headed off to the march stand and, on the tiny stage hidden away behind the main stage, caught a few songs from Beach Slang. While I didn’t hear much, their powerful and exuberant indie-punk certainly impressed me and I’ll be investigating them further.
With the stage reset with a new walkway out into the crowd and extra lights and drum riser in place Green Day blasted into their two and three-quarter hour epic set with Know Your Enemy.
This was followed by an opening section drawing on new album Revolution Radio and American Idiot much to the delight of the younger end of their fan base (and its safe to say the new songs sounded great live with more energy than on the record).
From there things switched back to their more classic 1990s material ranging from 2000 Light Years Away from 1991 to a rousing rendition of 2000’s Minority.
The third section went into a mix of big songs from the mid-90s and American Idiot before the traditional duo of King For A Day and Shout that contained an extended breakdown section featuring a genuinely uplifting moment of Billy Joe Armstrong stating: “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia and no Donald Trump!”.
While its fair to say Green Day are a band who have evolved from the kind of pop punk band they were into stadium rock giants I found, they have kept something of a sense of self echoing, in a way, the community sense demonstrated rather differently by Rancid.
While I’ll admit Armstrong’s reliance on getting the crowd to sing ‘Hey-yo’ back to him was a little tiresome as the set went on, involving the audience on stage was a great touch.
On three songs audience members were invited up to perform with the band and this really helped take what could have been a distancing ‘performance’ and make it something more (though I had to feel sorry for the first young lady taken on stage to play guitar on Operation Ivy’s Knowledge as she had something of a rabbit in the headlights look once she realised what was happening and seemed to forget what a guitar was, let alone how to play it).
On top of this Armstrong’s message moments, ranging from a suitable amount of Trump bashing (most obviously a “Fuck you Donald Trump” during American Idiot) to talks of positivity, equality and inclusion really felt like something important to say, especially for the younger members of the audience, and never felt heavy-handed, even if I prefer Rancid’s more subtle method of doing this through their song-stories.
Closing the set on Revolution Radio’s Forever Now the crowd were clearly wanting more and a few songs remained notably absent so we got an encore of American Idiot and an epic rendition of Jesus of Suburbia that had the crowd singing along in great voice, before a second encore from Bille Joe and his acoustic guitar of three tracks culminating in Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).
This left the audience satisfied and heading out onto the streets of London following what was, for me, one of the best fully complete rock shows I’ve ever seen with everything from huge singalongs to flaming pyro to a genuine sense of togetherness that really blew me away in a manner I was totally unprepared for.