Stone Free Festival was still a virgin until Mandy Morello drunkenly penetrated it in the O2 on June 18th 2016. Here’s how she had her filthy way with the newest Classic Rock festival on the circuit.
It was the first time that I had entered this industrial looking dome since the Millennium. What was once an interactive playground for the future was now a commercial dungeon for the consumer. Chain restaurants and shops lined the edges of the stadium, supposedly to pass your time while you wait for the main event, but really was just a way of forcing you to throw back some money into the economy. And it had worked as I found myself at the bar of Brooklyn Bowl purchasing a pint of pale ale.
It was Stone Free Festival’s christening onto the rock scene circuit, hosting a variety of classic and progressive rock music across two days. I had high hopes for this new event, which I assumed is named after a Jimi Hendrix song. A friend and I had opted in for only the first day for a full injection of old school rock with head liners The Darkness and the unfathomable Alice Cooper.
But before, we had to endure some more slightly lesser known acts. I found solace in the Hobgoblin garden outside the arena which had everyone jacked up on beer, and advertised with what appeared to be an abandoned monster truck. We did what any sane person with a smartphone would do and jumped up on the truck and splayed ourselves across it. Before long, an un-amused member of security came across to move us along like cattle, but inconveniently when I just placed my beer down to light up.
In the smaller stage outside, they had some sort of child protégée around the age of 5, singing The Clash and beating his guitar like an angsty teen. It was impressive. I considered whipping my smartphone back out but thought better of videoing an adolescent.
Michael Monroe, known for his part in Hanoi Rocks, kicked off the adult games on the Indigo Stage. He was wrapped up in leather with his static blonde hair and looked more alive than a 54 year old should. The band put their weight behind every song and Monroe was so natural in his delivery. I became distracted from the music as he climbed up the side of the stage with a wild look in his eyes and began throwing himself into the audience in an embracing manner. He was buzzing around the small arena with his fascinating, slightly camp personality. The lead guitarist grabbed his crotch as Michael Monroe thrusted amongst the crowd in his tight leather trousers.
After a while I couldn’t handle the sweaty testosterone any more, so I headed to another bar, this time TGIFridays for a wheat beer with a splash of Angostura bitters. One became four as I waited for the main arena to open. Before long, I was in search of something to soak my stomach, so I grabbed the dirtiest burger I could find and sat amongst the grime, eating for survival. Very inconspicuously, an O2 member of staff came along sweeping near me with a long broom. More involved in my burger, I ignored him until he proceeded to put his broom in between my legs and sweep across my vagina. In shock, a piece of burger fell out my mouth as I stared at the man who continued sweeping away as if nothing had happened. Had I just been sexually assaulted with a dirty broom?
I have to note down, that by this point, the O2 staff had been clueless and unhelpful all day. They all seemed confused like they’ve just exited the womb. Luckily, the drink didn’t totally kill all my brain cells, and we found our own way.
Unamused by the staff, I quickly threw myself into the slowly filling up arena where a giant blow up octopus and blow up bodies lay across the back seats – possibly to hide the fact that they weren’t able to sell enough tickets to fill them. Apocalyptica were on-stage with their renowned cello rock and synchronised hair swinging in a choreographed fashion. They played covers of well known rock songs as the crowd looked seemingly interested. But the problem is, that even if you managed to get Satan himself to shoot his load into a cello, it still wouldn’t be a cool instrument.
The crowd was starting to fill out a little, like me after my foil-wrapped burger. Still, there was a great distance inbetween people, so much that the marshmallow man could waddle in and find himselves near the front comfortably. I found a neat spot next to a silver haired man who works as a programme director at a well known rock radio station. I began to wonder that the only people here was press.
The Darkness fly onto the stage with their trademark, glitzy glam-rock attire. The front man Justin was adorned is sparkly lightening bolts with his torso on show. “Where the fuck do you buy outfits like that?”, I thought aloud. But judging by the clothes of my surrounding members, no one cared much for the fashion. The Darkness rolled straight in with a slap of energy and the unwavering, high-pitched vocals that they are most known for. Excitement drove the audience to move a lot more than they had moved all day. I was relieved to hear them play classics from Permission To Land amongst songs from their latest album – Last Of Our Kind. ‘Hands Off Of My Woman’ showcased Justin’s ever-impressive ability to hit any note he requires. It was almost comical hearing them speak in a perfect polite English way, apologising and engaging with the audience, the same way a butler would. They built up with their portfolio of songs, playing as flash as their suits, until it was time for their most enjoyed hit ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’. They played it as perfectly as they did over 10 years ago. I noticed to my side, that the silver haired man was more interested in flicking through a previous issue of The Carouser. Win.
The stadium was half-full by the time they finished, leaving just one remaining act – Cooper. A tiny man of Spanish Orgin found a spot by my side and began excessively chattering away about his love for Cooper. It was clear that people still did obsess over this man who seemed like a bit of a comic-act dressed in gothic attire. The little man went on to tell me how he played in an Alice Cooper tribute band and I sank another drink to endure the conversation.
Then, the theatrics began. Vincent Price’s voice could be heard as Alice Cooper appeared from the smoke. He was dressed in a robe with his mascara bleeding like he’d just came from a session of water sports. The crowd roared his name and thankfully the little man beside me looked on in silent awe. This corpse-like figure had grasped everyone’s attention as he jutted into ‘Black Widow’. It wasn’t a strong beginning as this song seemed a little underwhelming for an opener. But it was saved by the second song – a lively rendition of ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’. A less theatrical set that mainly focused on the music. It was impressive the way he recaptured his trademark grimace throughout the song, and also bygiving it the same passion and flair without sounding shouty, following on with more hits like ‘Public Animal #9’.
Alice then left the stage, leaving female guitarist Nita Strauss to perform a sporadic but entertaining solo. It was refreshing to see that a woman positioned on lead guitar, and she played well, if not better than some male musicians. The lights flocked to a figure stalking the stage and Nita began playing that unforgettable riff of ‘Poison’. Alice pours emotion into his voice as the crowd almost drowns him out.
The theatrics were turned up a notch for ‘Feed My Frankenstein’. I could almost hear chants of ‘we are not worthy’, particularly from the few dressed in Wayne’s World costumes. Alice then threw himself into a coffin and disappeared in a cloud of smoke for vanishing act #3 and costume change number #101. Then, a monstrous Frankenstein puppet marched across the stage, looking a little like Alice. The crowd seemed to lap it up, but I found it all a bit too over-the-top.
Alice then launched into a stream of covers, probably plucked from a Hollywood Vampires set. They included ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Hendrix’s Fire’, ‘Suffragette City’ and a tribute to Lemmy in the form of ‘Ace Of Spades’, which turned out to be the best cover of the lot. He captured the sound of Motörhead perfectly.
The baton was twirling and bells were ringing – ‘Schools Out’ was signalling the end. I began to think about my long journey back as Alice was still pacing the stage amongst a cloud of bubbles. He finished up his very ridiculous but entertaining set by introducing the band members. It was only upon realising that his encore song was the unbearably American ‘I’m Elected’, that I decided I had seen enough. I made a stealthy exit accompanied by many other fellow drunks singing songs the whole tube journey home.
Alice Cooper hadn’t changed despite the years that have past since he first released ‘Poison’. He hasn’t lost it just yet and I’ll be interested to see what Stone Free Festival will headline with with next year.