High Voltage is probably my least favourite of the Festivals I would consider going to. I think it is overpriced, badly located, poorly organised, and treats both bands and fans with scant respect. I go because I want to see some of the bands but I would much rather go to Summer’s End, RoSfest, The Night Of The Prog or the Cambridge Rock Festival.
And one thing which really frustrates me is the set length allowed to the bands lower down the bill, with the Von Hertzen Brothers being a classic example. I had seen them for the first time at RoSfest in 2010 and they had impressed me enough that I went to Helsinki to see them on New Year’s Eve. Their show in London earlier this year was a storming performance and their latest album is one of the best of the year. They were being allowed 30 minutes. It almost counts as a waste of time, but they made the very most of it, going at it from the word go and never letting up. They are high energy in any event, their songs all having an upbeat feel-good factor, and they produced an uptempo set which only served to leave me wanting a lot more. Their music is very much guitar-led, wonderful melodies which mix with their vocal harmonies, with the keyboards adding substance and the very solid rhythm section driving it along. There is a huge amount of energy on stage, which translates well into the songs, and flows out into the crowd. They know how to build a song and then release it with a killer riff, and the crowd are clapping along from the very beginning. They even manage to steal an extra track into their set, starting it just before they are about to be called off and racing away with it, the guitars screeching and shrieking as it crashes to an end and brings a far too short set to a stunning end.
And here is where High Voltage falls down again. I went to the only merchandise stand selling the one tshirt they allowed the Von Hertzen Brothers to sell, but it was so understaffed that my wait there was long enough to mean I missed practically all of the Amplifier set. At least I can see them at Summer’s End, and they will get a decent set length. So the next band I was bothered to see on the Saturday was Anathema. I had seen them most recently at The Night Of The Prog when they unfortunately carried over a bad bass sound from the Dream Theater set, but thankfully they had no such problems this time. For me right now their musical direction sees many sounds swirling around, mixing together, holding, floating, producing wonderfully melodic songs with the variety of male and female vocals they add in. There are also dynamic bursts to keep it interesting, to give it an edge, some texture, and they do like building an epic sound and then breaking it open some more. The guitar is really quite sublime at times and the crowd are very much enjoying the set, which makes it even more remarkable that as they are about to go into another song they are told to come off, and they do so to huge applause.
I had enjoyed a brilliant time at the Neal Morse gig in London, and so was very much looking forward to seeing him again here, although I was wondering what he might fit into the time allowed to him. As it turned out, he told us – as much of Testimony 2 as he could fit in. And it was a brilliant set, full of energy and enthusiasm, just the right level of theatrics, wonderful melodies, and a band full of top quality musicians. I found it irresistible and was totally drawn along by it all. At one time Neal pointed out Spock’s Beard, which just added to the rumours that he was going to be joining them the following day; and at another time he did exactly what he did at the London gig and ran out into the crowd, to great excitement. So again it defies belief that the stage manager tried to pull the set just as it was reaching its climax, making gestures that he was about to cut the sound while the band carried on regardless and managed to bring it to a fittingly storming conclusion.