Festival review: Stone Free 2017
What?: A one-day classic rock festival headlined by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow
Where?: The O2, London
When?: Saturday, 17th June, 2017
As London’s legendary O2 Arena fills with thousands upon thousands of die-hard classic rock fanatics, the near-75-year-old Arthur Brown (8/10) opens things up on the Indigo stage with a surprisingly fiery (pun intended) performance. With a clear passion for being an endlessly charismatic showman, the shock rock veteran displays the energy of a man half his age, dancing around the stage in a flurry of colourful attires, with an equally colourful voice to match. Despite having to cut his signature anthem “Fire” short due to time constraints, Arthur Brown proves to be a near-perfect opener to set the tone for the rest of Stone Free.
Immediately after, Death Valley Knights (7/10) up the aggression on the Orange Amps stage, bringing forth a tirade of modern, thunderous heavy metal. The young quartet doubtlessly put on a strong, interactive, vitality-filled show, clearly inspired by the likes of Zakk Wylde and Metallica in their mannerisms and appearance. Unfortunately, the young prospects draw an insultingly small crowd and aren’t helped by their stage’s awful acoustics, which are drowned out because of the fact that it is located in the vast, echoey main entrance to this enormous arena.
After Scottish rockers GUN (5/10) put on a show in the Indigo packed to the brim with the most cringe-inducingly clichéd radio rock melodies, Aussies Massive (9/10) remove the bad tastes from the mouth as they become a surprising highlight of the Orange stage. An energetic combination of AC/DC and Black Stone Cherry, the four-piece demonstrate a captivating charisma as they stomp all over the O2, getting their headlining UK tour off to a brilliant start, complete with a surprisingly large crowd to boot. Meanwhile, Irishmen The Answer (8/10) raise the spirits of attendees of the Indigo stage, delivering uplifting hard rock with energy and clear passion.
The final act of the Indigo is the immortal Blue Öyster Cult (8/10), who spend the first half of their 75-minute set barrelling through their 1972 self-titled debut to celebrate its 45th anniversary. And while this portion of the show doubtlessly shines as it brings with it hits like “Stairway to the Stars” and demonstrates the technical brilliance of the band members, it isn’t until the band finish the record and get into the greatest hits portion of the show that things really begin to shine. “Godzilla”, “Burnin’ for You” and the perfect “Don’t Fear the Reaper” close out the show and receive the biggest ovations of the night, leaving the stage’s packed crowd (which was filled to capacity) on a monstrous high before the main portion of the arena opens up for today’s headliners.
Andy Scott’s Sweet (4/10) are the main support to tonight’s headliner, and the boredom begins to run wild inordinately quickly. Despite the enormous stage they are given, the band members refuse to move an inch for the vast majority of their show, all the while laying out ‘70s glam rock hits that very few in the gradually filling arena seem to be enamoured by.
The final act in the form of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (5/10), sadly, aren’t much better, delivering what can at best be considered a hit-and-miss set. With only Blackmore himself remaining from the classic Rainbow line-up, and everyone else being live stand-ins that got together in 2015, there is practically no chemistry at all between any of the performers on the O2 stage. The sound of the entire act throughout the night is generally flat and unengaging, exciting only to those who know Rainbow’s hits word-for-word. That is, when Rainbow’s hits are actually played.
In lieu of rock classics such as “Tarot Woman” or “Starstruck” (both of which come from Rising (1976), the album they’re meant to be celebrating the 40th anniversary of), Blackmore lovingly brings out many Deep Purple cuts in just a plentiful number as he does Rainbow’s own material, with the night ending on the guitarist messing up his own iconic riff to “Smoke on the Water”.
“Long Live Rock n’ Roll” is cruelling murdered before the O2’s very own eyes, but “Stargazer”, on the other hand, is the only redeeming feature of the entire affair. New singer Ronnie Romero hits every note gorgeously, and the reaction from the crowd makes it a sure-fire success above everything else seen tonight.
While Rainbow’s set was clearly supposed to be a celebration of Ritchie Blackmore’s career up to this very point, the only real impact the lengthy show had was to, instead, remind onlookers just how much of a powerhouse singer/songwriter the legendary Ronnie James Dio was.
Stone Free 2017 scores a final rating of 7 men on the silver mountain out of 10.