According to the festival line-up Thunder weren’t scheduled until 5.20pm, but with scorching sunshine burning through black clouds overhead it felt like it could come at any time. It never did, but the rain fell in abundance through the afternoon, leading to the curious phenomenon of a shirt soaked right through and the onset of sunburn on my forehead. Somewhere in Clapham someone was doing a roaring trade in picnic blankets and ponchos.
As advertised, Thunder arrived on stage at 5.20pm, the first of three big guitar rock acts. Prior to the London-based five-piece we had the anthemic former Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who was preceded by brash Missouri punk outfit Radkey, who created as much noise with their arrogance as they did their guitars.
Thunder’s big eighties sound went down a storm with the arena gradually filling ahead of the headline act. Hits like Dirty Love and Love Walked In were made for booming out to a large festival audience, and the recently reformed act were clearly having a blast in their hometown.
Even more impressive, however, were the hearty blues riffs of Joe Bonamassa – who was much younger than I expected him to be. He gets a hell of a sound out of his guitar, and although his songs aren’t as instantly recognisable as other artists on the bill there was probably not a more musically perfect and impactful ten minutes or so than when he took us through The Ballad of John Henry. It would be fair to say that the meandering nature of his solo’s didn’t quite keep much of the audience captive – but along with a backing band whose members seemed to have played with just about every name in the business, this was a set of the highest quality.
With the site having just about dried out from the afternoon’s rainfall, and the night slowly beginning to swallow the daylight, the glamour of the festival was about to be turned up several notches. The video wall exploded into life with a montage of images mapping Aerosmith’s near 44-year career, before Steven Tyler walked out across the catwalk with his own personalised microphone stand, dressed more flamboyantly in leather pants, a top hat and a leapord print scarf than any 66-year-old man could rightly be expected to dress in public. They immediately eased into Mama Kin and Eat The Rich and Clapham Common was rocking.
Throughout the hit-packed two hour set nine albums were covered in a breathless run through one of the finest back catalogues in rock. Tyler oozes energy and charisma, making it near impossible to take your eyes off him at times and the rest of the band almost look to feed off his energy. Just about everything you could want from an Aerosmith setlist was here; from Love in an Elevator and Cryin’ to Livin’ on the Edge, Rag Doll and Same Old Song And Dance. The pace was unrelenting with not much between songs, perhaps only lowering for I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – which was appreciated by the girls in the audience, at least.
They didn’t ease up for long, though, with a thumping set-closing trio of Beatles cover Come Together, Dude (Looks Like a Lady) and Walk This Way – enough to get even the most static person shaking their hips. It was an epic finale to the main set – equalled only perhaps by the lusty singalong to Dream On in the encore.
Seeing Aerosmith perform live was a dream come true for me – perhaps the number one item on my musical bucket list; something I’ve been wanting for about 13 years since first seeing their videos on TV. When you want something that long – and when Aerosmith are, frankly, in the twilight of their career – there’s always a nagging fear in the recesses of your mind that they might disappoint. But that worry was blown away after about four minutes by a raucous performance of Mama Kin – the perfect set opener on this occassion.
This festival has had its issues in the past under the Hard Rock Calling banner. I was there when Springsteen and McCartney were cut off during their historic first performance together – Hyde Park was always a problem for the promoters with the wealthy residents in the surrounding areas. Last year’s move to the Olympic Stadium was deemed a flop, but yesterday’s first day on Clapham Common was a resounding success: well-organised, clean, efficient and easy transport. Even £5 for a Tuborg wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm. Seriously, TUBORG??! For a fiver I’d expect someone to pour that stuff down my throat, too. The line-up lower down the bill provided the perfect appetiser for Aerosmith, who produced a big headline performance.
The Thunder didn’t come – but this was an electric day from beginning to end.