Download 2014: Twisted Sister

Long Island’s glammed hard rockers return to Donington

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Earlier today, Ginger Wildheart declared Dee Snider “the greatest frontman of his generation.” High praise for the commanding, androgynous Twisted Sister leader, but would he live up to it tonight? After six studio albums, some tumultuous times and enough slap to sink several battleships, would Dee and co make their Donington return in style?

Some rockstars age gracefully. Some retreat to quiet attire in their more senior years. Others crimp their hair, dye it screamingly bright blonde and team it with a white skull n’ crossbones-adorned coat and a luminous pink mic-stand. Dee Snider falls into the latter category, practically skipping onstage with unbounded gay abandon for opener Stay Hungry. His joy is fantastic. It also stirs him into such levels of bounciness that the actual singing suffers a bit for the first couple of tracks, as his mic wavers doggedly back and forth. Indeed, gratifying though it is to hear The Kids Are Back, the whole sound is definitely a little messy at first - timings and balance a little shaken.

Happily the likes of You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll see Dee hitting his notes with slick, raw assurance, and the whole band generally finding their happy place. Much cheery dedication of songs ensues, to all the “sick motherfuckers,” “assholes” and other peoples present - and boy do the peoples love it. Silly but effective entertainment. So why oh why does guitarist Jay Jay French insist on moaning that they’re not playing the main stage? Having opinions and veering from smiling crowd-appeasing is well and good, but it seems a rather petty stain on what’s still a pretty great gig for them. Unnecessary.

If we’re brutally honest, the bulk of the Twisted Sister catalogue, though good, doesn’t quite catch in an instantly brilliant way that renders it unmissable. So it’s not surprising that tonight’s setlist is largely taken from prime 80s albums Stay Hungry and You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll. Accordingly, raucous singalongs like We’re Not Gonna Take It are good value, though we could have done without the aforementioned whiney commentary surrounding it.

The show ends, unsurprisingly, with I Wanna Rock, and it’s here where Snider starts to echo that flattering declaration Ginger made earlier. Is it cheesy? Is it predictable? Is his crowd-stirring pure unsubtle showboating in every sense? Fuck yes. But done charmingly, as it is, it works - competing unreservedly, childishly even, with Fall Out Boy over on the main stage. “ROCK!” is chanted within every inch of the word’s life, bows are taken and people start to leave, only to be lured back by a big guitar chord, a sincere dedication to the festival-absent Motorhead and a blast through Born To Raise Hell. Subtle as the Download bulldog cartoon, but huge fun.

If the whole show had been on a par with this last segment, it would have been fantastic. Still, at least it leaves a happy final taste. (6)

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.