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Chicago Open Air Day One: Friday 7/15/2016

Photo of Trivium

Band Photo: Trivium (?)

I've never been to an open air music festival. Mostly since most music fests have only one or two artists who I like and try to jam as many different styles of music into one festival as possible to the point where they have no target audience anymore. Lollapalooza is perhaps the biggest offender in that regard to he point where it appeals to both everyone and nobody simultaneously. But thankfully Chicago finally got a metal festival of its own to compensate for a lot of the directionless festivals that the city is known for that have kept me at bay for so long.

Milwaukee Metalfest closed up around a decade ago so Chicago getting a heavy metal festival was (literally) music to my ears. The Rust Belt had nothing in the way of metal festivals and the only other big metal fests have been Rocklahoma, Maryland Deathfest, New England Metal and Hardcore Fest and 70,000 Tons of Metal. As somebody who doesn't live within driving distance from Oklahoma, Maryland, Massachusetts or Florida, I was incredibly excited for something to hit the Midwest as it was long overdue.

But the part that got me most excited was the potential for the future. Specifically a future where artists who only do festivals and mini-tours can finally hit a big outdoor stage and do so in my hometown. Think Anaal Nathrakh, Samael, Ihsahn, Pig Destroyer and Zardonic being able to not only play a real festival show in the Midwest but also be introduced to a whole new audience who would be coming for the far more mainstream headliner. At the very least, the fest could use some less obscure second stage openers and some more foreign bands who haven't come to America for years like Primordial, Vreid or Orphaned Land. But for a brand new festival, the lineup wasn't bad by any means, particularly when it came to headliners. It's a possible future outlet for all the cool stuff that I would never otherwise get to see in coming years which is what got me psyched more than anything else.

I waited in the mother of all lines upon arriving on Friday for a full 90 minutes. Everyone wanted to be in early to catch the opening band on the opening day of the inaugural festival. And the person in front of me was the evil doppelganger of a friend of mine from college. Same body. Same haircut. Same facial features. Same teeth. It was just completely uncanny, especially since one of them lives in west Iowa and the other in east Nebraska.

Through Fire

Upon getting in, the line wasn't worth it since Through Fire were honestly kind of lame. They weren't bad but they sounded a bit too generic and accessible. They'd be completely forgettable to me if not for the Ellie Goulding cover that they did when I didn't think it was possible to like Ellie Goulding considering that she's the most annoying pop diva to me since Brittney Spears. The crowd seemed like they were kind of into it but also sort of indifferent which is roughly the same reaction I had. They're ultimately just passable and the type of band that I won't cringe when I hear but at the same time do nothing for me.

Butcher Babies

Butcher Babies did even less for me. They thankfully dropped the pasties they were wearing a few years back but that can't compensate for a dated sound that's twenty years too late. Nu metal is all but dead and they're like what The Darkness was to glam metal a decade ago in terms of cashing in on nostalgia but not being good enough to have stood out had they debuted back in the 90s. When they're playing at the same festival as Korn, Disturbed and Slipknot, there's even less that they have to offer since they've lost their novelty factor. And that's not getting into how they somehow need two vocalists doing harsh vocals when neither play any sort of instrument. The one good thing that I will say about them is that they know how to party like it's 1999.

Trivium

Trivium never really appealed to me since their songs came across as forgettable. I gave them numerous tries but ultimately, their music just lacks memorability. I will say that they are good live. Very good. What their songs lack in memorability, they make up for in intensity. It just sucks that I have to catch them live to get the real experience since their songwriting skills have never been up to par with other, better bands.

Drowning Pool

Drowning Pool were awesome and clearly the best act thus far. I didn't bother to listen to them since Dave Williams died a decade and a half ago but Jasen Moreno actually sounds far better than Williams despite being the thousandth vocalist to play in the band. I also appreciate a Hispanic guy wearing an American flag on his pants since it's the greatest, “fuck you” to Donald Trump that I can think of. And then they closed their set with a eighty-two-year-old fan helping them cover “Bodies.” His mic levels weren't really loud enough to hear him but I liked what they were trying to do.

Hollywood Undead

Hollywood Undead are hip hop and had no place at a metal fest. Maybe at Gathering of the Juggalos but they seemed like they were at the wrong event at Chicago Open Air. More importantly, I've heard better rap music. They have nothing on Immortal Technique or even Nicki Minaj. I don't get the appeal of them except for being overrated white rappers like Macklemore or Vanilla Ice who white suburban kids can relate to and still think that they have some level of street cred. With their sexist lyrics, attempting to out gay men in the audience and waving a flag resembling the Nazi flag but with their logo replacing it, they're really cornered the market on sixteen-year-old boys and they market to them well. The problem is that I'm twenty-eight and therefore not amused by them in the slightest.

The venue had the Iron Maiden Trooper beer which may have cost $11 for a single can but I loved it enough to chug the whole damn can within thirty seconds. I haven't really been drinking much since my father died as he was the best drinking buddy ever but I wasn't driving since my car was having engine problems so it wasn't like I couldn't drink. It wasn't like the other beer was much cheaper and the venue charged $4 for water alone. Depending on where you ate, burgers were either $10 or $13, mac and cheese was $13 and the comparatively cheaper pizza option was $6. I really should have saved up more if I knew I'd be all but donating a lung and a kidney just for food which presumably means no Steam Summer Sale for next year as I prepare for a second moneybomb to the Keep Chicago Open Air A Thing Super PAC just to keep myself fed.

Periphery

Periphery completely exceeded all expectations. I listened to both Periphery II and both Juggernaut albums once each before writing them off because their vocalist sounded a bit too close to Protest the Hero's but I was willing to give them another chance and I'm thankful that I did. They're nothing like PtH aside from the vocals and more like the closest thing to Nevermore that's still around today. There was some crazy rain but that didn't get in the way of some crazy pits. The pits were a bit small due to some people fleeing for both the tents and the stadium but what they lacked in size, they made up for in intensity and they did manage to keep most of the crowd after the rain fell. They sadly ran out of time to play but fans were begging for them to keep going. Honestly, I really can't wait to see them headline because this is a band who I want to see play again. My only complaint was the weather sucking but I seriously can't blame the band for that.

In This Moment

In This Moment really changed their stage show since the last time I saw them. The costume changes are a cool touch and still different enough from what Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper do for me to still be impressed. They're even better live than the last time I saw them as Maria Brink is somehow an even more mesmerizing presence. It was almost like a completely different experience from when I saw them open for Emmure and I mean that in the best way possible. It was also almost completely different in the sense that they didn't play a single song from their early albums so I got to hear all sorts of new music that I didn't hear before. The only downside is that they had a shorter set since they were opening for Rammstein and the costume changes meant that they had a long delay in between songs and only managed to play five of them in forty minutes. I'd absolutely see them for a third time just to see them headline since it means actually seeing a full In This Moment show the way it's meant to be seen and also some songs from Star Crossed Wasteland and The Dream. I'd even recommend them to fans of Lady Gaga just for Maria Brink.

Hatebreed

Hatebreed were excellent live. I kept missing them every time they were in town but I still knew all of the songs that they played since they stuck to the singles. That's hardly a bad thing since at a fest most people haven't seen the band before. What was a bad thing was getting kicked in the head by a stage diver hard enough to make me dizzy. Thankfully, I put some caffeine in me after the set so I was fine. I'm surprised that I didn't see more hardcore guys there and it was all metalheads during Hatebreed's set. Correction, it was all metalheads trying to hardcore dance and failing at it. That's what happens when there's only one East Coast hardcore band on the bill.

But Hatebreed are as popular as they are for a reason. Despite being the angriest sounding happy music this side of Intestinal Noose, they proved themselves to be kick-ass musicians. Their sound engineer also deserves props for giving Hatebreed the sheer gravitas that they need when taking the stage. And, “I Will Be Heard” is still just as good of a song today as it was back when I first heard it in the first XXX movie. If anything, I regret not seeing them headline earlier this year when they played at the Metro back in May.

I skipped Of Mice and Men since I'm not part of the fifteen-year-old girl demographic and therefore had no absolutely no interest in them. They make music that I'm not a fan of and I recognize that I'm not a fan of it because I'm not the audience that they're shooting for. Plus I was hungry and food was a much higher priority for me than watching the remnants of Attack! Attack! be a trendy teen heartthrob band.

The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wars Prada were always a guilty pleasure for me but they were terrible live. Namely, they kept trying too hard. Their vocalist's screams sounded forced, their costumes looked garish and the sound seemed off somehow, like either the band was off time or the sound guy messed up the levels. Moreover, they haven't aged well. They're the most generic metalcore band from the past decade who are still around today. There's nothing wrong with sticking to your guns but that advice only applies if you're classic rather than dated. They lack the thrash influences of Unearth, the soaring choruses of Killswitch Engage and All That Remains or the death metal elements that Lamb of God and Whitechapel play with and don't have the technical skill of Converge or The Dillinger Escape Plan. They're just plain old metalcore with nothing having them stand out and are now in the same position that Winger was in back in the 90s. I don't even get why they were billed so high but there's nothing unique or interesting about them now that metalcore has become a mature genre.

Ministry

Ministry brought back “Stigmata” for the first time in fifteen years which was exciting. Too bad Al Jourgenson looks like the Hispanic Keith Richards after decades of cocaine and heroin abuse. He's now a hunchback who keeps slumping over his mic stand. He didn't make much of an effort to get the crowd involved and despite playing in his hometown didn't seem to care much for playing his own music. Ministry weren't necessarily bad but I feel like Jourgenson's best days are behind him and he really should hang it up since he can't physically perform as well as he used to for completely understandable health reasons. I'll always love Ministry's music and I'm glad that I got the chance to see them live but at this point it's just depressing to watch.

A lot of the anti-Bush songs also came across as dated which is the problem with most protest songs in general. I would rather have had “Double Tap,” “Flashback” or “Burning Inside” play than anything from the anti-Bush trilogy. Yeah, he was probably one of the worst Presidents that America has ever had but “Rio Grande Blood” and “Waiting” sound just as archaic as a lot of Phil Ochs' 60s-era anti-Vietnam songs. The silver lining is that it rained hard enough since Periphery took the stage that a rainbow formed over the stadium during Ministry's set which was incredibly thick and more than made up for the absolute monsoon that hit for most of the day. I'd say that Ministry are still worth seeing live but with the caveat that it isn't Jourgenson at his best.

Ministry Rainbow

Meshuggah

Meshuggah were terrific live but they ignored many of their most memorable songs. For instance, they ignored all of Catch 33, Destroy Erase Improve and Nothing while only playing one of three singles off of Koloss. I still hope to one day see “Concatenation” live despite them not playing it for almost two decades and Friday was no exception where Meshuggah still did not play it. They're still incredible musicians and have an amazing stage presence, Jens Kidman's ripped pants and all. I'd absolutely pay to go see them again just so I can hear some more varied songs.

Despite the weak setlist, Meshuggah blew me away. And they still played “Bleed” and “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” which hopefully will never leave their sets. And they sound incredible live. Most bootlegs or even their studio albums can't do them justice. Unlike a lot of technical metal bands, Meshuggah really do have the chops needed to play their music live. These guys deserve every bit of praise that they get and I can't wait for them to return to Chicago.

I also can't believe that they've been a band for as long as I've been alive. For just how contemporary they sound, it's really difficult to believe that Meshuggah have been around for almost thirty years. And they still manage to play with such intensity that when playing with musicians half their age, they still manage to put on a better show than the vast majority of bands at the festival.

Chevelle

Chevelle were Friday's big surprise. I had low expectations for them since they were a later-era nu metal band but they absolutely killed it. They were a lot heavier and more anthemic than I remember them being when I was a teenager. As somebody who only knew “The Red,” I wasn't sure if the deep cuts were just that good or if they just played them that much better live but they completely floored me. This is a band who deserves to be heard live and deserves to be heard outdoors if possible. Pete Loeffler's screams are a hell of a lot more brutal live than they were on the album presumably because he doesn't need to worry about needing to stay radio friendly. Would I see them again? Absolutely. And if you don't plan on doing so, then shame on you.

Rammstein

Rammstein proved on Friday that they have every reason for being as legendary as they are. And as this was their only show in the United States, I felt both lucky and honored to attend and I was a paying customer! I'd go so far as to say that they may have even put on as good of a show as Iron Maiden did when I saw them back in 2008 on the Somewhere Back In Time World Tour. Everything from fireworks, to fire breathing to costume changes were present.

Every member had a great stage presence although Ollie Riedel's costume was a little bit too close to Nergal of Behemoth's most recent stage attire which is literally my only complaint about the stage show. Rammstein played nearly everything that I wanted them to play although they focused a bit too heavily on Reise Riese and not enough on Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da but they played nearly everything I wanted them to from their other albums except for “Mein Teill” and “Buck Dich.” Everything was visually interesting from the firework whip during “Die Richt So Gut” to the firework explosive vest during "Zerstören" to the fire breathing during “Fruer Frie” to the burning lapel pin during “Mein Hertz Brennt.” If money were no object, then yes, I'd see Rammstein again. Perhaps next time the screen on the right wouldn't burn out during their set (which stayed somewhat broken for the rest of the fest) but that was ultimately the fault of the venue's electrician. Literally the only complaint that I had that Rammstein could be held liable for was that I wanted more of them. I wanted to hear more songs. I wanted the set to go on longer with even more fire breathing and pyro effects. Which means having to wait several years for them to return considering that this was their first show in the United States in years and also their only American show in 2016.

Conclusion

All in all, it was a good opening day. Out of 14 bands, some were more likely to impress me than others but for an upstart festival, I'd say it was a good opening day and was arguably the best of the three considering how disjointed Saturday felt with the addition of post-grunge bands at the same fest as death and black metal bands and some inconsistent performances on Sunday.

Dasher10's avatar

Matt is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Illinois and a metalhead since 1999.

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1 Comment on "Chicago Open Air Day One"

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1. Bill Hansen writes:

There's another open-air metal fest that debuted last year in southern Illinois: http://fullterrorassault.com/

# Jul 28, 2016 @ 9:43 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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