By: Melody Ryan
Photos by: Melody Ryan
I didn’t know directions from the back parking lot of Taqueria Los Comales (convenient free parking) to where I was going, but I wandered in the general direction from which I could hear the low, rumbling sound of metal pulsing ominously through the warm summer air and eventually ended up at my destination: Toyota Park where the 2nd annual Chicago Open Air Festival was taking place.
Around the festival, you could find a lot of unique experiences such as craft vendors, the Heavy Tiki Bar, the Headbangers Bier Hall, meet and greets with artists, and a wide range of unique and delicious food like grilled cheeses, pulled pork barbeque, burrito bowls, farm to table vegetarian options, donuts, pizza… this festival had by far the best food options I have ever seen at an event like this.
There were two stages, the Monster Energy Main Stage, and the Blackcraft Stage.
I started off the sunny, beautiful, metal-filled weekend at the Blackcraft Stage enjoying Whitechapel, a band from my home state of Tennessee. I had not seen them since they were just the local band who opened for Dillinger Escape Plan and As I Lay Dying almost 10 years ago in Knoxville, so it was great to see them doing well and seeing success so many years later.
There were other performances throughout the day by Suicide Silence, Crobot, Falling In Reverse… and new to the scene, Vimic, a heavy metal project of Slipknot’s former drummer Joey Jordison who are releasing their first album this year.
The show I was looking forward to the most was The Dillinger Escape Plan.
They have been one of my favorite bands for over a decade, and every time I have seen them perform throughout the years has been better than the last. They recently announced they would be retiring, so I was ecstatic to be able to see them one last time. I do not have enough good things to say about these guys and the raw, chaotic, contagious energy they put into their shows. Their set was satisfyingly saturated with songs that spanned their entire music career, playing “43% Burnt” from their first album Calculating Infinity, and other classics such as “Panasonic Youth”, “Milk Lizard”, and “One of Us is the Killer.” And of course, frontman Greg Puciato made sure to do some of his typical stunts by climbing up the rafters and giving the audience a heart attack. DEP was by far my favorite show of the weekend. They were brilliant from beginning to end.
The first day also kicked off with several bands highly influential in the metal genre- mathy, polyrhythmic, and progressive Meshuggah, who have basically spawned the djent movement, and two of the “big four” pioneers of the American thrash metal scene, Anthrax and Megadeth.
Finishing off the night were Rob Zombie and KISS.
I must say…Rob Zombie is quite the entertainer. He perfectly fuses horror and humor into his performances, and he also knows how to make an entire stadium filled with people feel included and completely involved in his show. One of my favorite moments was when he started a crowdsurfing race with inflatable alien sex dolls. Meanwhile, during his show, screens flashed entrancingly spooky, sexual, and grotesque video clips to accompany each song.. while they played White Zombie classics such as “Thunder Kiss ’65”, a random cover of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”, and “Living Dead Girl”.
After Rob Zombie’s set, the energy and excitement in the crowd continued to grow with the anticipation of KISS closing out the night. It was surreal to see Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Thayer, and Eric Singer of KISS walk out in their traditional costumes and makeup. Well… Singer didn’t walk out. He basically came out of the heavens.. being lowered from the skies on a platform with his drum kit. They opened with their 1974 hit “Deuce”, and from there it was glitter, platforms, tongues, pyrotechnics, synchronized dancing, and confetti… forty years of rocking, and this legendary group has still got it.
On day 2, I got stuck in awful Chicago traffic and faced the horrifying realization that I might not make it in time for Dragonforce. I parked at my secret spot in the back of Taqueria Los Comales and ran the entire mile towards the stadium, through bag check, around the side of the festival, all the way to the photo pit where I made it just in time for their set. I had barely had time to catch my breath before they came out on stage and blew everyone away with a non-stop fantastical firestorm of metal fury. As they played, I hopped on my magic dragon and flew away into the clouds wielding a golden sword donning carvings of butterflies and shooting stars. And then I came back down to watch Avatar.
Sweden’s Avatar became a new favorite of mine this weekend, winning me over immediately with their creepy carnivale-type vibe. Their performance seemed to win everyone else over as well, as I noticed a lot of people having the same reaction as me.. laughing in surprise at how wonderfully weird they were and then head banging and dancing because the music was great as well.
Next was Mushroomhead, which ended up being one of my favorite performances because of their elaborate masks and stage theatrics. Drummers on each side of the stage were hitting drums that released water, making delightful droplets and patterns in the air, while doing some fancy tossing and flipping of their drumsticks, so it was a very cool visual experience. I am a big fan of bringing visual arts into music performance, so I enjoyed this show a lot.
Ice-T’s band Body Count also performed a great set, followed by Steel Panther, who in my opinion spent too much time talking about having sex with girls and then had all of the women in the audience come up on stage to dance and flash the audience, a tradition for their song “17 Girls in a Row”. Not exactly my taste, but I guess that’s their thing, and I found myself to be mildly entertained by their show despite that.
Another band to play day two was Clutch. I haven’t been on the Clutch train, so I didn’t know much about them before the show. I discovered that frontman Neil Fallon is an absolute pleasure to watch, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. While singing, he is so calmly expressive with his movements in his own unique way. It was a fun show, and they seem to have a pretty devoted fan base that had a really fun energy throughout the performance.
Day 2’s conclusion steered more towards mid-90s early-00s hard rock/nu metal with Godsmack and Korn. Both of these groups took me back to my middle school days when I was still pretty innocent but secretly loved Korn’s song “Proud” from the I Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack… not yet aware of the fact that I was a blossoming metalhead. And Godsmack played classics that everyone can’t help but to love, “Alive”, “Voodoo”, and “I Stand Alone”. It was a pretty solid ending to day two.
On day 3 while anxiously sitting in Chicago traffic, I decided not to stress out and that I wouldn’t rush… I would just get to the festival when I got there. I pulled into Taqueria Los Comales, my faithful spot, and waltzed through the little neighborhood I was now very familiar with towards the sound of heavy metal permeating the air. It was a gorgeous day, and the last day of Chicago Open Air.
After making my way in, I ended up joining in a pretty nifty hacky sack circle with a bunch of strangers, and we all played together for a while during DevilDriver’s set.
There were other performances throughout the day from Kyng, Hellyeah, and Whores., and at this point, I was a little worn out from such a busy and loud weekend, so I sat off to the side in the shade on the bleachers for Amon Amarth.
Amon Amarth is a melodic death metal band from Sweden, and their heritage shined through in their performance. Not only did they have a giant Viking ship on stage, but there was also a dramatic sword fight, and their playing was so loud and powerful that they blew out the PA system. It was a pretty intense show from the sidelines, so I can’t even imagine what it was like in the crowd.
After that, I traveled just a tad bit south to Eastern Europe for Polish black death metal Behemoth. Donning face paint, pointed guitars, and podiums with cobras on them, they played a brutal set that added to the intensity that was building up throughout the day.
At this point, more and more people filled the arena. It was amazing to see the place fill out gradually throughout each day and throughout the weekend. By the end of each day, the place was completely packed, and at the end of the weekend, the massive crowd of metalheads felt like family, and the arena was like a home away from home. It was like being at a metal summer camp.
Lamb of God followed, and the crowd got insane at this point. I remained on the sidelines, enjoying my view- I could see the band, I got to watch a group of power rangers crowd surfing throughout the show, I got to hear and enjoy the classic favorite “Laid to Rest” while enjoying a super cool view of seeing several different circle pits going in different parts of the crowd, and I also got to watch as one person after the other got carried out of the crowd by the medical team… A guy hobbling on one leg, a girl with blood coming down her face, a woman who appeared to have passed out. It was a great time.
It was a running joke throughout the weekend, that once in a while at any show at any time, someone would out of nowhere yell, “SLAYER!!!!!” Everyone would laugh, and a few people would echo it back. So when it was actually time for Slayer to go on, everyone was going wild. The third of the “big four” thrash metal bands to play Chicago Open Air this year, these guys know how to go heavy, fast, and non-stop. The crowd went nuts during the entire set, and Slayer put on a heavy and savage show as usual.
This festival was extraordinary because it was just one incredible band after the other. It was truly a beautiful thing to see so many flavors of the metal genre tastefully combined into one festival. Seeing so many influential pioneers in the genre playing alongside some newer projects… to see that this genre of music is still thriving, evolving, and growing.. it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.
So.. what better way to end the weekend than with a performance by the godfather of heavy metal himself, Ozzy Osbourne? Seeing him up on stage performing after all of these years brought forth a very strong feeling of admiration for the man. He has had quite a wild journey through life, but he still gets on stage and puts his all into performing. There were also many moments where Ozzy would hold the microphone out, leaving the singing to the audience, which made for some powerful moments where a crowd of tens of thousands of people were all singing loudly together for the love of metal. Hearing everyone sing “War Pigs” together was a pretty impactful moment and a great conclusion to a heavy, crazy, metal-filled weekend. It was quite the experience, and I fondly missed it as soon as I left. What a wild ride! Until next year, Chicago….!