Day one looked as if it could have been a complete wash due to the weather, but luckily the sky cleared up and we managed to get to the stage in time for the colossal and relentless Meshuggah. As always, Meshuggah shook the stage, the concrete beneath the crowd, and the brains inside the skulls of all their adoring fans in well over ten different time signatures. I lost count… The true fans systematically headbanged in perfect unison and screamed every lyric into the sky, while the rest of the innocent bystanders were dragged into the chaos and turmoil with smiles on their faces. You can see who in the crowd has never seen Meshuaggah live by the look on their face. There is a specific facial expression that I would best describe as fight or flight within seconds of the first track if not. It makes sense as a natural response to such pure unfiltered metal at such a ridiculous volume. Their live performance is what actually made me a fan of this band in the first place. Odds are pretty high they will resurface for another Open Air down the line as this was not their first go at this fest.
In past years Chicago Open Air was a non-stop onslaught of metal. They had two stages, so when one was done the other would fire up immediately. This year we were limited to only one, which did allow the crowd a brief resting period, but if I were making suggestions for next year, I would definitely say they should go back to multiple stages again. I absolutely loved that setup. We would get our ass kicked by one band, then wander to the second stage to get another beating, and grab some killer food or beer on the way.
Ghost brought a unique blend of genres to the Chicago Open Air stage by keeping things heavy as hell, but bringing a fun energy as well. Depending on the track, sometimes you will catch an old 80s rock vibe like Kiss, other times you will get some Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath homage, followed by some Melvins style sludgy riffage. Coupling all of this with an absolutely stellar live performance including wicked costumes, awesome lighting, and theatrical experimentation, you can’t find many live bands offering an all-around concert experience quite like Ghost right now.
System of a Down is arguably one of the most unique and eccentric metal groups to make it to headliner status for music festivals in the last twenty years. It was good to see them taking the spotlight. Their oddball approach to music combined with their very vocal and aggressive political views made for an excellent thorn in the paw of the lion that is mainstream music and societal norms. It is good to see that same metaphorical wound aggravated again after their hiatus a little over ten years ago. It made my inner child smile seeing them enjoying themselves so much, laughing in between tracks, and performing at the level we all know they can. Their self-titled album made quite an impression on me at a young age. Serj and company opened my eyes to the side of music that lets you be and do whatever the hell you want, and its festivals like Open Air that are keeping that alive.
Somewhat surprised to say, Serj has still got it. I cannot imagine it is particularly easy for him to keep his vocal cords fine-tuned and capable of doing the vocal gymnastics that he does for this band. The crowd response was absolutely fantastic. The goofy and playful antics of each member made for a hell of a finally to night one. I genuinely think that a lot of people are hungry for this type of in-your-face metal again. I do sincerely hope to see more from SOAD in the coming years. Let’s hope Chicago Open Air helped rekindle the fire under System of a Down’s ass.
On day two we came in as Fever 333 was tearing up the stage. On my way into the park I thought “man that sounds reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine” and it put a smile on my face. We got closer to the stage near the end of their set, but still got a heavy dose of the medicine that Fever 333 is giving out. This bands music is a brilliant combination of hardcore, punk rock, rap rock, and noise pop. This immense sound is surprisingly only made with three people. As a bassist myself I would say that this band needs the addition of a 4 string player, but the amount of thrashing around that each member is doing, guitars being whipped around peoples heads, and the entire drum set getting destroyed during this set, it is possible that there is not enough room on stage to safely add any more bandmates. By the end of the set, Jason Aalon Butler had climbed about 20 ft above the stage screaming at the crowd with every fiber of his being. The music industry needs more people with the type of heart that this man has. This was a fantastic and inspirational start to our second day.
In this Moment is another group that was revisiting the Chicago Open Air stage, and there is a reason for that. This group never brings anything less that 150%. With a spectacular visual display, absolutely cutthroat riffage, and an angel of a vocalist at the helm, In This Moment brings a performance to remember. Ending with a heartfelt speech about believing in yourself and becoming more than the world tells you that you will be, Maria Brink blew kisses to her adoring fans from atop her podium labeled “Whore” and said goodnight.
Gojira still stands strong as one of my all-time favorite metal bands to see live. The amount of raw power that they display on stage is unlike nearly any other band in the game. The sheer presence that they create when they are on stage is unmatched. The profound tension and release sensation that they offer as metal musicians is something truly wonderful. Even during the heaviest riffs imaginable, they still have a smirk on their face. They know damn well how heavy they are, but they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously. A prime example of this is throwing giant inflatable whales out into the crowd during their track “Flying Whales”. There was one lucky fan that crowd-surfed all the way to the front of the stage on one of those whales, and the response they got from the rest of the crowd was amazing and well deserved.
After the literally fiery onslaught that Gojira put us through, The Cult was a refreshing change of pace. They brought a classic rock vibe to a fest that is primarily known for metal. Their energy was fantastic and their sound was pristine. I’ve been to every Chicago Open Air Fest and the production teams have always been excellent. The Cult’s set was no exception. Sadly, The Cult was added on to the lineup only after Prodigy backed out due to their vocalist Keith Flint’s suicide just a few months before the fest. Keith was a sincerely unique musical talent and a pioneer of his craft. The Cult came in and gave it their all, but the loss of Prodigy at this fest was profoundly sad and that void could not be filled. The discussion of Keith’s death was pretty common around the fest grounds. Rest in peace Keith Flint. Your legacy and musical influence will continue on for years to come.
My mind was sufficiently boggled when I saw Tool was headlining this year’s final day. I have seen Tool now nearly ten times and I have never seen them play any kind of festival. Tool had an absolutely huge influence on me as a musician and a music lover from a young age. I don’t need to go into much detail on their performance because anyone that knows and loves their music knows damn well that they are one of the top dogs in the rock community. Their execution in a live setting is literally flawless. They played plenty of the classics from their earlier albums, quite a bit off 10,000 Days, and even gifted us with some new material as well. The new stuff was absolutely gripping. It had a very strong foundation and a masterful build up as is common with Tools work. It was reminiscent of their Lateralus album. The videos have gotten out of these tracks being performed live, but the new album is not supposed to drop until August 30th. Tool played for nearly an hour and a half to close out the festival. It was a riveting performance through and through with simply top-notch sound, stunning visuals, and perfectionist execution. The fans sang along with Maynard through every single track. This band offers what can only be described as a spiritual experience to see live. If you have not managed to get Tool tickets in the past, I strongly recommend you doing so.
If possible, I would say that Chicago Open Air should go back to two stages next year, but other than that and maybe a request for more food and drink options, I have no complaints. This fest always brings in at least one powerhouse performance each year,and the crowd size alone shows that the Chicagoland area is hungry for a good heavy festival in the area. Let’s keep this tradition strong! I cannot wait to see the lineup for next year.