July 20, 2017 Chicago Open Air Returns In Style Bridgeview, IL 7-14-17
It began the moment three days in July of 2017 were announced. It began the moment each of the 41 bands were revealed. It began when wristbands arrived in the mail, excitement conquered the night-before sleep and an entry line coiled a mile around the venue. Yes, it began as a midwest Metal and Rock festival from Danny Wimmer Presents, Live Nation, Toyota Park, and the tiny city of Bridgeview, Illinois. But on Friday, July 14, 2017, the ghost of Dimebag himself could be seen drinking a horn of beer in a cutoff-sleeve band shirt, jamming alongside thousands of midwest Metal-mother…lovers in sweet home Chicago, Illinois. Welcome to the 2nd annual Chicago Open Air, 2017.
The infant festival permanently marked the Metal community during its inaugural year in 2016 and promised to return bringing bigger, bolder, better, everything. True to their word, the three-day mega-music event boasted even more “Gourmet Man Food” from local eateries, local and nationwide vendors, an extensive variety of craft beer and alcohol, big sponsors such as Monster Energy Drink, Blackcraft, Decibel, FYE and, oh yeah, almost forgot, the one and only Prince of Darkness. Headlining the Monster Energy mainstage on Sunday, July 16th, Ozzy Osbourne would be closing out the festival. Shivers, right? And yet, the Gods of Metal were not done blessing fans yet, because KISS, Slayer, Korn, Rob Zombie, Seether, Godsmack, Stone Sour and many, many more would all be gracing the Blackcraft or Monster Energy stages for the coming-home of Metal in Chicago.
While sponsors, bands, promoters, media, vendors, security, and all those who made this fest possible deserve a Metal-version of the Olympic gold medal, Chicago Open Air stands above and beyond other festivals for this reason alone: community. The inclusive, respectful, humble Metal community from the entire state of Illinois and beyond resurrected the “good old days” of music and gave every other fest a run for its money. Six foot tall, bearded, shirtless men were recycling their beer cans. Girls in fishnets and corpsepaint tossed cigarette butts in the trash. Strangers calmly conversed about politics, religion, music, and hot chicks, all while completely intoxicated and without angry fists. Heck, “excuse me” was probably the second-most said words besides “SLAYER!!!!!” Chicago Open Air has set a new standard for what music festivals should be about, and when a bunch of cool people come together to see a bunch of cool bands, well, Ghost Dimebag shows up. And everyone could all use a little Ghost Dimebag.
The smell of IPA’s and burgers in the morning is a beautiful thing, and on a cloudy, grey, Friday, July 14, 2017, the mouthwatering scents began coating Toyota Park. Fans purchased limited-edition Viking beer horns (commonly known as “Das Horn”) that came with its own stand to display at home and strap to hang from around your neck if (god forbid) it ever became empty. The very hyped, kid-on-Christmas-morning kind of jitters radiated out of the weekend’s host, Jose Mangin of Sirius XM’s Octane and Liquid Metal stations as he bounded onto the Blackcraft stage to introduce the first band of the day. Greeting the small crowd gathering around the second stage, he could barely contain his excitement for the rest of the day’s bands and the event as a whole. Having a pumped host to introduce bands is one thing, but having a dedicated metalhead radio host for 17 years introduce bands is quite the honor. Mangin truly loves his job and oozed Metal from all his crevices as he greeted the crowd, shared stories and knowledge about each band, dutifully amping up the audience to level 100. But finally, it was time.
Chicago Open Air’s first band officially kicked off the festival at exactly 11:50 AM. The tight schedule made each minute count and none were to be wasted as North Carolina natives Failure Anthem hit the ground running. Lead guitarist and founding member Kile Odell let his instrument do the talking as he riffed through songs from the band’s debut album, First World Problems. Barreling into the “The Ghost Inside,” fans began feeding off energy and skill, raising horns and fists to the emanating talent on stage.
Title-track “First World Problems” vibrated from Bassist Ryan Nimmo and Drummer Troy Surratt. Having dealt with several member changes throughout their career as a band, Failure Anthem displayed no less than pure joy and unbridled energy throughout their set, letting nothing take them from such a moment. Best song of the set undoubtedly goes to the lyrically charged “Paralyzed.” Giving a shout-out to local Chicago radio station 95 WIIL Rock for picking up the tune and playing it throughout 2016, Failure Anthem closed their set with a rush of Odell-ridden shreds and a lighthearted quip to a front row fan: “Gimme that (expletive) hot dog!”
Did anyone else hear the gentle croon of John Mayer as set-up music for the crew? After about 5 minutes of the accidental or losing-of-a-bet background music for all of the Blackcraft stage to hear between bands, Pink Floyd cut in and snapped the audience from their hypnosis. Hey, no one was complaining. Mayer has skills, too. All details aside, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania hailing band Code Orange drew a huge crowd into the deep-dark breakdown beginning their set.
Clean vocals and vicious, throaty growls were passed off between Lead Vocalist/Drummer Jami Morgan and Guitarist Reba Meyers, adding quite the grim element to balance intense speed and dissonance. Guitarists/synth/key masters Dominic Landolina and Eric Balderose fine-tuned the band’s electronic accents and Bassist Joe Goldman made sure even the fans in the back could feel their wrath. Playing at the very edge of the stage and jumping atop and off of the drum riser, the band put it all out there and had fans responding in mighty roars. Code Orange originally began as Punk band Code Orange Kids in 2008, but later dropped the ‘Kids’ before releasing their second full length album, I Am King, in 2014. With the acclaim of 2016’s Forever, Code Orange is taking the success they have been riding on since high school, in humble, yet brilliant strides.
Hell or Highwater
The first band to grace the Monster Energy mainstage, Hell or Highwater, had no intention of letting any fans rest after the large stair-climb into the stadium. Lead Vocalist Brandon Saller immediately led the crowd into singing the opening notes of first track “Colors” off of 2017’s full length, Vista. Saller’s voice soared into the hook’s higher register as if his infamous days as Atreyu’s lead vocalist were only yesterday.
Utilizing every inch of the large stage, Saller energetically ran back and forth, proceeding to climb down during “Don’t Hate Me” and high five as many fans along the catwalk barricade as he could. During a break in the song (which he was still able to sing flawlessly during all the movement) he made sure to hydrate by taking a large slurp of a generous fan’s beer can. Never forget to hydrate. The Hard Rock vibes were aided in great part by Guitarists Joey Bradford and Jon Hoover, while Bassist Nick Maldonado and Drummer Kyle Rosa filled the stadium with the catchiest underbelly of beats. “In the spirit of a fun summer…say: No! Bummer! Summer!” Saller chanted along with the crowd in spirit of yes, a no bummer summer and enjoying Chicago Open Air to the fullest. Slowing it down just a bit, the band belted out “Lighter Than Air” and the seemingly crowd-favorite “Walk Out In The Rain.” Founded in 2011 as Saller’s side project after Atreyu’s indefinite hiatus, Hell or Highwater gathered up a new fan base that quickly led them to current success.
While the sun began to battle the clouds in an attempt to perfect the day, Whitechapel hit the Blackcraft stage with a battle of their own. Radiating vengeful scales, Guitarists Alex Wade, Ben Savage and Zach Householder sent the crowd into a frenzy of circle pits and headbangs. Lead Vocalist Phil Bozeman demanded to see which side of the stage had a larger circle pit, then charged into the epic growls Whitechapel is known for. Drummer Ben Harclerode had crazy stick work and kept all the members in line with meticulous, rigorous timing. Bassist Gabe Crisp had just as intense of a bass line as the guitarists’ solos and bolstered through the set with rabid energy.
The Knoxville, Tennessee natives were founded in 2006 and have quite the Death Metal discography under their belts. The 2016 release of latest album, Mark Of The Blade, gave fans plenty to look forward to during their set and even pulled out 2008’s oldie title track, “This Is Exile.” Bozeman’s dirty growls have done no aging and the song’s intense vocal requirement clearly relayed his talent. By the end of Whitechapel’s set, fans coming out of the pit were drenched in sweat and had only great comments to award.
With a high-pitched screech of “Chicaaaaaaaaaago,” Crobot announced their arrival to the Monster Energy mainstage for all of little Bridgeview to hear. Lead Vocalist Brandon Yeagley shrieked higher and higher in a seemingly endless vocal range while his gyrating hips swung a tornado of fringe from the bottom of his vest. Fancy mic stand tricks and legs with a mind of their own gave Yeagley a most memorable persona during opening song “The Scar of Geronimo.”
Cruising into 2016’s Welcome To Fat City hit, “Play It Cool” gave Guitarist Chris Bishop and Bassist Jake Figueroa a chance to show their own skills. Jamming the Blues Rock title-track “Welcome to Fat City,” Figueroa and Bishop laid thick riffs for the taking and the audience ate it all up. Yeagley’s stage antics had only just begun as he ran full-speed towards the edge of the stage, acting as if he was going to launch himself into the crowd. Running to the other end of the stage, he mimicked the same action while still singing those tough vocal highs. “I mean,” Yeagley said, “it’s always a good time [to hear] a song about the devil,” and slid into 2014’s Something Supernatural track, “La Mano de Lucifer.” Drummer Paul Figueroa let the moody guitar intro even out into spotlighting his heavy hits. Ending with a heartfelt tribute to Chris Cornell, the Pottsville, Pennsylvania foursome superbly covered the Audioslave hit “Cochise.”
Packing the Blackcraft stage to uncomfortably close proximities, fans itched to see Metalcore favorites, Suicide Silence. As soon as the band put a foot on that stage fans raged in rapid circle pits, hardcore danced without hesitation and helicopter headbanged to a chiropractor’s nightmare. Feeding off the insane output of crowd energy, Suicide Silence gave it all back in an electrically brutal set.
Lead Vocalist Eddie Hermida seared through thrashy screams and choking low growls for 2012’s infamous hit, “You Only Live Once.” Guitarists Mark Heylmun and Chris Garza owned the stage in sound and sight as their fingers emitted breakdowns of steel alongside Drummer Alex Lopez. Bassist Dan Kenny used his magnificent instrument to vibrate internal organs as only a bassist can. The Riverside, California natives dove into a rowdy rendition of another track off of 2012’s The Black Crown, with “F— Everything” and concluded the lyrically graphic tune with Hermida professing his love for the crowd and having “hugs for everyone.”
Falling In Reverse
Want to know how Falling In Reverse is nearby? Listen for the sound of screaming girls. The howls of female fans largely echoed throughout the Monster Energy mainstage before the band could even set a foot on stage. Lead Vocalist Ronnie Radke tossed his hair, melted a few hearts, and put the Post Hardcore gears into action with opening song “I’m Not A Vampire.” The classic Falling In Reverse tune was the gatherer of fans for the band’s debut album in 2011, The Drug In Me Is You. Radke’s energy did not seem up to par, but what he lacked in motivation he made up for in vocals. His clean vocals were smooth sailing into the higher register, while a gritty bouquet of angst delivered the lows.
Releasing their brand new album Coming Home in 2017, the Las Vegas, Nevada natives jolted into first single, “Superhero.” With massive drums and a catchy synth backtrack, surely this was the song stuck in fans’ heads long after Falling In Reverse performed. Keeping the old/new/old song pattern going, “God, if You’re Above…” from 2015’s Just Like You album gave the crowd another tasty tune treat. While the years have certainly tested Falling In Reverse, their live performance proved how loyal and dedicated their fans remain.
If a legit award for Best Intro of the Day existed, Joey Jordison’s Vimic had their name carved all over it. The ex-Slipknot drummer’s band began their set at the Blackcraft stage with a gut-rolling drum solo, followed by the pummeling tunnel of his bandmates’ storm. Vimic is fairly new to the music scene, but is derived of members who have been in it for years and sounds just as so.
Vimic’s Rock and Metal influences flowed through intricate guitar squeals and classic Jordison brutality. The witty banter of Lead Vocalist Kalen Chase Musmecci kept the audience laughing between songs (promising to adopt everyone, be a horrible father to them, and the art of on-stage wedgie removals) with serious utmost respect during their performance. Vimic gained a lot of new fans that day.
Holy Thrash kings of immortal youth and energy: Anthrax’s Monster Energy mainstage performance was a feat of time-honored talent. Lead Vocalist Joey Belladonna ran—no, not jog—ran across the stage, bounding around like an internal 20 year old betrayed by an aging body.
Belladonna’s paralyzing vocals during “Got The Time” yielded three berserking circle pits and a seamless reign over laborious vocal heights. Then there was 1985’s classic masterpiece “Madhouse” featuring guitarists Ian Scott and and Jonathan Donais’ razor-edged shrill opening the track. Bassist Frank Bello let his instrument seep into the deep dark depths, while Drummer Charlie Benante charged each hit with the voltage of Thrash. The New York, New York natives played through “Breathing Lightning” from brand new album For All Kings and pulled an ecstatic Jose Mangin on stage to help sing the 1987 hit, “Indians.”
The Dillinger Escape Plan
Audiences at the Blackcraft stage witnessed a small slice of history as The Dillinger Escape Plan performed their final touring cycle as a band. Announcing new album Dissociation in 2016 also brought forth the bittersweet news of a permanent end. What better way to say goodbye than with a prestigious set list spanning their 20 year history?
Lead Vocalist Greg Puciato tested the veins in his neck as the severity of his screams bled through 1999’s Calculating Infinity track “43% Burnt.” Drummer Billy Rymer seemed to hit harder and more meticulous than ever as Bassist Liam Wilson coaxed the goosebumps from audiences’ skin. Guitarists Kevin Antreassian and Ben Weinman skewered “Panasonic Youth,” “Milk Lizard,” and “Prancer.” While final tour dates have not yet been announced, The Dillinger Escape Plan gave Chicago Open Air a superb pre-goodbye.
The infamous member of the Big Four (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax) had another thing coming for the crowd at the Monster Energy mainstage. Striding onto the stage in a calm, collected manner, Megadeth’s brand of maddening Thrash Metal steamrolled every brain in attendance.
Lead Vocalist Dave Mustaine kept sharp focus on his guitar and vocals through classic hits such as “Mechanix,” “Hangar 18,” “Peace Sells,” and “Tornado of Souls.” While slightly gravelly and a bit deeper, Mustaine’s vocals rang in extensive fervor. Bassist and only remaining original member (besides Mr. Mustaine of course) David Ellefson heaved into nostalgia with “Sweating Bullets,” “Holy Wars,” and “She Wolf.” Barreling through “The Threat Is Real” off of current album Dystopia, Megadeth demonstrated exactly how they won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance in 2016. Of course, as soon as the operatic backtrack for “Symphony of Destruction” sounded, Mustaine and crew completed a near-perfect festival setlist.
Returning for another round of Chicago Open Air, Swedish Extreme Metal virtuosos Meshuggah tried the Blackcraft stage on for size. With a blaring emergency alarm backtrack and the greeting of what felt like a thousand Metal horns, the band catapulted their immense sound into a no-holds-barred set.
Lead Vocalist Jens Kidman roared through 2008’s Obzen hit “Bleed,” punishing the heat of the setting sun with a straitjacket roar from Stockholm’s finest. Guitarists Fredrik Thorendal and Marten Hagstrom slew their breakdown machines all over the stage, blurring the fury of speeding frets for “Demiurge.” Bassist Dick Lovgren and Drummer Tomas Haake surely each had an evil twin playing somewhere backstage; how else could they single handedly produce such meticulous, colossal sounds? Then there was 2016’s The Violent Sleep Of Reason track “Born in Dissonance” which was pretty self explanatory due to otherwordly time signatures, speed, and delirious dissonance. The great murmur of musician-fans after Meshuggah’s performance continued trying to deconstruct those insane time signatures in great detail and awe.
With silver sequined pants glittering almost as much as KISS’ waiting disco ball above him, Rob Zombie pranced onto the Monster Energy mainstage at 8:20 PM. Under a dusky sky, purple and pink lights shone upon a long, large platform with three LED-screens. Mounting the center of the platform between Guitarist John 5 and Bassist Piggy D, Zombie toyed with his microphone stand and slammed straight into the 2013 hit “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown.” Amid on-screen graphics of a female belly dancer sporting “radio” tattooed across her stomach, Zombie gave fans a straight shot of adrenaline-fueled-Horror-cult-Rock with a Voodoo-magic-vocals chaser.
The dark sneer of “Superbeast” highlighted Drummer Ginger Fish’s feast of beats and with a taunt of “Chicago, are you high?…Good! So am I!” from Zombie, “In the Age of Consecrated Vampire We All Get High” followed suit. 2016’s The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser was also tapped for “Well Everybody’s F—— in a UFO” (to which Zombie threw a blow-up green alien into the crowd) and “The Hideous Exhibitions of a Dedicated Gore Whore” (to which Zombie lovingly dedicated to all the females in the audience).
Halfway through the classic White Zombie hit “Thunder Kiss ’65” Zombie proclaimed, “There were two bands that made me wanna start a band. [One was] KISS and one was The Ramones.” John 5 slid in with a popular riff and the crowd unleashed for Zombie’s version of “Blitzkrieg Bop.” After the minute or so homage, the band picked right up where “Thunder Kiss ’65” left off, finishing strong with a cover of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and ultimate Zombie song, “Dragula.”
Booming from somewhere off stage, a deep voice enveloped the Monster Energy mainstage and all of Toyota Park: “CHICAGO…you wanted the best, you got the best…the hottest band in the world…KISS!” With the drop of a white curtain, current Drummer Eric Singer could be seen slowly descending from the ceiling standing behind his kit. The large hanging drum riser inched toward the stage’s floor as original members Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and current Guitarist Tommy Thayer strode onto the stage.
With a flash of leather, studs and an infamous tongue, Simmons began the night with 1993’s Alive III hit “Deuce.” Stanley worked the crowd below by throwing his guitar behind his upper thigh and continued to play without missing a beat. Tossing his own solid skills into the mix, Thayer laid a thick guitar solo mid-song, coaxing Simmons into the final verse while Stanley found a new position to play in (sitting on the edge of the stage). With a quick dance in unison and an emphatic firework ending, the band cruised right into “Shout It Out Loud.” Stanley moved to the mic after the tune saying, “So a lot of things have happened since we were last here…we are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” and a round of cheers erupted from the crowd. “…Because of you! You made that happen!” The cheers did not stop as 1983’s self-titled track “Lick It Up” fed into “I Love It Loud” (where Stanley brought a female on stage to help play his guitar) and “Love Gun.”
Stanley’s commentary continued between songs and the nostalgia rose with Aragon Ballroom memories and “vintage KISS” classics. Spitting fire like a true pro, Simmons rallied the audience with his pyro action during “Firehouse” and Thayer took lead vocals for 1977’s Love Gun track, “Shock Me.” In a cloud of hazy smoke, Simmons eerily struck his bass and called for the crowd’s voices as he was suddenly whisked up onto a small platform hanging from the ceiling for “God Of Thunder.” The theatrics did not stop there as Stanley was also swung from the stage out over the crowd and onto the scaffolding above the sound tent for “Black Diamond.” Yet, nothing could top the disco ball, confetti cannons, and ultimate sing-along of “Rock and Roll All Night.” The band themselves could hardly be heard above the voices of thousands of KISS fans.
Following the party anthem, Stanley sent out a heartfelt thank you to all the servicemen and women working to keep our country free and honored a local veteran by leading the stadium in the United States’ Pledge of Allegiance. KISS openly showed the Windy City their soft side and closed Day 1 of Chicago Open Air with Hair Metal and heart. Also, the unofficial tally for seeing Gene Simmon’s Tongue was somewhere around 57 times, and to think, this was the opening day of Rock/Metal glory!
Photos by: Aintellin Photography