For the second year in a row, the Chicago Open Air graces Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. Please check back often as we will be updating this story as the weekend progresses. (All reviews written by Matt Rahn will be labeled MR)
Chicago Open Air is officially underway! Fans are lining up at all of the gates awaiting entry into what should be an incredible weekend of music. Today's highlights include many of the legends of rock n' roll including Kiss, Anthrax, Megadeth, Rob Zombie and many more. The best news for the attendees is that the lines seem to be moving awfully fast which guarantees sets will not be missed.
Code Orange (12:50pm Blackcraft Stage)
Industrial and sludge young ’ins Code Orange (formerly Code Orange Kids of hardcore notoriety) woke the crowd up Friday with an onslaught consisting almost entirely of their new album, Forever, including the latest single “Bleeding the Blur” with Reba Meyers’ tearing vocal hooks. An immediate favorite set of the weekend, stirring the early drinkers into a brawl on the concrete pit as the band plowed through 30 minutes of noise and dissonance. (MR)
Whitechapel (1:50pm Blackcraft Stage)
Any fears that Code Orange upped the ante too far where quickly eased as Whitechapel thundered through a thirty minute set that would have torn the roof off of the place had there been any roofs (spoiler alert: it's called Open Air for a reason). If you take a gander over to Whitechapel's website, they describe themselves as "hostile". Well, yes, hostile indeed. This, for the record, is not a bad thing.
Crobot (2:20pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Out-of-place-on-this-lineup stoner rock lords Crobot shocked an unfamiliar crowd on the main stage (a venue boasting a capacity of around 30,000 people) with some gnarly Clutch-like guitar riffs as well as Brandon Yeagley’s signature soaring vocals that one can’t help but relate to that of Plant or Daltry back in their heyday. They brought an entire sun soaked lot of beer drinkers to tears with their dedication to Chris Cornell as they aced their own cover of Audioslave’s “Cochise.” (MR)
While meandering around the festival, great finds were to be had all over the place– creative costumes were aplenty this year, even giving Coachella a run for its money. A fully uniformed general with beer hops for a head in honor of Revolution’s Anti-Hero (the festival had an unparalleled selection of beer at reasonable prices through the weekend, including limited releases from Chicago staples like Revolution Brewery as well as Half Acre, Three Floyds, and Goose Island.) There were also the unsung heroes of the mosh pits like Bacon, his partner Hot Dog, as well as a slew of Power Rangers, Deadpools and several unabashedly and obviously suggestive leather outfits. (MR)
During our spare time, testing out different wines from Caduceus Cellars’ specialty tent (procured by none other than Maynard James Keenan, of Tool and A Perfect Circle fame). What better to pair with such wines then a wide variety of gourmet man food. Our choices ended up being Bruges Brothers' Ox tail poutine (yes, it was amazing), the Polish Sausage from Chicago's Dog House, Dia De Los Tamales and one gigantic grilled cheese sandwich courtesy of Cheesie's.
Anthrax (4:40pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
How good is Anthrax? Well, after over 30 years of performing an incredible catalog of music, they still bring their A game to show after show after show. What's even more amazing is seeing adults over 50 screaming the lyrics to their newest additions while children looking no older then 12 shouting right with them. Every time you are lucky enough to watch this band perform, you are reminded yet again not only how talented they are but more importantly, the roads they paved for so many thrash metal bands after them. Heck, just ask any band on the lineup that formed after 1990.
The Dillinger Escape Plan (5:30pm Blackcraft Stage)
A welcomed change of pace after hours of metalcore derivatives, the titans of progressive metal, noise rock, mathcore, and all things experimental, The Dillinger Escape Plan took to the outdoor Blackcraft Cult stage as part of their continuing farewell tour. The crowd seemed dismayed at first then quickly warmed up to Greg Puciato’s dissonant and powerful shouts and Ben Weinman’s numbingly fast and masterful chord progressions. By the end, the band had completely torn the stage apart and Greg found himself hanging upside down from the rafters to a sea of screaming fans. (MR)
Megadeth (6:15pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Dave Mustaine, behind a continuously flowing mane of signature orange hair, wasted in no time in also bringing the classics with his latest lineup for Megadeth – featuring new members Kiko Loureiro and Dirk Verbeuren on guitar and drums, respectively, and Dave’s longterm partner in crime, David Ellefson on bass. A noteable group of vocal Dave fans could be find in any corner of the venue, shouting the lyrics to every song but especially “Mechanix,” Dave’s track that infamously is what originally was written as “The Four Horsemen” for Metallica’s Kill ‘em All prior to Mustaine’s departure from the band. (MR)
Meshuggah (7:10pm Blackcraft Stage)
Closing out the Blackcraft stage for the second year in a row, Meshuggah punished their fans for nearly an hour with what seems to be a recurring theme in regards to the Blackcraft stage: energy + talent = great show. One has to wonder if there will ever be a more in your face vocalist in the heavy metal world than Jens Kidman. If you ask any attendee, they will all tell you the same thing: bring back Meshuggah every year, please and thank you.
Rob Zombie (8:20pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Shock rock, horrorgore, glam – it doesn’t really matter what genre you use to describe Rob Zombie, there are never enough words to describe the bizarre, freaky, and downright dirty things that happen at any one of his shows. Last year, Zombie graced the Riot Fest lineup and played Astro-Creep 2000 in it's entirety. This year, Zombie was free to pluck audience favorites from anywhere he pleased and that's exactly what he did. Toyota Park was graced with songs from long ago (Thunder Kiss '65 & More Human Than Human) as well as some of his newer tracks (which are grossly underrated). Heck, we were all even given a nice cover version of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" and the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop".
The crowds after Rob Zombie rushed to the beer tents for one last pour before the headlining act. Several of the people we talked to in the VIP area came from a long ways away.
Maryland resident Thomas Moreno flew in with his son Jordan Moreno to see their favorite band Korn.
"I love Chicago and wanted to see Korn," the elder Moreno said. "We've waited a long time to come out (to Chicago) but Korn is #1 for me."
At the very same table were Brian and Ryan Barron from Savannah, Georgia. After attending Carolina Rebellion for five years they had hoped to attend the Chicago version when luck had their backs. Ryan won the Chicago Open Air VIP Sweepstakes.
"We're super excited to be here and getting to see Korn, Stone Sour and HellYeah!" said Ryan Barron.
Their package included not only a pair of VIP tickets but airfare and hotel accomodations.
Kiss (9:50pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
For those who left after Zombie's set, you missed out. These Rock N' Roll hall of famers know what fans want (greatest hits, please) and they deliver. "Shout It Out Loud", "Lick It Up" and "Love Gun" kicked off the fest while fan favorites "Psycho Circus", Rock And Roll All Nite" and "Detroit Rock City" finished up their set. Playing far beyond what the schedule allotted for them, Kiss graced the crowd with fire, solos and even Paul Stanley zip lining from one end of the park to another. Rock N' Roll fans across the globe have been saying the same thing for over 40 years: If you haven't seen Kiss live, please do so immediately. One would hope that by 2017, people would listen. Fortunately for the tens of thousands in attendance tonight, they did.
Pig Destroyer (2pm Blackcraft Stage)
Chicago Open Air has a knack for booking bands to perform prior to 2pm with the firm intention of waking everybody up as fast as humanly possible. With that said, Pig Destroyer is the perfect act to have perform at 2pm on a sunny, warm Saturday. Guitarist Scott Hull pulled no punches during this brief albeit amazing set. One thing was certain after they finished: the lines for water just got noticeably larger.
Metal Church (2:30pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Metal Church continued the weekend's run of heavy metal icons as they took the stage in the early afternoon. It's hard to believe it's now been 33 years since the release of their self-titled debut album and after all these years, "Beyond The Black" still sounds as good as ever. Our only gripe for the entire day is a simple one: Can't we give these legends more than 30 minutes? They were so good that it seemed if you blinked, you missed their show. They will hopefully be booked again next year so we can see more of this excellent band.
Avatar (3:35pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Don't let face paint give you a false opinion of how a band will sound. Avatar will immediately prove you wrong. Lead singer Johannes Eckerström smiles repeatedly to the crowd in a way that can only be described as creepy. Avatar's sound is straight up menacing while also refusing to give the crowd even two seconds to catch their breath after a heavy and intense start to today. This can only be described as one of the most unexpected surprises so far. They could easily be considered one of the better sets so far, and that's saying something.
Mushroomhead (4:15pm Blackcraft Stage)
Where do you even begin with this performance? Outlandish costumes? Check. Stage crew costumes? Check. Cover songs you wouldn't expect out of them in 100 years? Check. Inflatable killer whale used as a body surfing device by lead singer Jeffrey Hatrix? Believe it or not: Check. Most important though is that all of this amounted to a ton of fun. This was the second act in a row that blew away my expectations. Also, "exceeding expectations" has been the theme so far today and that's a very good thing.
Steel Panther (4:50pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Have you seen Steel Panther yet? If the answer is no, please do so ASAP. Originally formed as "Danger Kitty" back in the early 2000s for Discover Card commercials, Steel Panther is now known as, well, Steel Panther. If you are a fan of the old glam metal from the 80s then this band is for you. Oh, and they are funny. Really, really funny. Having recently been on @Midnight with Chris Hardwick, that cat is out of the bag. However, their talent, humor and music played so perfectly at Toyota Park.
Another neat attraction for Chicago Open Air is their FYE tent. Over the weekend, numerous artists graced the tent to personally sign their albums. Artists could also be seen at the Monster Energy Experience and the Music Experience. Simply put, there is almost TOO much to do at this festival, especially when considering the selection of food and drink of which zero items looked bad.
Body Count (5:40pm Blackcraft Stage)
One of the most influential hip hop artists of all time began his Body Count setlist by covering one of the greatest metal bands of all time (Slayer). We are off to a great start. The highlight to this set was the powerful new track "No Lives Matter", a song so angry that only Ice-T could be tasked with howling the lyrics which tackle many of the issues society is grappling with at this very moment. For over 25 years, Body Count has been doing just that: calling us all out for putting our heads in the sand. You will never catch this band doing that. Oh, quite the contrary.
Clutch (7:20pm Blackcraft Stage)
Clutch is one of those bands that check every box that there is in Rock N' Roll. Their setlist did a great job of showcasing just that via "The Mob Goes Wild" (hard rock), "Firebirds!" (punk rock), "A Quick Death In Texas" (stoner rock) and the popular "Electric Worry" (southern rock). Throughout the set, frontman Neil Fallon acted as a man possessed, staring down the crowd while mowing through a setlist littered with their biggest and most powerful hits.
Korn (9:50pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Korn was another band who returned to perform this year after performing in 2016. However, this year, they were slotted as the headliners for today. Unlike last year, Korn seemed to be a little timid at the top of their set, focusing on some of their less heavy tracks including "Falling Away From Me" and "Here To Stay". However, once the bagpipes kicked in, Korn turned it up to 11. Fan favorites "Shoots and Ladders", "Twist", "Got The Life" and "Make Me Bad" finished off their regular set list to roars from the crowd before coming out for an encore that included "Blind" and "Freak On A Leash". Some of their best oldie but goodie tracks were nowhere to be found including "Trash" and "No Place To Hide". Maybe they return again and find a home for those two? One can only hope.
On Sunday, parking was infinitely more difficult for all parties, forcing many drivers to park nearly a mile away (if arriving after 2pm) from the fest yet still expect them to pay the $20 fee for said parking. Because of this, we were unable to cover many of the early acts this day.
Kyng (3:10pm Blackcraft Stage)
With the cancelling of Norma Jean and the delayed entry due to parking, the first full set of note was Kyng – another familiar face to the stoner metal community with thick, bursting guitar riffs and range-filled vocals -- whose single “Falling Down” gained radio traction last year and brought in plenty of hungover headbangers to the side stage on a Sunday afternoon. Their set was punctuated with a powerful tribute to Ozzy at the end of their set (along with commentary on the “bored sound guy!.....I wanna see Behemoth soon too!”) (MR)
Amon Amarth (3:40pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Inside the stadium, a smoke-breathing dragon head atop a wooden ship sails into the front of the main stage as four pillars of fire jettison near the front of the crowd. Five brooding, large, bearded folk in black chain mail take the stage with all black instruments and Amon Amarth commences their now-widely-loved standard set of hair whipping and beer chugging (from a horn, because why not.) Other notable moments include the invasion of a Loki-dressed god figure on stage a la Mummy Eddie from Maiden’s Somewhere Back in Time days, as well as several Medieval Times actors initiating reenactment battles on stage like a Gwar concert without the fake blood. (MR)
Behemoth (4:35pm Blackcraft Stage)
On a slightly less (thought certain not devoid) campy note, Behemoth takes over the Blackcraft stage in their corpse-paint and ancient-warrior-armor best as they continue their tour of 2014’s critically appraised The Satanist. The blackened death juggernauts from Poland were all too-appreciative of the overwhelming crowd and praised their upcoming favorite bands, Slayer and Ozzy. (MR)
Lamb Of God (5:05pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Back at the main stage, several massive mosh pits of shirtless me begin filtering as Randy Blythe and his massively successful groove metal outfit Lamb of God take to the stage, no fire or lights needed, and blister the ears and break the necks of everyone within a mile radius. Randy, whose recent life has lead him through the toils of being imprisoned in Prague, as well as filling in vocal roles for other bands like Eyehategod, has become an icon of paragon-like strength and leadership in the metal community. His vocal adoration for self-reliance and independence doesn’t go unnoticed. (MR)
Stone Sour (6:25pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
On the heels of another successful release just two weeks ago, the side project of Slipknot frontman Corey Taylor, Stone Sour, jams out the singles to the latest album Hydrograd before bringing back several favorites from the self-titled album and their colossally successful sophomore effort, Come What(ever) May. (The band previously also featured guitarist Jim Root from Slipknot, but saw his departure before the creation of the latest album, citing creative differences.) With the consistent power to take over any crowd across the globe, Corey’s on-point vocals have no problem taking a moment to call out his recent feud with Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger before bringing back the band’s very first single, “Bother,” with only Corey himself on stage. The set ultimately came down a vibrant sing-along for their Billboard #1 tune, “Through Glass.” (MR)
Slayer (7:20pm Blackcraft Stage)
Slayer closed down the side stage – a noticeably tiny space for their usually massive light and fire show – starting with one track off their last effort, Repentless. Amidst a cry of fans, both in eagerness and slight bemoaning of the newest album (critics have been viewing the album negatively, citing issues with the death of guitarist and main writer Jeff Hanneman, as well as the mysterious circumstances behind the firing of original drummer Dave Lombardo,) the band returned to form with their usual thrash favorites – “War Ensemble,” “Dead Skin Mask,” “South of Heaven,” and “Raining Blood.” The general congestion caused by putting a band like Slayer’s size on the side stage before Ozzy took over the main stage was not welcomed. (MR)
Ozzy Osbourne (8:25pm Monster Energy Main Stage)
Cheers for “OZZY! OZZY! OZZY!” were aplenty all day and only became more amplified as the time drawer nearer for the Black Sabbath singer to take the stage. At 8:20, amidst a chilling Chicago breeze and orange sunset, the Prince of Darkness appeared in his black-gowned best. Looking surprisingly spry and chipper, Osbourne made his rounds on every side of the stage, gleaning upward and waving. “God bless, you are number one, Chicago! Always!” He says as Zakk Wylde, Adam Wakeman, Rob Nicholson, and Tommy Clufetos take the stage beside him and begin “Bark at the Moon.” The set is capitalized with plenty of Ozzy’s solo work (“I Don’t Know,” “Mama I’m Coming Home,”) as well as Black Sabbath’s most famous works (“Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and “Fairies Wear Boots,”) but also has a few filler moments when Zakk Wylde takes to the crowd and enthralls the audience with a – no hyperbole – twelve minute guitar solo. As is tradition with all classic rock and metal acts, drum solos and bass solos are a feature as well and eventually force the crowd to lose their voice from constant cheers. In the end, the bowl is still relatively full as Ozzy’s encore wraps up and a barrage of fans from all generations applauds the creator of heavy metal for his service. (MR)