Chicago Open Air 2016
Day 1: Friday, July 15, 2016
Toyota Stadium – Bridgeview, IL
There’s nothing quite like a music festival. As long time veterans of Rock on the Range and Louder than Life, the folks here at The Music Pill were extremely excited earlier this spring when Chicago Open Air 2016 was announced. This brand new three day festival was held on a beautiful summer weekend at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, IL (a Chicago suburb). It featured a spectacular lineup of hard rock and heavy metal bands from all over the world. The Music Pill was there all weekend, taking notes, snapping pictures, and digesting all the music so we could give you the gory details on how the weekend went down. If you missed the action, our goal is to make you feel like you were there to see the magic happen. If you WERE in Chicago that weekend, then this is simply an excuse to relive the madness.
To get us started, this post will cover Day 1 (Friday) of Chicago Open Air 2016. We’ll touch on many of the great bands that played on Friday, and split them up into three categories: rock solid shows, slight disappointments, and mind-blowing performances. Because of the logistics of the festival, we can’t review every band, but what you’ll find is a thorough analysis of a multitude of great bands from all different genres. Friday gave us fantastic bands like Periphery, Chevelle, Trivium, Meshuggah, In This Moment, and so many more, ending with the almighty Rammstein as the headliner.
Without further ado – here we go: Day 1 (Friday) of Chicago Open Air 2016, you are officially under way. Let’s do this.
(I’ll warn you now, this post ends with a pretty big cliffhanger, so prepare yourself for that. 🙂
Rock Solid Shows
Periphery was one of the first shows of the day on the second stage, which had really great sound all weekend long. Bands in this genre sometimes struggle at big festivals – they come out early in the day and play extremely technical music in broad daylight, and sometimes it just feels like a misfire. Periphery has been in this boat before, but I am pleased to announce that this show was really solid. Musically, they were extremely tight. Most impressive was drummer Matt Halpern – Periphery plays with time signatures, and Halpern was mesmerizing as he played right in the pocket the entire show. Vocalist Spencer Sotelo was also really impressive – booming screams and surprisingly pure clean vocals brought their songs to life.
I loved the songs “Make Total Destroy” and “The Price is Wrong”, and overall the whole show felt heavy and energetic. The crowd couldn’t have been more connected, and while it wasn’t a huge crowd, there was a constant pit going and most people were singing the lyrics, which is a home run for Periphery. The only negative I can think of is that they were the first victim to short set times – festival organizers cut them off before their last song, ripping the climax right out from underneath us. Even considering the abrupt end, it was still a great show.
In This Moment
Maria Brink and the gang gave us our first glimpse at the main stage at Chicago Open Air 2016, and proved quickly and definitively that the sound system at Toyota Park was really incredible. (Rock on the Range experienced some sound issues the first couple years, so I feared a similar experience here). Maria’s screams sounded fantastic, and that’s about the strongest test that a sound system can have. In all honesty, Maria dominated this show in every way – her vocals were great, she carried herself like a veteran on stage, and she exerted this combination of promiscuity and dominance that totally encapsulated the crowd. Her backing band kept pace just fine, and they have improved drastically in the past few years. The execution of songs like “Blood”, “Black Widow”, and “Sick Like Me” was pretty flawless.
Theatrically, In This Moment always stands out among their peers, and this show was no different. It featured elaborate costumes and backdrops, back up dancers, and choreography that all came together to really bring words like “Blood” and “Whore” to life. While that made the show really stand out, it also came at a price. ITM was only able to play five songs in a 38 minute set because of their dedication to theatrical elements (i.e. costume changes). This made the show feel a bit choppy and disconnected, and works far better when ITM is afforded a longer set time. That being said, I’ll give credit where it’s due: This is a far better version of In This Moment than they were three or four years ago, and costume changes aside, the show was a lot of fun to watch.
Meshuggah was given the coveted second-stage headlining slot, and they played a brutal show that was one of the heaviest shows I’ve ever seen. Hailing from Sweden, Meshuggah brought an extreme/experimental metal sound, and it was immediately evident why many of the djent bands (like Periphery) count Meshuggah as a primary influence. Guitarist Fredrik Thordendal was incredibly talented – he wasn’t flashy, but man could that dude play, and it got to the point where I was craving his next solo. The other stand out on stage was vocalist Jens Kidman, who alternated between amazingly harsh screams and an epic full-shoulder head bang. The dude looked like he could kill someone at any minute, and I loved it.
The international crowd (due to Rammstein headlining) was extremely familiar with the band. They spent a good deal of time chanting “Me. Shug. Gah!” and asking for more, and the band kept bringing the heat. Meshuggah played nine full songs, highlighted by “Swarm” and their closer, “Dancers to a Discordant System”, before bidding us adieu and heading off the stage. By the time this show was over, I had been completely converted from casual observer to huge fan. The show was interesting, unique, and it kept the crowd guessing as to the direction it was headed. A great show and really unique experience that I’m so glad I caught.
- Butcher Babies were really good when I saw them open for Amaranthe in 2015, but that was in front of 300 people. These stakes were much higher, and I didn’t come away nearly as impressed.
- Drowning Pool brought along 82-year old John Hetlinger from America’s Got Talent to sing Bodies, and it was awesome to see how happy that made him. However, the rest of the show was pretty run-of-the-mill.
- Ministry had flashes of brilliance, but struggled to put a consistent show together. There’s no question frontman Al Jourgensen is a legend, but I have to believe that this show didn’t compare to one in their heydey.
Mind Blowing Performances
Trivium was the first show on the main stage on Friday, and they really delivered a tremendous show. The audience wasn’t huge, but it was definitely a pro-Trivium crowd, and the band wasted no time unleashing hell. Vocalist Matt Heafy made it clear from the beginning that he expected you to be jumping, and moving, and actively participating in the show, and the crowd happily obliged. The set list they chose was perfect – slower songs, like “Dead and Gone” were balanced out with brutal songs like “Rain”, and overall, the show felt much heavier than some recent shows I’ve seen. Trivium has been focusing on more recent, clean-vocals focused songs, and this was a welcomed blast of adrenaline.
Musically, the show was exceptional, particularly for Heafy. Some of the older material allowed him to focus on unclean vocals, which is no question his strong suit. In addition, Heafy and guitarist Corey Beaulieu passed the lead guitar baton back and forth during this show, constantly one-upping each other on patented Trivium riffs. A great performance all around for the instrumentalists.
The highlight of the show came at the end. The second to last song began with an evil smile from Heafy, as he turned around to nod to drummer Paul Wandtke. Wandtke laid out the furious drum intro to “Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr”, and by the time Heafy’s screams came in, chills took over.
“Pull. Harder. Strings. Martyr”
“Pull Harder on the Strings of Your Martyr” isn’t a song they play live all that often, but it is definitely one of their strongest songs, and it really gave the band a chance to shine. Heafy screams nearly this entire song, and the drums and guitars are pummeling. It was an epic performance, and Wandtke deserves special kudos as he just joined the band last year. After that song ended, a familiar track started, and the crowd knew that “In Waves” would finish the day for Trivium. When Heafy’s screams came in, the tightly packed crowd transformed into a massive mosh pit. It was a great way to end the show.
Trivium’s show is consistently strong, but I’m confident in saying that this performance was a couple notches above similar shows that I’ve seen in recent past. Kudos to Trivium for continuing to raise the bar.
Of Mice & Men
Watching the ascent of this band has been really fun. Three or four years ago, the only way to see this band would have been on a tiny stage at Warped Tour. At Chicago Open Air 2016, they got a main stage slot at a massive festival, and the audience was packed full of fans who knew the words to every song. (For reference, consider the fact that they performed four slots ahead of Trivium, a band that’s been around for over fifteen years). That’s a pretty quick ascent if you ask me, but this show should have put any doubts whatsoever to rest. These cats most definitely belong among today’s elite.
The show opened with “Public Service Announcement”, which is a great scream-a-long song that quickly showed that vocalist Austin Carlisle didn’t come to mess around. “Broken Generation” and “Glass Hearts” followed, and I eventually realized that the first six songs they played were all from the 2014 album “Restoring Force.” The fact that the show was consistently strong throughout that entire segment just goes to show what a great album that is.
After those six songs, the show picked up another notch, as Carlisle informed the crowd that they were going to play a new song. “Pain”, off of their album coming in September, was a monstrous track, and wound up being the best part of the show. It’s angry and aggressive and features a really cool Slipknot-esque guitar intro. It also features unrelenting screams from Carlisle, to the point that I don’t even know when he breathes. Here’s to hoping that new album is half as good as this song was live. They closed the show with “The Depths” off of their first album, and while it was solid, it was drastically overshadowed by “Pain”.
Before we leave Of Mice & Men, I have to pause to give some props to the backup vocals of bassist Aaron Pauley. I always keep an eye out for Pauley’s clean vocals, because they continue to write songs where his clean vocals are absolutely critical. (Example: “Never Giving Up“). He’s improved tremendously, and was spot on at this show.
Ultimately, this show felt like a straight forward kick in the teeth. No frills, no fancy light shows, just a backdrop with an ampersand, and a wave of high-intensity songs. Great show.
Chevelle has a great catalogue of music. Some of their early 2000’s material was really solid, and they put out a monster album in 2014 called “La Gargola” that brought them back to the forefront of modern rock. In addition, they just released a new album called “The North Corridor” on July 8th. The question was, could Chevelle leverage all that great material, and take advantage of the hometown crowd? Or, would they deliver a mundane rock show that got lost in the fold of a tremendous weekend.
As you probably guessed by the category I have them in, Chevelle absolutely destroyed this show. From the very first note, it exceeded my expectations in every way. Singer Pete Loeffler walked out on stage, took ten seconds to say “What’s up Chicago?” and then immediately launched into the scream intro for “Ouija Board”. The stage lights flashed as the drums hit, and the band settled into the first verse, and I was awestruck. Their sound was fantastic – extremely polished and had a depth that was incredible for any band, let alone a three-piece. Pete’s vocals were some of the best I’ve heard in years, and the fact that he’s also playing the only guitar on stage is just mind boggling. The rhythm section was also rock solid. They even had a really well-designed light show that accentuated the music perfectly. The result was a completely engrossing experience that completely blew me out of the water. (Video of the opening track here).
By the time I snapped out of my fan-boy reaction, we were in the heart of the show, and it just kept getting better and better. Songs like “Take Out the Gunman” and “Joyride (Omen)” were delivered with an angst and energy that I never thought Chevelle had in them. Pete and bassist Dean Bernardini were extremely fun to watch, and could barely keep themselves in front of the mic to sing vocals because they kept losing themselves in their instruments. The show continued to build, and by the time we got to the song “I Get It”, the audience screaming along with the band was deafening.
As we turned the corner towards the end of the set, they finally gave us a breather. The stage went completely dark, and a spotlight came on Pete. He played a solo version of “The Red” through the first chorus, and then slowly built the energy back up. By the end of the song, the band was back in, the light show was in full force, and the energy reached a new high. Screams of “Seeing Red Again” are still echoing in my head.
After that, and a solid version of “Send the Pain Below”, they announced that they only had one song remaining. “Family System” isn’t one of their most popular songs, but it was absolutely the pinnacle of this show. The song is littered with eerie “ah’s” that precede epic breakdowns, and you could feel Chevelle’s anger as they pulled out all the stops. I honestly thought Pete was going to scream his eyeballs out during the bridge. It was an unbelieveable performance.
With that, Chevelle thanked the crowd, and the show was over. There’s no question in my mind that this was one of the best shows of the weekend, and it came from what I considered to be an underdog. No disrespect to Chevelle, but I never thought they had this performance in them. Lesson learned… I won’t make that mistake again. Absolutely brilliant show.
Here comes the cliffhanger. Rammstein’s performance on Day 1 of this festival was simply too good to be crammed into this post. It deserves to stand on it’s own. After I release Day 2 (Saturday) and Day 3 (Sunday), I’ll go back and post my thoughts on Rammstein. You might think that’s a cop out, but trust me, the wait will be worth it.
I’ll put all my cards on the table here. I’m posting it last because it was the best show of the weekend. I hope you’ll come back and read it – I’ll make a case for why it might just be the best show I’ve ever seen. Stay tuned!!
So, there you have it. Day 1 coverage of Chicago Open Air 2016 – a truly amazing day of music. I hope you enjoyed the discussion – lots more coverage to come, but in the meantime, please join the conversation by posting your thoughts below!
Special thanks to photographers who contributed to this post, including Chris Bianchi, Logan Frere, and Jon Larimore.