Chicago Open Air 2016
Day 2: Saturday, July 16, 2016
Toyota Stadium – Bridgeview, IL
The first day of Chicago Open Air 2016 gave us some amazing performances, but we’re thrilled to move the focus to our of coverage to Day 2 (Saturday). Every day is a great day for rock music, but the second day of this festival was especially perfect. The weather was as good as it possibly could be (partly cloudy and a high of 77°!), and a fantastic set of bands were slated to play. Saturday’s lineup was split right down the middle, with the main stage focusing primarily on hard rock bands, and the side stage bringing the heat and keeping the show metal. It made for an interesting experience as we traversed back and forth between stages – almost like we were alternating between a really great change-up and an unhittable fastball.
Thanks to a great experience on Friday, we learned the lay of the land, and spent more of our day Saturday enjoying the other “experiences” that Chicago Open Air 2016 had to offer. My personal favorite was the Monster Energy Experience, where we spent a good deal of time talking to fans from all over the world. (The free monster was a great pick-me-up as well!). We also put way more thought into food on Saturday, which was a far cry from the stadium food that these festivals used to feature. ‘Gourmet Man Food’ was on full display at this festival – I had meals that included a killer spicy shrimp po’boy, a thick and juicy Hawaiian burger, and a pulled pork/mac and cheese sandwich that was life changing. We ate like kings!!
Alright, enough niceties. As good as the food was, that’s not what is still ringing in my head two weeks later. Saturday gave us countless opportunities to see incredible shows and get lost in the lights. The day would feature great bands like Nothing More, Beartooth, Breaking Benjamin, Gojira, Alter Bridge, and so many more. To end the night, we’d hear from two titans of industry, Korn and Disturbed. Chicago Open Air 2016 Day 2 – it’s go time.
Beartooth was one of the first shows of the day, and when they walked out on stage, vocalist Caleb Shomo told everyone to get on one knee. “Let’s have a nice relaxing, calm afternoon” he said, which got a chuckle from the crowd. When the guitars hit, Shomo and the audience lost their minds in unison. Very cool way to start what would end up being a really great nine-song set. (Trust me, it was anything but calm and relaxing.) “The Lines” and “Aggressive” got the show started off on the right foot (both are monster songs), and “Hated” and “In Between” were also stellar live. The energy at this show was off the charts – it was a ton of fun and served as an abrupt wake-up call early in the day.
This band better be careful. They have some serious pieces in Shomo (ex- Attack!Attack! vocalist) and drummer Connor Denis (a solid drummer that is a ton of fun to watch). They also have frustratingly catchy songwriting. The final piece, in my mind, is to prove that they can deliver a live experience, and I’d say this show proved that they are well on their way. If they continue to deliver like this, they will be on the main stage in no time.
Pop Evil fell out of my good graces when they mailed in a show at this year’s Rock on the Range. Thankfully, they took this show seriously, and the difference was night and day. Rather than taking entire verses off to soak in the experience for himself, singer Leigh Kakaty focused his efforts on his performance. The result was much closer to what I expect from a quality band with a host of great songs. Pop Evil hit us with fast songs, like “Deal with the Devil” and “Take it All”, but also built up the interest enough that slower songs (like “Footsteps” and “100 in a 55”) also worked really well.
Kakaty has made a name for himself walking on top of the crowd while he sings, and that was no question the highlight of this show. During the song “Trenches”, he hopped off stage, climbed the fence, and walked out on top of tightly packed fans. As the guitars rang, he bellowed “Stand up. Wake up. I won’t give up. Cause here I come. Yeaaaaaoooowwww”, and the crowd went crazy.
Musicianship was really tight on this show, and Kakaty sounded very good. They brought a ton of energy, and had the crowd fully engaged throughout. Overall, a really solid rock show.
Chicago Open Air 2016 gave Breaking Benjamin a really prominent slot (third to last), which is a result of the massive success of their most recent album. I was able to catch Breaking Benjamin twice last year, once at Rock on the Range 2015, and once on a headlining tour. Those two shows proved that the current lineup is a formidable one, and that Breaking Benjamin could have a very promising future.
As usual, this show saw Breaking Benjamin leverage it’s biggest asset – Ben Burnley’s vocals. He soared effortlessly through hits like “So Cold”, “Breath”, “I Will Not Bow”, and was especially impressive on his unclean vocals. (You might not know it but the dude can scream like nobody’s business). An interesting caveat: After two songs, Burnley introduced lead guitarist Keith Wallen, and then had Wallen sing a song, while Burnley played guitar at the back of the stage. Wallen’s version of “Sooner or Later” sounded better than I expected, but it was a surprising move. I wondered what the implications of this were, but a couple songs later, Burnley absolutely crushed a version of “Ashes to Eden” (video here) and put my fears to bed.
There was a lot to love about this show. I really loved the cover medley they did, which included “Imperial March” from Star Wars, Tool’s “Schism”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and Pantera’s “Walk”. I also loved the way they closed the show, with “The Diary of Jane”, which they dedicated to the troops.
Is it already too soon to be pining for their next album? Great show.
Disturbed is a product of Chicago, and had home field advantage at Chicago Open Air 2016. They have a long history of great shows, most recently a really good headlining show at Rock on the Range 2016. This headlining show was another great one, and really was loaded with reasons for me to shower them with praise.
- They sounded fantastic – I’m not sure you could tell the difference between an audio feed from this concert and the songs on the albums. Singer David Draiman was spot on, and musically they were in lock step in every aspect imaginable. Extraordinary live sound.
- They have been around for twenty years, and their music is well known, and well loved. Their set list featured songs like “The Game”, “Stupify”, “Liberate”, “Indestructable”. (I could go on and on). They have 20 years of great songs to leverage, and they wield that weapon well.
- They were able to successfully change the pace of the show without losing momentum. Slower songs like the “The Sound of Silence” and “The Light”, both of which originate on last year’s “Immortalized” album, were most definitely highlights of the show.
- Their encore, “Down with the Sickness” was probably the loudest the building got all day. It was really spectacular.
Looking at the big picture, this show could easily slide down to the list of mind-blowing performances. However, they land in the “solid” category because at times they struggled with their connection the audience. A show this big should be an experience that wraps the audience in. I felt like a pure spectator at this show – like it was being performed AT me.
That’s fairly nitpicky, and ultimately Disturbed delivered a great show. I’m looking forward to seeing them again soon.
- The thing that stood out most about Saint Asonia was singer Adam Gontier’s bitterness towards his previous band. Their show at Rock on the Range was the exact same whine-fest, and I’m beginning to wonder how long we’ll have to wait before he realizes that he’s the only one who’s not over the split. In the middle of a speech designed to justify playing a Three Days Grace song, he referred to the current version of Three Days Grace performing the song as “karaoke”. Great musicians, a great song or two, but way too much ego.
- Carcass is a well-known death metal band that’s been around for decades, but this show was underwhelming. I’d like the chance to see them again, but this show didn’t do it for me.
- I really dig Deafheaven’s sound, and the way they push the metal boundaries is incredibly interesting. It was a well-performed show, but with no previous context, I struggled to solve the Deafheaven puzzle. It was evident that most of the audience was in the same boat with me.
Mind Blowing Performances
Nothing More has been around for a while now, but really didn’t find their stride until they released their self-titled album in 2014. That album took the industry by storm, and proved that this band could really be something special. As great as that album is, what really sets Nothing More apart is their live show. It’s a well-rehearsed exercise in chaos, and is consistently amazing. My aspirations for this show were very high.
They wasted no time getting into this show, launching into “Christ Copyright” before most of the audience even knew they were on stage. It was a great starting song, as it’s one of their most popular and most assertive songs. “Mr. MTV” was the follow up, and those two songs proved that Nothing More was firing on all cylinders. “Mr. MTV” ends by pairing huge breakdown riffs with epic screams from singer Johnny Dawkins, and it delivered one of the most memorable moments of the show.
“DO THIS. BUY THAT. GET MY DRUGS AND SEX.”
Nothing More had plenty of bullets in the gun – in addition to marvelous songs, like “Jenny” and “This is the Time”, they also featured a new song called “Ripping Me Apart”. It was a great song that was focused on the areas in which they excel – big high-register vocals juxtaposed with guttural screams, sporadic guitar riffs that make you want to break something, and really tight drumming. Speaking of the drums, I love the rhythm section of Nothing More – it has a more of a progressive influence than a mainstream rock influence, and it gives the songs that chaotic feel that makes them so unique.
The show was littered with really interesting elements. Towards the beginning of the show, we got to see the joint bass solo that they have become somewhat famous for. (If you haven’t seen it, check it out here or here.) It’s a staple for them, but somehow still feels invigorating. In addition, they also closed the show in a really unique way. The final song they played was a throwback track called “Salem”. It had everyone in the audience screaming “BURN THE WITCH” through the first and second chorus. When they got to the climax of the song, they launched into an epic drum solo that was quite the spectacle. All four band members played percussion of some kind – drummer Ben Andersen was on the main kit, Dawkins was on a custom built rig at the front of the stage, and the two guitarists both had a single tom hanging from a metal pillar. It was a full on drumline that they brilliantly wove into the fabric of the song that stunned the crowd and solicited the biggest screams Nothing More would get.
In the midst of my already sky-high expectations, this show was spectacular in every way. Nothing More stares in the face of a saturated music landscape, and yet continues to find a way to make every show feel unique. Their song execution, stage presence, and creativity are unparallelled, and everyone I talked to was pretty blown away by this show. Awesome showing by Nothing More.
Gojira headlined the second stage on Day 2 of Chicago Open Air 2016. The French metal titans feature a combination of progressive, thrash, and technical metal, and they brought every bit of that, and more, to the stage in Chicago. The result was a show that had something for everyone. If you wanted to mosh, Gojira gave you plenty of opportunities, and droves of fans took advantage – there’s no question in my mind that this was the most intense and physical show of the day. However, if you were a more technical metal fan, and wanted to just stand and watch, Gojira’s music was interesting and complex enough to afford you that opportunity as well. Personally, I opted to do a little bit of both. 🙂
The song “L’Enfant Sauvage” was brilliant live, and highlighted the dichotomy of Gojira’s sound perfectly. The pretty riffs throughout the chorus and the heavy, chugging breakdowns through the verse combine to make a really stunning song. “Backbone” was another great experience: The pummeling drums had my blood pressure boiling, and singer Joe Duplantier had refreshingly great screams. The final song, “Vacuity”, was also a great highlight. Bassist Jean-Michel Labadie hopped off the stage and climbed the fence until he ended up playing bass while being supported by fans. At the close of “Vacuity”, I was really disappointed that the show was over. I’m not sure how an encore took me by surprise after all these shows, but somehow it did, and I was thrilled when they came back out to play one more song. Their closing song was “Explosia”, which basically blew the proverbial roof off of the place. It was incredible.
Overall, this was an extremely heavy show that was delivered with precision and energy. In addition, both the music and the band felt extremely approachable – so much so that I have to believe they walked away with droves of new fans. No question this was one of the best metal shows of the weekend.
Korn is well known for bringing the heat every time they perform- it’s one of the main reasons that they are practically the only survivors of the nu-metal movement. Korn’s drop tuning and on-stage antics result in a show that is so heavy it’s palpable. The way that they infuse energy into the crowd is amazing, and I cherish each time I have the opportunity to see them. Of the thousands of shows that I’ve seen, nobody can replicate the experience of a Korn show. This particular show, which was the second to last on Day 2 of Chicago Open Air 2016, would prove to be another incredible experience.
There was still daylight when Korn took the stage – the crowd was somewhat tame as they patiently waited for the show. As the band loaded the stage, a track filled with sirens and screams blared over the speakers. There would be no dialogue to open this show – just heavy guitars ringing out with the intro to “Right Now”. Dreads flew everywhere on stage, and Jonathan Davis paced back and forth growling oh-so-familiar lyrics. The crowd went nuts. “SHUUUT UPP” echoed around the venue as the sun finally disappeared behind the stage, which made the light show suddenly prominent. We were off and running on another fantastic Korn experience.
I’ve reviewed Korn countless times before (here, and here for example), so my opinion of the band’s live show is well known. (Cliff’s Notes: Their show is good). I’ll do my best to stick to what made this specific show stand out. After two great songs, we quickly arrived at one of the best parts of this particular show. After pausing to thank Chicago for the strong support over the years, Jonathan Davis launched the band into a brand new song called “Rotting in Vain”. It had a heavy, old-school Korn feel with an an infectious riff, and even threw in a dash of Davis scat singing at the end. Great song that Chicago Open Air 2016 fans got to hear the first time it was ever played live. (Check it out here)
Two more specific highlights: The version of “Shoots & Ladders” they performed was really amazing – Davis started the song by playing bagpipes, and then screamed his way through nursery rhymes like a champ (which is cool in and of itself). In addition, rather than ending the song traditionally, they mixed it with Metallica’s “One” to create a really cool mash-up. Another spectacular song was “Blind”, which is always great, but felt especially abrasive this show. We didn’t hear “Blind” until about halfway through the show, and the energy in the venue was just amazing. That song is designed to fly off the handles at the very beginning, and when the lyrics hit, off the handles we flew.
“ARE. YOU. REEEEADDDDYY”
They saved some of their best material for last – the last three songs of this show were “Falling Away From Me”, “Got the Life”, and “Freak on a Leash”. Those three provided a lethal combination to end the show, I was completely entranced watching the band perform this last segment. I can’t think of a better way to close the book on another great Korn show.
Korn is the model of a professional band – their talent and work ethic produce a consistently strong show, and I have a ton of respect for them. Nearly twenty five years after Korn came onto the scene, they are still crushing shows left and right. Ultimately, Jonathan Davis will go down as one of the most talented performers of his generation, this show at Chicago Open Air 2016 did a great job of showing what they are really capable of. It was an intense experience, and one of the better Korn shows I’ve seen. I was completely exhausted at the end, and I loved every minute of it.
That’s a wrap for coverage of Chicago Open Air 2016 Day 2 (Saturday)!! It was a fantastic day of music that many won’t soon forget. Thanks for reading! See below for more great coverage of Chicago Open Air 2016, and stay tuned for Day 3 (Sunday) reviews, and the ultimate: an in depth analysis of the Rammstein show on Friday that might be the best show I’ve ever seen.