Chicago Open Air 2016
Day 3: Saturday, July 17, 2016
Toyota Stadium – Bridgeview, IL
After two fantastic days of Chicago Open Air 2016, we woke up on Sunday with sore muscles and slight sunburns. However, none of that would stop the excitement surrounding a wild and crazy lineup of bands that was set to play that day. Some aspirin, a big breakfast, and the blackest coffee we could find, and we were off to Toyota Park for Day 3.
The first two days could be considered nothing but a wild success, and no doubt Day 3 would be more of the same. This was the first annual Chicago Open Air festival, and yet typical first-year snafus were noticeably absent at this festival. Logistically, Toyota Park was really well set up. Entrance to the festival was quick and easy thanks to a cloth wrist band that lasted all weekend. Restrooms and food vendors were plentiful and located in great spots. The side stage was extremely well built, and oriented in a way that could support a huge audience. In fact, in talking with countless other fans, the biggest complaint I heard was related to the stairs between the main stage and the side stage. Trust me – if that’s the biggest challenge that a first year festival like this has, it’s a raving success.
Musically, the venue was also a home run. So far, we’d been treated to many fantastic and unforgettable shows over the first two days. Day 3 also featured an incredible lineup, with We Came as Romans, Letlive, Babymetal, Killswitch Engage, and Five Finger Death Punch all slated to play. In addition to all those shows, festival headliner Slipknot would close out the weekend.
On a day that threatened thunderstorms, I couldn’t wait to get started. Chicago Open Air Day 3 – bring this thing home.
All that Remains
All that Remains kicked us off on the main stage for Day 3, and this was an intriguing show for me. This band has evolved tremendously over the years, and the sound on their two most recent records barely resembles their mid-2000’s metalcore sound that many fans fell in love with. This show had the potential to prove that All that Remains could resolve the their two distinct sounds into a single coherent thought.
There’s no question this show was still anchored by their older material. Songs like “Six”, “Two Weeks”, and “This Calling” were all really great live, and set the tone for the show. In addition, they had no trouble successfully mixing in more recent material, including hard rock songs like “Stand Up”, and even a power ballad (“What if I Was Nothing”) that’s practically a sing-a-long. The difference in styles between “What If I Was Nothing” and “Six” are stark, but singer Phil Labonte handled it with ease, addressing the genre-shift head on. He made several comments about the fact that they like variety and that they have never been particularly married to a single sound. The result was a show that transitioned between genres relatively smoothly, and didn’t feel disjointed at all.
This performance was refreshingly solid. Labonte has continued to improve over the years, particularly on clean vocals, and as a unit they haven’t missed a step despite bassist Jeanne Sagan leaving the band in 2015 after ten years. I’ve been a big fan of this band for a very long time, and I am thrilled to report that they really took advantage of the massive crowds at this festival and delivered a great show. Kudos.
Bullet for my Valentine
After five albums and nearly twenty years on the scene, UK’s Bullet for my Valentine are veterans of the stage. They have a long history of wildly successful tours, and this show is another rock solid show under their belt. They strolled into Chicago Open Air armed with a great setlist, had great execution, and thrived among an audience that knew nearly every word to every song they played. This show was upbeat, intense, and practically immune to criticism.
The strongest part of the show was no doubt the latter half. Four songs in, they opened the place up with a blistering version of “Scream Aim Fire”, and then following that went right into “Tears Don’t Fall”. Always a crowd favorite, “Tears Don’t Fall” is an incredible song that very frequently acts as their closer. In fact, the audience started to drift away from the stage as the song concluded because they assumed the show was over. However, Tuck pulled an ace out of his sleeve by announcing that they weren’t done at all, and that they had one song left. That final song just happened to be their fastest and most aggressive song, and “Waking the Demon” would be the final piece of a great live show.
This show doesn’t quite stand up to some of the headlining shows that I’ve seen them perform at small venues across the US, but as far as festivals go, this was a very strong effort that was a ton of fun. Great show.
Five Finger Death Punch
Five Finger Death Punch spends a tremendous amount of time touring. I’d be hard pressed to come up with a band that I’ve seen more in the last five years than them, and their shows oscillate between solid and exceptional. Most recently, their effort at Rock on the Range 2016 was one of their absolute best, and as a result, my expectations were sky high.
5FDP took us on a familiar journey at Chicago Open Air 2016. They made us get physical, with hard-hitting songs like “Never Enough” and “Hard to See”. They made us hold up lighters during songs like “Battle Born”. They made us sing our lungs out with songs like “Bad Company”. It was a formula that has done very well for Five Finger Death Punch, and while the approach here wasn’t unique, the execution was at such a high level that you’re forced to respect the show. The fact is that they are great performers, and singer Ivan Moody dominates the stage.
The highlight of this show was their closer, “The Bleeding”. Not only is it their best song, but it was the song they had the most fun performing. Throughout this song, they were laughing, smiling at each other, inciting the audience, and having a blast. In the middle of the song, Ivan pulled a little girl out of the audience and set her up in front of a microphone to let her sing along with him. He’s notorious for pulling kids on stage, but often times it feels contrived, and this felt incredibly authentic. The little girl’s mind was blown, and she was dancing so much that her shoe fell off at one point. It was awesome.
Overall this was a very good show. It couldn’t stand toe to toe with the Rock on the Range show in May, but nonetheless was a solid performance by a great band.
- Jim Breuer put on an awesome show at Rock on the Range 2014. It was a hilarious comedy sketch complete with spot on vocal impressions of Ozzy, Brian Johnson, Dio, Hetfield, and many more. Now he has a full band (now called ‘Jim Breuer and the Loud and Rowdy’), and they released an original album in May. This show wasn’t devoid of comedy, but it had a heavy focus on their new material, and that was a disappointment for me. The ROTR show was far more enjoyable.
- I’ve written rave reviews on We Came as Romans in the past – they have the ability to put on a great show. In fact, parts of this show were great (particularly their old material), but assessing the show as a whole, it lacked energy and ingenuity to compete with others in the metalcore genre that were at this festival.
- I often get criticized for being too positive. Here’s a chance for me to unload. Marilyn Manson’s show at Chicago Open Air 2016 was absolute garbage. If this show is reflective of the product he is currently capable of producing, it’s time for him to hang up the sneakers. I’ve seen Manson put on incredible shows, and he’s too good for this drunken foolishness to be his legacy.
Mind Blowing Performances
The best part of walking into a Letlive show is knowing that you have no idea what’s about to happen. Lead singer Jason Butler’s antics are wild, unpredictable, and exhilarating. He performs with so much energy that he looks like he could explode at any minute, and because of that, there is never a dull moment at a Letlive show.
This show had to be his most insane yet. For starters, towards the beginning of the show, Butler asked the crowd to open up a circle pit. When the response wasn’t to his liking, Butler took things into his own hands. He jumped off the stage, while holding a wired microphone, and climbed across the top of the crowd to the pit. As four or five guys fed him cable, Butler moshed with the audience as he screamed his vocal parts. The crowd went nuts for this – who wouldn’t want to mosh with the lead singer?
As if that weren’t enough, during the instrumental in “Renegade 86” (which just so happens to be an amazing song), Butler wrapped the microphone cable around his neck and climbed the scaffolding of the stage. When he finally got in a position at the top of the scaffolding, he stood up and said “I can see home from here!”. When his vocals came back in, he shook the rigging as he screamed. I was completely blown away.
Butler was great, but don’t misunderstand me. This wasn’t a hollow display of Butler’s insanity. This band is stellar, and even with Butler out of the equation completely, you’re left with incredible musicianship and extremely unique songs. Even with a new guitarist, since Jean Nascimento left last year, the instrumentation of this show was really, really good. Highlights include the aforementioned “Renegated 86”, “Banshee” and their closing song, “Good Morning America”. Bottom line – when you pair a band this good with a vocalist as entertaining as Jason Butler, you end up with really magnificent experience.
Spectacular show – the best I’ve seen from Letlive yet….and that’s saying something.
In 2015, I saw Babymetal perform at Rock on the Range, and it’s evident from the review of that show that I was completely blindsided. Babymetal is described as a fusion of Japanese Idol and heavy metal, which manifests itself as three teenage girls singing pop vocals on top of intense metal music. It totally caught me off guard, but I was determined not to get caught up in the shock value at Chicago Open Air 2016. I’m pleased to say that even in that frame of mind, this performance still absolutely holds up as one of the best of the weekend.
The show started off with a minute long video that described the Fox God, who lives in a heavy metal galaxy far, far away. When the video ended, they launched into a blistering opening song called “Babymetal Death”. Because this song was almost completely instrumental, it allowed the focus to be on the instrumentalists (known as the Kami Band) before the vocalists took the stage. This was a skillful move – the band is exceptionally talented and any way that they can be featured is a positive in my mind. One other comment on the Kami Band – at Rock on the Range they appeared as stoic figures at the back of the stage, but this show saw them far more animated and engaged, which was a real improvement in my mind.
Once the Kami Band had a chance to shine, the girls skipped on stage and smiled as they launched into “Gimme Chocolate“. This song perfectly illustrates of the wild fusion of genres that Babymetal represents. It’s a vocal-forward song that really highlights the girls pop vocals, which bounce along and make you want to sing along. It also features pummeling drums and break neck guitar solos, along with epic screams of “GIMME CHOCOLATE” from someone in the band. I loved the performance of this song – it was the point of the show where the audience really started to engage. They also played songs called “Catch Me if You Can” and “Karate”, both which were extremely well performed. Whether or not you are on board with this style of music, the talent in this group is unquestionable.
From an audience standpoint, it’s apparent that the sphere of influence that Babymetal has in the US is growing bigger and bigger. The crowd was absolutely packed for this show, and somewhat mixed in their experience with the band. You could tell that some couldn’t wait for the show to start, and others didn’t know what to expect, but the place was packed nonetheless – a clear indicator that word is starting to spread about this group.
My absolute favorite moment from this show was during “Catch Me if You Can”, when the primary vocalist demanded a circle pit. It took a bit of her encouraging, but ultimately the crowd obeyed. In fact, during the last turn through the chorus, the audience exploded into the biggest circle pit of the entire weekend. (Think about that – think about the list of bands that were at this festival, and the biggest circle pit goes to Babymetal. Woah.)
In reviewing for this segment, I was watching this Youtube video, where a comment by higler420 perfectly summed up this show: “Three little girls telling a crowd of mostly adult males that they want to see a bigger circle pit. Can this be any more metal?”.
No. No it can’t. AMAZING show.
Adam D. and the gang had the luxury of headlining the side stage on the last day of Chicago Open Air 2016, and it was an honor that they would not take lightly.
No disrespect to the band at all, but the reason this show stands out so well in my mind was that the audience was just phenomenal. Say what you want about the audience throughout this festival, but they were absolutely rabid for Killswitch Engage. From the opening song, the crowd was locked into every part of this show – every single person was moving, every horn was in the air, and every voice was screaming at full capacity. The result was an overwhelming environment that combined with the exceptional music on stage to create one of the best live music experiences I’ve had in years.
As good as the crowd was, that kind of experience doesn’t happen without an incredible performance, and that’s exactly what Killswitch Engage delivered. Most of my time was spent focused on the aforementioned Adam Dutkiewicz, who plays lead guitar. He comes alive on stage in a way that few other people do, combining his unbelievable skill with his patented goofy antics (and usually a ridiculous costume to add effect). He is so much fun to watch. I also really enjoyed listening to Jesse Leach, who has rounded into exceptional form. His growls are as potent as ever, and his clean vocals have really improved since rejoining the band in 2012. The rhythm section was extremely tight, and overall this show was professional in every sense of that word.
The set list they chose was peppered with songs from all over their discography, and gave great insight into the evolution of the band. Old school tracks like “My Curse” and “End of Heartache”, and newer songs like “Beyond the Flames” and “Strength of the Mind” were all featured. I also absolutely loved “Rose of Sharyn”, which featured screams from Leach that proved why he is such an elite vocalist.
This show also did a great job of highlighting the unique formula that Killswitch follows. While they couldn’t be more serious about their music, they don’t take themselves seriously at all. Their approach is humble and laid-back, and they connect with the audience by being approachable and goofy. Yet somehow, their shows are brutal beyond belief. A perfect example – during this set, Leach made a comment about how he was almost out of tequila. As he said “cheers” to the audience, SiriusXM’s Jose Mangin ran on stage (in the middle of their set)…. and handed him a bottle of tequila while laughing. His response? Shrug, laugh, and take a huge pull off the bottle. Less than five seconds later, they launched into brutal opening for “Hate By Design”, and the crowd took off.
There were no frills to this show. No theatrics, no elaborate set designs. No overly serious monologues. Just clean, hard, metal played exceptionally well. They absolutely crushed this show.
We’ve reached the end of the weekend. Only one show stood between us and a brutal four hour drive home through terrifying thunderstorms. However, there would be no cool-down lap at this show. Not with the almighty Slipknot slated to finish this thing off. As the Nine loaded the stage, vocalist Corey Taylor made it very clear that there would be no idling through this last show. As the intro to “The Negative One” played, Taylor’s voice echoed throughout the venue. “CHICAGO!!!! ARE YOU READY FOR THIS??” The crowd went from loud to absolutely deafening.
Slipknot wasted no time proving to everyone that they meant business. Taylor, who sported a neck brace due to a recent surgery, was incredibly animated despite strict orders to refrain from headbanging. It was Taylor’s haunting laugh that transitioned us from the opener to the second song, which was “Disasterpiece” off of the genre-defining album “Iowa”. I can still hear the breakdown of this song echoing in my head. Two songs in, and the place was already electric.
There are no weak spots in a Slipknot show, so in the interest of keeping this concise, I have to fast forward a few songs. Entering the heart of the show, the stage went completely dark, and that beloved robotic voice came over the speakers. “Eight…Seven…Six…Six…Six…” Before it even got to “seven”, every person in the crowd knew that “The Heretic Anthem” was coming. An already intense show turned the screws up even more. It was bedlam.
“If you’re 5. 5. 5. Then I’m 6. 6. 6. What’s it like to be a HERETIC.”
They followed up that song with really killer renditions of “Psychosocial”, “The Devil in I”, and “Wait and Bleed”. It was amazingly intense and exhausting – the entire crowd was pulsing, and by the end of “Wait and Bleed”, I was completely out of breath. The band was insane on stage – each member creating their own unique chaos. (As an example, Jim Root literally fell off of a small platform and landed directly on his back). During the last few measures of the song, the band was headbanging and the bass was hitting so hard that the entire speaker racks were shaking.
Just when I hoped for a quick breather, Taylor screamed “Are you READY?” turned around, and pointed to drummer Jay Weinberg. As the lights disappeared again, the percussion section exploded in a way that only Slipknot (and their three separate percussionists) can pull off. The speaker system echoed “Here comes the pain!” and we were head first into the last song of the main show, “(sic)”.
The beginning of the encore was the song “Surfacing”. As Taylor breathed fire, screaming “I am the push that makes you MOVE”, I was mesmerized by the flashing graphics. The massive LED screen behind the band intermixed gory depictions of maggots, bugs, and snakes with the original dark blue Slipknot logo. I hadn’t seen this logo in so many years – it was a brilliant nod to their roots and their fans absolutely ate it up.
In addition to “Surfacing”, they also played “Duality” before ultimately landing on none other than “Spit it Out”. At this point during the show, I had to laugh. There were WAY too many bands at Chicago Open Air that asked the audience to get down on one knee for various reasons. (At least eight that I can think of). It’s become the new fad – and bands had varying degrees of success depending on how hard the lead singer pushed the issue.
Slipknot didn’t ask. They didn’t have to ask. Taylor said there was one more song. Tens of thousands screamed and kneeled in unison. That’s the mighty power of Slipknot.
We jumped when we were supposed to jump, and at Taylor’s request, we unleashed hell on his signal. Just another day at work for Slipknot, and just another incredibly memorable show for the droves of fans that showed up to see them play. Just like that, it was over. It was a fitting way to end an incredible weekend in Chicago.
One last comment – it’s uncharacteristic for me to end a Slipknot review without commenting that they are the best in the industry – without saying that nothing can compete with their live show. I’m selectively withholding those statements for Chicago Open Air, because there WAS a show that competed with Slipknot at Chicago Open Air.
I hope you stay tuned. One more post to come. That post will cover the Rammstein show from Day 1, and oh man what a show it was. In the meantime, check out the posts from the previous days below.
Thanks to the festival organizers for putting on such a well organized weekend, to all the bands, and most of all, to all the great fans that I met. Special thanks to those who helped contribute photos to the site – those photos tell a visual story that I could never tell!
Until next time friends. Cheers!