Last year in mid July I saw down at my house without much to do. It was sad knowing that the same weekend over the previous two years was spent catching several fantastic acts like Rammstein, Gojira, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and more at the Chicago Open Air festival. When the news came that the festival wouldn’t be happening in 2018, I was devastated. I had made several friends and memories both years at the festival and was really looking forward to it again. It was promised to return in 2019 but many people were unsure that it would actually happen. In September, it was announced that Chicago Open Air would be returning, but it was weirdly worded. It was said that it would now be titled “A Day In The Park” and would take place the same weekend as the new Danny Wimmer Presents festival, Sonic Temple. Many of us were unsure what this meant exactly, but we knew that the festival definitely was not going to be the same. Eventually the lineup was rolled out in January, and the “A Day In The Park” vision never really happened. Instead, the event was two days with only one stage. This was different compared to the previous years as it was three days with two stages. Despite being a small lineup, there were several killer acts on it to keep me happy like System of a Down, Tool, The Prodigy, Gojira, and ten more acts.
Unfortunately, The Prodigy was unable to perform following the death of Keith Flint. The Cult filled their spot on Sunday, playing before Tool. This year was definitely all about the music, as the huge selection of food options from 2016 and 2017 just wasn’t there this year. The experiences like the Bier Hall, Monster Energy, Music Experience, and FYE weren’t there either. Most of them were at the sister event the same weekend for Sonic Temple. It was also strange seeing the division of the general admission floor. Anyone that bought floor tickets before a certain date were granted access to the front section. This was a great incentive for those buyers but it wasn’t properly planned out and was fairly empty during most acts, even during some of the headliners’ sets. It’s great that the event catered to the early buyers, but the space should have been more evenly planned so that the early bands weren’t playing to people over 300 feet from the stage. It also just looked awkward having that much space between the crowd. With some tweaking, it could be a good system, but it was pretty messy there. Despite that, the bands that got to play after the weather on Saturday put on stellar shows and made sure everyone that stayed through the storms didn’t regret it at all. Check out our review and photo gallery below of System of a Down, Ghost, Meshuggah, and Beartooth.
One of the few things that sucks about outdoor events is weather. The event has no control over it and has to do the best they can to ensure the safety of their fans. Through the first three hours of the event, gates were delayed because of an intense storm and downpour that rolled through Bridgeview. Because of this, the hardcore trio of bands Vein, Knocked Loose, and Code Orange were scrapped because of time constraints. If you were willing to drive after the show though, all three bands played an aftershow at the Metro with Harm’s Way, which lasted until 4 in the morning. We weren’t able to make it out to that show but we heard that it was absolutely epic. It was a bummer not being able to catch these bands. Once the weather cleared up, we were treated to some great performances for the rest of the night.
Beartooth warmed up the crowd quickly, kicking off their set with the electric “Bad Listener” from their new album ‘Disease’. Caleb Shomo has an infectious stage presence, moving quickly around the stage and defining what it’s like to headbang until your head falls off. The band has come a long way since first performing at Chicago Open Air on the side stage in 2016. They’ve gotten continuously tighter live and have quite the arsenal for live material that’s great for these big arena and stadium shows. “In Between” and “Aggressive” were screamed by nearly every fan in attendance. Tons of fans were sporting their Beartooth merch that day and they were definitely wanting more after the blistering 9 song set. For being the first band of the day, the sound was great. I was getting a clear sound of all the instruments from where I was. It was like this throughout most of the weekend with the exception of one or two sets. Beartooth got Chicago moving and showed that all the fans weren’t going to let some bad weather damper their vibes for the weekend.
Somehow, Swedish djent legends Meshuggah have become the house band of Chicago Open Air. It doesn’t seem possible to have a Chicago Open Air lineup without them present. Returning for the third year, the band destroyed minds with their ever complex rhythms and riffs. Getting to watch drummer Thomas Haake in person is worth the price of admission alone for the festival. There aren’t many, if any at all on his level in the genre. As their set went on, the crowd began to pack in. One thing that these festivals don’t fully highlight is how intense Meshuggah‘s light show is. I highly recommend also seeing them in a smaller venue and being awed by their polarizing strobes and flashing light. Songs like “Pravus” and “Rational Gaze” highlight the set as they demonstrate their unparalleled technical playing and song writing ability flawlessly. I’ve said for a long time that you don’t just see Meshuggah live, you experience them. As long as Meshuggah continues to return to Chicago Open Air, I will continue to attend the event.
I’ve been skeptical about Ghost for a while. I saw them three years ago at Rock on the Range and was left underwhelmed. I didn’t get the hype and was left scratching my head about them since then. Now that the band has moved up on the festival bills, I understand the hype. Ghost is a live spectacle that you have to see with their full production to understand. The Cardinal commands your attention with charisma and cunning that few frontmen possess nowadays. The Nameless Ghouls continuously entertain as they carry out their duty without expression to increase dramatics. The band has even bought out some pyro and loud flash bangs on this run with a huge stage and backdrop to make for an epic atmosphere. Having another album under their belt has helped them immensely. There is no filler in the hour that they are on the stage as they storm through big rock hits like “Cirice”, “Square Hammer”, and “Dance Macabre” along with old fan favorites like “Year Zero” and “Ritual”. The theatrics that the band bring forth are absolutely memorable and created a show that left me wanting to see more. As the sun set, Ghost surprised many non-believers and delivered a headline worthy set.
When Ghost finished up, reality began to set in. The band that many of us had waited a decade or more to see was about to take the stage. System of a Down is without a doubt one of the most iconic bands to come out in the last twenty five years. Since their inception, they have stunned listeners with their political commentary and downright weird. Without any new material since 2005, the fans have had plenty of time to get familiar with their discography. Nearly everyone I was around knew every word of the set as the band stormed through a 27 song set in 95 minutes. All five albums were represented with a heavy helping of material from ‘Toxicity’ and ‘Mesmerize’. It’s crazy that they can play a set that long and still have several songs not played that I wanted to hear. As far as the band goes, they were solid. John is truly one of the most underrated drummers in metal. Shavo is the most interactive member of the band, leaving his post several times to get the crowd going. Daron held his spot down for most of the night looking like a lone cowboy on stage as he yelled for everyone to spin around during “Toxicity”. The heaviness that his one guitar brings to their live sound is astounding. Some of their songs (even “Prison Song”) sound twice as heavy as they do on record because of his guitar tone. Serj is still recognized as one of the most prominent vocalists in metal today. He has branched out over the years but can still scream his ass off. He proves this on songs in the set like “Suite-Pee” and “Sugar”. With the wave of a finger, the crowd goes absolutely insane as he launches into his complex, rambling lyrics that still remain relevant after so many years. Overall, the show was what I expected it to be. They delivered a heavy set featuring hits like “Chop Suey” and “BYOB” but also included some of own favorites like “Suite-Pee”, “Suggestions”, and “Deer Dance”. I’m definitely glad I was able to finally see System of a Down. There are so many memories attached to their music and it felt like fulfilling one of my lifelong dreams. If you are a fan, I highly recommend seeing them when you get the opportunity as touring is a rare occasion for them.
With a rough start to day one, the four bands that performed more than made up for the lackluster weather. In fact, we couldn’t wait to come back for day 2, which will be discussed in the next review. Please check out our photo gallery below of Beartooth, Meshuggah, Ghost, and System of a Down. Make sure to follow us and Chicago Open Air on Facebook for more updates about the event in the future.