Just two years into its annual tradition, Chicago Open Air scored not only KISS in a rare American festival appearance, but also the proportionately iconic Ozzy Osbourne less than a year after Black Sabbath’s farewell outing. Add in the always consistent Korn, plus an entire weekend’s worth of musical mayhem, and Toyota Park was the place to be for anyone who even remotely favors the heavier side of the dial.
In addition to the remarkably reasonable value for such a lengthy list of acts, Chicago Open Air wisely planned a laid back schedule split between the main and secondary stages.
Besides bringing melodic intensity to marathon, Friday’s headliner KISS also spared no expense when it came to explosions, breathing fire, airborne trips over the audience and all the other essentials fans have come to expect for more than 40 years of wanting and getting the best. Although Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer blazed through several of the same selections that populate most set lists (“Deuce,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Lick It Up,” “Love Gun”), they appeared to come across with a more revitalized attitude given this was the very first time KISS came to Chicago as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
Upon listening to additional favorites such as “Black Diamond” and “Rock And Roll All Night,” paired with the gargantuan production and members’ superhero status, it’s a more than justified honor that was extremely overdue. Those who missed the opportunity to judge for themselves this round are also in luck because the band is bringing much of the same spectacle back to Chicagoland when its “KISSWorld 2017” Tour visits Aurora’s RiverEdge Park (RiverEdgeAurora.com) on Sunday, August 20.
But before jumping too far ahead on the calendar, there was loads to look back on from Friday, including an engrossing set from shock rocker Rob Zombie, who along with his powerhouse players, roared through both the current (“In The Age Of The Consecrated Vampire We All Get High,” “The Hideous Exhibitions Of A Dedicated Gore Whore”) and the classic (“Thunder Kiss ’65,” “Dragula”). Metal veterans Megadeth also delivered conceptual cuts from the recent “Dystopia” and dug back to the bellowing “Sweating Bullets,” “Symphony Of Destruction,” “Peace Sells” and “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” with Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson and some fresher faces in fairly fierce form.
There were also the timeless thrash anthems of Anthrax, the extreme meets progressive metal mash-up of Meshuggah, unrelenting chaos courtesy of The Dillinger Escape Plan and a sliver of Warped Tour-styled wallop from Falling In Reverse (to name but a few). On the contrary, the earlier part of Saturday found several acts relying on gimmicks to supplement their musical expressions (Mushroomhead, Steel Panther, Avatar), though thankfully, Ice-T and Body Count intermingled a socially-conscious message with their rapid-fire rhymes and bone-crunching guitars.
Additional prominence and dominance came from Godsmack, Seether and Clutch, but it was Korn who truly ruled day two. Opening with monster hits “Rotting In Vain,” “Falling Away From Me” and “Here To Stay” had everyone revved up from the get go, while the chemistry between nu metal’s most meaningful exports has only cemented with each passing year on the road to seminal status.
The blazing Sunday sun was matched by more flames from Amon Amarth, a Swedish death metal staple with who set up shop in front of its trademark Viking-ship head. Lamb Of God kept right up with the decibel-level delivering a groove-infused onslaught, accented by synchronized LED screens.
Stepping aside from Slipknot for a season, Corey Taylor led alt-rockers Stone Sour around an engaging hour with hands down the widest vocal range of the entire event in support of its sixth studio release, “Hydrograd.” And more than three decades into the game, the grizzled Slayer may have been amongst the oldest, but continue to lead the thrashing charge like no other in a menacing class that Tom Araya and company basically created from the ground up.
Speaking of genre pioneers, Chicago Open Air closed with Osbourne turning a brisk but ample solo and band retrospective that found him reuniting with guitar god Zakk Wylde. Despite taking a few tunes to get his bearings and using a teleprompter, “The Prince Of Darkness” and his unbelievable band delivered an electrifying extravaganza as far as any age was concerned, let alone for someone who’s now 68.
Sure, the fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer stumbled around and mumbled in between all the metallic muscle, but once he got fully immersed into the immortal screams of “No More Tears,” “War Pigs,” “Iron Man” and “Crazy Train” enhanced by the all-star supporters, it incited practically every single fist pumping furiously through the air. By “Paranoid,” most cell phones shot up and body surfers whizzed by, while a video montage of vintage footage may have sent an inadvertent reminder that Ozzy isn’t exactly what he used to be, but at least he’s got what it takes to deliver precisely what’s needed at a major gathering of this caliber.
In addition to the remarkably reasonable value for such a lengthy list of acts, Chicago Open Air wisely planned a laid back schedule split between the main and secondary stages. Rather than competing for airtime and battling noise bleed, the timing merely rotated back and forth, allowing everyone to see their top choices and regularly remind anyone who thought that rock was on the decline just how potent and varied of a pulse it possesses.
Daniel DeSlover contributed to this review.