Concert Review: Open Air Chicago 2017 - KISS, Rob Zombie, Megadeth, Anthrax And More (Friday, July 14, 2017 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview)

Concert Review: Open Air Chicago 2017 - KISS, Rob Zombie, Megadeth, Anthrax And More (Friday, July 14, 2017 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview)

Open Air Chicago is bigger than ever in 2017 and got underway Friday morning in south suburban Bridgeview with performances from KISS, Rob Zombie, Megadeth, Anthrax, Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah and more… 

Celebrating not just hard rock and heavy metal but craft beer and gourmet food experiences, Open Air 2017 kicked off Friday in the sun at Toyota Park.

Utilizing the spacious parking lots on the west side of the stadium north of 71st Street, Open Air features a second, massive outdoor stage and plenty of room to explore the myriad food and drink options. While it begged the question early, “Where are they going to park all the extra cars later?” there’s no denying how easy it was to traverse the second stage surroundings all afternoon and into the evening.

As outdoor venues in the Chicagoland area continue the concert beer price arms race (Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island remains in the lead thanks to their unconscionable offering of $13.50 Bud Light cans), Open Air should be commended for keeping things extremely reasonable.

With a great offering of local and regional craft beers from brewers like Two Brothers, Revolution, Lagunitas, Goose Island, Surly, 3 Floyds and more, I was preparing to be gouged. But $10 for a twenty ounce Surly Furious IPA draft was more than fair (especially at a festival).

Performances started Friday as early as 11:50AM though day one really kicked into gear as Anthrax took to the Toyota Park main stage right on time at 4:40PM.

“Thank you for having us back!” said bassist Scott Ian early in a set that began with 1987’s thrash anthem, “Caught in a Mosh.” “We have a long relationship with this city!” he continued as the band headed into a scorching take on “Breathing Lightning” from their acclaimed 2016 studio effort For All Kings.

Vocalist Joey Belladonna remains both in the fold and in fine voice and Anthrax tore through some of their biggest hits – “Antisocial” and “Indians” – to close their quick, forty-five minute set (pausing briefly to work in a snippet of Kiss’s “Parasite” in a nod toward what was still to come Friday night on the main stage).

As Dillinger Escape Plan moved through an energetic set outside Toyota Park on the Blackcraft stage, the stage was being set for thrash titans Megadeth inside.

Open Air 2017 features performances by three of thrash metal’s “Big Four” and Friday’s slate saw two of them in Anthrax and Megadeth (with Slayer still to come Sunday night).

Musically, Megadeth sounds just about as good as they ever have.

Vocally, Dave Mustaine does not.

The band tunes down to accommodate his singing in a lower key (most notably on “Symphony of Destruction”) while Mustaine himself opts to let the fans handle large chunks of familiar refrains (“Peace Sells”).

And while there’s little to focus on in terms of Megadeth stage presence (especially noticeable following Dillinger Escape Plan), the guitar heroics of Mustaine and Kiko Loureiro more than make up for it.

Megadeth has turned into a bit of a rotating cast over the years outside of Mustaine and long time bass player David Ellefson. Loureiro impressively captured the essence of a number of Megadeth guitarists onstage Friday over the group’s fifty minutes.

Mixing Megadeth classics like opener “Hangar 18” and “Sweating Bullets” early with a pair of tracks from their latest studio effort, 2016’s Dystopia, the dual guitar attack was particularly impressive on “She-Wolf.”

Mascot Vic Rattlehead made an appearance during “Peace Sells” as the band headed for the finish line with “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.”

“You know how this goes… You’ve been great. We’ve been Megadeth. Good night!” said Mustaine in a familiar refrain bidding the crowd adieu as Meshuggah took to the Blackcraft stage outside for the afternoon’s final performance there. Festivities moved back into Toyota Park following Meshuggah, closing up day one of Open Air with sets by Rob Zombie and Kiss.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” said Rob Zombie early in his hour set. “So I’m not gonna f–k around.”

Ironically, he proceeded to do exactly that with drawn out rants on Area 51 and the state of cable news in 2017. An “impromptu” song about Chicago followed as did a contest which involved crowd surfing inflatable aliens.

“We’re wrapping up our touring for the year and realized we needed to have one last satanic orgy in Chicago!” observed Zombie in his role as dementedly entertaining horrorcore emcee.

While entertaining, such antics frequently threw off the pace and excitement of an otherwise enjoyable headlining set that drew primarily upon solo Rob Zombie work while peppering in White Zombie hits and other covers.

“Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown,” one of the finest Zombie singles in over a decade, opened the show and set a rocking early pace that continued with “Superbeast” and “Living Dead Girl.”

Longtime Rob Zombie sideman John 5 nearly stole the show though, channeling Eddie Van Halen throughout an otherworldly guitar solo laced with atmospherics that probed the depths of the patented brown sound.

One of the strongest crowd reactions of the entire night came as Zombie moved to a cover of arena ready Ramones anthem “Blitzkrieg Bop” midway through the White Zombie classic “Thunder Kiss ’65” and back. He ultimately closed the show with an appropriate cover of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” which led directly into his biggest solo hit, “Dragula.”

I’m frequently impressed the way festivals generally operate multiple stages (and egos) on time for the duration of a days long festival. And day one at Open Air ran flawlessly with the finish line in sight.

Until KISS began their ninety minute set seventeen minutes late, playing long past their posted 11:20PM end time (to the presumable chagrin of Bridgeview residents around Toyota Park).

The sound seemed off/low as the band finally hit the stage opening with “Deuce” from their 1974 debut (though it improved quick).

Where Rob Zombie can be entertaining and humorous in his emcee role, KISS guitarist/vocalist Paul Stanley largely fails these days. He wasted no time Friday night lambasting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for waiting until 2014 to induct his band.

While his voice seemed to improve as the set went on, it began as a shaky screech more closely resembling the Smurfs’ Gargamel than it did a professional rock vocalist. “Chicago, we go all the way back to the Aragon Ballroom!” he croaked, voice cracking, during his intro to “Lick it Up.”

With the exception of the band members employed at any given time, there’s very little that’s changed about the KISS shtick even after almost forty-five years.

Founding members Gene Simmons (bass and vocals) and Paul Stanley (guitar and vocals) are joined these days by Tommy Thayer as the spaceman (lead guitar and vocals since 2002), while Eric Singer steps into the cat costume (drums and vocals on and off since 1991). Despite many recent rumors, original guitarist and drummer Ace Frehley and Peter Criss remain on the outside.

But, at the end of the day, it’s hard not to have fun at a KISS show. Gene Simmons still breathes fire and the “God of Thunder” remains as entertaining onstage as ever. Friday night, it was particularly appropriate as the precursor to “Firehouse” inside Toyota Park, the home of MLS soccer team the Chicago Fire.

Gene also took part in a typically poor bass solo – but that was ok because he split blood and flew to the top of the stage. 

And Paul still rides the zipline from the stage to a riser at the floor’s center to perform. On night one of Open Air, he did “Psycho Circus” and a particularly potent take on “Black Diamond,” heading back to the stage to close the main set with the band’s biggest hit, “Rock and Roll All Nite” as pyro rolled, fireworks exploded, confetti fell… and neighbors awoke.

*** For more on Chicago Open Air 2017, check out our comprehensive event preview…

– Jim Ryan ( @RadioJimRyan )

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