Mastodon–June 14th, 2019–Northerly Island

I’m not sure why Mastodon can’t just play their own shows, opening now twice for weird bands at Northerly Island–though Primus>Coheed, c’mon.  Today’s venture was well worth the trek, because they were doing Crack the Skye in its entirety.  I saw them do this on the initial Crack tour in 2009.  I was so blown away that every time I tripped I watched (and made anyone around me watch) the movie they played to accompany the album from the DVD. Good times! Unless you are not a metalhead and get freaked out by weird visuals amd aggressive music. Then Im guessing it was a bad time. Sorry.

We walked in 5 minutes before Mastodon started, and the early setting took away from the drama. This was very much a Coheed crowd, with Mastodon opening for them. About halfway through Oblivion, any of that nonsense was gone though, and the band absolutely nailed it.  Ripped right through the album and even tacked on a few classics (Blood and Thunder and Crystal Skull were very welcome).  The visual aspect was there too, with a new full movie accompanying the album.  The new movie will not be unseating the original in my drug routine, but it was cool nonetheless, and gave me a chance to do the above-mentioned brag to unfortunate people standing near me between songs. “The old one had even crazier weird flowing spiral things!”

It would be interesting to see them try a full album show with Remission, because that version of Mastodon seems so removed from our current Once More/Emperor crew.  Not so Crack the Skye.  The album is heavy, but the prog is so forward that this iteration of the band seemed comfortable throughout, even Brent “I hate metal” Hinds. That engagement is vital, as it would have been easy to phone in this set. Opening act, 50 mins to play, half-engaged crowd? Mastodon brought it anyways.

We did not stick for Coheed, so my uninformed opinion that they are annoying and poseur-ish maintains.  Bring it.

Chicago Open Air–May 18 and 19, 2019

Saturday

The scaled down Chicago Open Air couldn’t help but be a disappointment this year. Think about Sunday last year–within a 5 hour span, you had Amon Amarth-Behemoth-Lamb of God-Slayer-Ozzy. That’s some Hell Fest level shit right there. Now with only 2 days, 1 stage, no craft beer tent with free metal juke box, and 4 good bands over the 2 days, there was no escaping the spectre of the festivals imminent death.

Not a bad top of the ticket for a funeral though–SOAD, Tool, Gojira, Meshuggah.

Meshuggah kicked it off on Saturday.  They brought it as always, though it felt a bit rote in comparison to the second stage show from the previous year.  Listening to Thorndendal shred and Haake pummel while Jens Kidman is up there just berating the audience like a madman is good in any setting, but nothing really stood out.

It was a lot fucking better than having to endure Ghost though.  Listen everyone, Ghost sucks.  They just do.  The imagery is lame, the guy can’t sing at all, the riffs are barely present, the songwriting is boring.  They are the Nickelback of metal, and I’m hesitant to even grant them that tangential relationship to the genre.  Stop it.

Thank fuck they ended, and it was time for the long-awaited (for me) return of one of my foundational metal bands, System of a Down.  System was the highlight of the whole festival. Never a tight live act, the band relies on the energy and dynamism of their catalog and audience participation in the live setting.  Each element was in full effect here. Having missed the Riot Fest set in 2015, I was simply excited to be in their presence and have the opportuntiy to shout Chop Suey with few thousand fellow former, and some current, disaffected teens whose musical taste was largely shaped by Toxicity. The nu-metal scene has a lot to apologize for, but I am sure I’m not the only metal fan made so by SOAD.

Sunday

Here’s some advice–if you’re 35 years old, don’t stay up til 4 a.m. then try to go to a music festival the next day.  Interpret the below takes with this in mind.

We showed up for Gojira and then had to sit through The Cult.  What an interesting contrast.


Gojira struggled to fill the space. This likely had more to do with the sound system than the band, but anyone who has seen them in a smaller room knows the real power is their ability to overwhelm, and without that, they do not deliver in the way you want. The material and stage presence was still strong though.

They fared much better than The Cult.  The tragedy of what happened to the Prodigy was palpable, and so was the hostility.  I didn’t notice any outright booing, but you know things are rough when the singer defeatedly says between every song, “C’mon guys, this is a rock show.  We are supposed to be having fun.”  He may as well have said, “Please?  Just pretend to like us?” Fire Woman or Smokestack Lightning or whatever the fuck that song is called is still a good song, but the band’s inclusion here was more indicative of the ineptness of this dead festival than anything else.

Tool did not fare quite as well as System on Sunday. Heres a hot take–retire the current “classics” in the set. Stinkfist, 46 & 2, Schism–they are all great, but we have heard them all numerous times by now. I think the Tool live show would be invigorated by some deep cuts.  Despite a bit of monotony, however, it is always a privilege to watch these guys play their instruments. Maynard was also center stage and visible, which offered a new dynamic and bodes well for the upcoming tour on the somehow real new album.

In between the sets, you could…buy a pretzel? Yikes. Outside of the bands themselves there was nothing festival about this. I would be stunned if this isnt the last Open Air. But if they do bring it back, enough with the cost trimming. It didnt do you any favors attendance wise, and alienated plenty who did show.