Ever look at a festival lineup and think, I could do a better job at picking bands than these people. How do I get that job? Well for the Orion Music + More Festival, the answer is: be a successful metal band for 30 years and then do it yourself.
For its second year in a row, Metallica brought the fire, the heat, and the sounds to a festival setting — shifting the action away from Atlantic City, NY to the rustic confines of Detroit, MI, specifically Belle Isle. Once again, they presided over an eclectic mix of metal, rock, punk, and even EDM (it’s everywhere and you’ll never escape it).
Produced by C3 Presents…, the two-day festival shares many similarities to Lollapalloza, but it’s far smaller and more manageable. In fact, the festival grounds are maybe half the size of Lollapalooza, which makes it easier for everyone to get from stage to stage, but still big enough where only a little bit of noise bled from other stages.
Even if they’re all pushing 50, Metallica knows what sort of music their fans dig. And like a smart, savvy friend, they’re insisting they branch out to younger talent like Datsik or The Orwells. It’s like this weird symbiotic relationship, where James Hetfield & Co. endorse something and then the fans oblige. It’s exposure for everyone, both artists and fans.
Here are 12 things we brought back with us from the Motor City.
Chicago’s own The Orwells had the dubious pleasure of being one of the opening bands for the entire weekend (other being The Bronx); playing the 2pm slot on the Damage stage. After Metallica’s Rob Trujillo introduced them as one of the youngest bands at the festival, the fresh faced five-some strolled on the stage confident and shy. Once their brand of poppy rock started, however, they were completely comfortable in front of the small opening day crowd. Lead singer Mario Cuomo jerked and zombied across the stage in a kind of half-seizure like stupor, while the band bounced and bopped behind him. The crowd quickly grew to see these kids blast out a fast paced set, and the kids did the best thing opening bands can do: gain a lot of new fans. Great way to start the weekend.
How loud? Louder than love.
Rocket From the Crypt
Near the end of a sweaty, raucous, and muscular hour – during a bass breakdown in set closer “Come See Come Saw” — Rocket From the Crypt honcho John Reis led into a discussion about the anatomical peculiarities of male pitbull dogs that served as a chance to get the crowd to chant “Front ball! Back ball!” with him as he and his five reunited bandmates turned up the R&B hustle before a noisy freakout to end the song and their ninth show back in action. That Reis can still get a crowd to follow him down any path he wants is proof enough that RFTC’s reunion is way overdue and one of the best ideas anyone’s had this decade.
Going heavy on material from 1995’s Scream, Dracula, Scream!, including an in-order run of its opening triad “Middle”, “Born In ’69”, and “On A Rope”, the San Diegoans had it all going for a crowd of just a couple hundred fans who hadn’t migrated to the other side of the park to snag a spot for Orion Fest headliners/curators Metallica. They made the right call, and even though the band was buffeted by noise bleeding from Death and Gogol Bordello on nearby stages, in up close under that tent, Reis and company made their set feel like a dive bar club show, i.e. RFTC’s most ideal setting.
How loud? GET! OUT!
Rise Against have been a festival mainstay for nearly 15 years, and their anthemic punk rock was a perfect fit for the bill. The band ran out on stage to the legendary “Mad as hell” speech from Network accompanied by videos of street riots. The tone was set, and the mosh-ready crowd exploded at the first hard drum hit. Guitarist Zach Blair flailed and bounced off every surface he could find, while lead singer Tim McIIrath held court stage center with fists held high. After years of Warped Tour and other festivals, they knew how to work a crowd, and they were as tight as ever.
How loud? Turn it up, bro.
For those willing to look, there were a number of clues going into Saturday afternoon that Orion Music + More festival creators Metallica would take the stage well before their Sunday night headlining set. The festival profile page for unknown Saturday performer Dehaan contained a series links related to actor Dane DeHaan, who stars in Metallica’s forthcoming concert/drama film Through The Never, and the Dehaan stage banner had been covered in graffiti to say “Metal up your ass” in something resembling classic Metallica script.
So for the 2,000 or so assembled at the Vans Damage Inc. Stage around 4:30 p.m. Saturday – Dehaan’s appointed set time – there was happy confirmation when James Hetfield strode onstage and asked the crowd what they knew about the band and said with a verbal wink that “They’re from Baltimore. Nobody knows anything about them but us.”
“Us” being bandmates Lars Ulrich, Rob Trujillo, and Kirk Hammett, who quickly geared up and tore into “Hit The Lights” to kick off a complete run through the band’s 1983 debut album, Kill ‘Em All.
By roughy the two-minute mark of that song the vast majority of crowds from the fest’s other stages were stampeding to the tiny stage for a chance to see one of the biggest bands in the world playing at a time more appropriate for a medium club-level act, which made early material like “Jump In The Fire”, “Whiplash”, and “Seek & Destroy” feel even more kinetic and energized than it would on a headlining stage.
The foursome kept the Dehaan facade up through the end of the set, though Hetfield did offer that he was concerned at one point that the joke/surprise would be a bust and no one would show up. Those worries put to rest, the band thanked the crowd for its support for Dehaan’s first and last show before teasing that if there were to be another performance it’d be a run through 1997’s oft-reviled Reload.
How loud? What? WHAT?!
The reunited members of Black Flag have split camps into FLAG and Black Flag, though Keith Morris and other FLAG members don’t think it’s about competition, just the music. FLAG took the stage late in the day to stake their claim as the rightful heirs to the Black Flag legacy. All the members still have the enthusiasm they once had, but the power has dissipated. Seeing original bassist Chuck Dukowski in a bucket hat, bright red pants, and a nice clean button down, doesn’t quite inspire the same angst the band once had. Anthems like “I Don’t Care”, “White Minority”, and “Rise Above” were tight, and sounded great, but some of the insanity and luster has worn off. Great to see them all together again, but makes you long for the original. Though, that cover of “Louie Louie” was a fucking blast.
How loud? It’s like they should be at 11, but they’re stuck at a clean 7.
It might seem lazy at first to link Vancouver indie rockers Japandroids with The Black Keys, an Ohio blues-garage arena act that, like Japandroids, started out as a two-piece rattling club and theater walls all over the land. But the thing about the guitar/drums setup is there’s a definite ceiling to its efficacy on big crowds no matter how skilled the band and the songs it produces. We may be getting near the point where Brian King and David Prowse (like the Keys did years ago to massive success) have to think about adding a bass, second guitar, or keys to their lineup if they want realize the full power of songs like “The Nights Of Wine And Roses” and the majestic “Fire’s Highway”.
On Sunday afternoon, King and Prowse showed why they’ve had a career year since the release of 2012’s Celebration Rock, a record that pushes their two instruments to glorious heights and is sort of a best case scenario for what they do. But in a live setting with two players in the middle of a big field it’s easy to come off thin even when everything’s in the red, which is what happened a few too many times during their mostly very good hour or so up on stage. Put it this way; a song like “The House That Heaven Built” should sound epic every single time it’s played live but on Sunday it felt merely close to great. That right there is cause enough for King and Prowse to start filling out their ranks.
How loud? Needs more gain, Terry.
The Sanitarium stage was Orion what Perry’s Tent is to Lollapalooza: an all EDM dance party. Headliner on the stage for day one was DJ super artist Bassnectar. EDM seems like a weird inclusion at a predominately metal festival, but the stage was packed from the first bass drop to the last. It seems that not even metal fans can scare away furry boots and hula-hoop girls. Metal fans looked on with curiosity while Bassnectar, aka Lorin Ashton, shook Belle Isle with his beats and rapid fans. Standing in front of the speakers your body and head rattled to a nearly unbearable extent. How these kids did it all day, I’ll never know. Ashton put on a great show of lights, dance beats, heavy metal mixes, and more. Something for everyone. Even the security guards were getting down has hard as the fans.
How loud? ::shakes head, rattles ear::
Dillinger Escape Plan
Going into the photo pit for Dillinger Escape Plan we were warned that “these guys like to jump around a lot” and that we needed to be careful. Saying they “jump around a lot” is kind of an understatement, as most fans know, but their early set on the Fuel stage was pretty tame comparatively. Perhaps because guitarist Ben Weinman wasn’t playing due to a broken hand. He did join the band onstage, though; sitting to the side in a chair reading a magazine and giving each song a score on how much he liked it. Once described as “the world’s most dangerous band”, DEP kept things somewhat calm during their set. Not even so much as jumping into the crowd. All well. At least all the photographers were safe.
How loud? You need new speakers.
Chino and the Deftones boys are close friends with Rob and Kirk from Metallica, so having the Metallica giants introduce them and having them play right before the curators themselves makes perfect sense. The fans camped out for Metallica were more than happy to get there extra early for Deftones, and the band hardly disappointed. Two choice cuts off White Pony (“Change (In the House of Flies)” and “Elite”) slid by, while a healthy selection of material off Diamond Eyes (“Rocket Skates”, “You’ve Seen the Butcher”, and its titular track) and Koi No Yoan (“Poltergeist”, “Rosemary”, “Swerve City”, and “Tempest”) fleshed the majority of the set. True to his style, Chino bounced around smiling most of the show, visibly stoked to be playing Orion Fest, and the music took on a more human element because of it. Hell, Rob and Kirk even hung around for the first few songs at the side of the stage as the fans pounded their fists in the afternoon heat.
How loud? Shiiiiiiit.
Everyone who’s seen Gogol Bordello will tell that you have to see Gogol Bordello. They’ll say, “Dude, it’s so insane. The band never stops moving. It’s like a big party the entire time!” They’re right. A Gogol Bordello show is a sight to behold, and they’ve been doing it for years with the same intensity and overwhelming energy. I originally thought that Gogol was a major outlier at Orion, but when Kirk Hammett introduced them and said he jammed with them in the past, and then lead singer Eugene Hutz explained that his music and metal work together because both are about energy and emotion, then I started to understand. Not many people drifted from their spots in front of Metallica to venture across the field for Gogol–though some from the Sanitarium stage left the strobes long enough to catch them–but those that did snorted some fine gypsy punk.
How loud? That’s the wrong question.
Spare thoughts while watching FIDLAR on a Sunday afternoon:
1. The unintentional comedy of watching music festival sign language interpreters deal with the nihilistic rebellion of a band like FIDLAR and convey its lyrics visually can’t be overstated. The nice thing to learn is that “I drink cheap beer! So what? Fuck you!” comes across just as simply and direct when signed as it does spoken.
2. Have FIDLAR and Black Lips toured together yet? Can we make that happen? Drug dealers, attorneys, and bail bondsmen all over the world would likely underwrite the whole thing.
3. Just spitballing here, but it seems like drug legalization – were it ever to happen – would be a death knell for this bunch. They like drugs and almost as much as they like writing songs about taking drugs, is what I’m saying.
4. I’ve strayed somewhat far from the critical hive mind when it comes to FIDLAR’s recent full-length since I think the album’s production buffs off the sharpest edges that make them great. Live, thankfully, they’re still all snotty, reckless, unhinged fury and blazed through “Wake Bake Skate” in somewhere around one minute exactly. It was glorious.
How loud? Fuck! You!
It’s quite the luxury to be able to curate your own festival and thus put yourself in the prime time slot–not to mention the ability to play basically whenever you want, as evident by the Dehaan set. Every single person at Orion had tickets for one reason only: Metallica. Looking out across the field in front of the stage there were circle pits, fist pumping, head banging, and, most of all, smiles from Windsor to Detroit. Metallica have been at this for 30+ years, and their fans run the age gamut, and they were all represented. A kid no more than 14 fist bumped me saying “Kirk Hammett solo man!” while a man in his 50s or 60s just laughed and toasted his tallboy to his friend. The music was air tight. The stage show was big budget and more than impressive. Admittedly, every time a firework, fire ball, or flash pod went off I looked to make sure James Hetfield was okay.
For all the criticism of albums like Reloaded or St. Anger, or that horrid documentary where they just yell at each other for two hours, Metallica’s still got it. Hammett continues to play solos better than any guitarist within 400 miles of his vicinity, Hetfield’s voice still digs into hell (his growl in “I Disappear” hits like a ton of bricks), and Ulrich is…I mean he’s Lars Ulrich. The 30,000+ fans watching Sunday night got everything they wanted: the hits (“Enter Sandman”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”), deep cuts (“Carpe Diem Baby”?!), and enough balls of flame where you could feel the heat even 200 feet from the stage. Metallica have created a festival with staying power, and Detroit seems willing to house them for as long as they’d like.
How loud? THX ain’t got shit on them.
Photographer: Nick Freed