bill bodkin reviews metallica’s two-day fest…
Now that’s how you do a festival.
Metallica’s Orion Music + More Festival, which was held on June 23 and June 24 at Bader Airfield in Atlantic City, New Jersey, was truly one of the coolest festivals I’ve ever attended. This isn’t a knock on other festivals but the totality of Metallica’s festival was more epic, more grand and more fun than I ever could’ve imagined.
First off, the choice of Bader Field was brilliant. It’s expansive and right on the water, which provided both luxurious views but also well-needed breezes. The set-up of the festival, circular in nature, was great. With four stages, this could’ve been a disaster to maneuver about, but everything was spread out with such precision that it made the festival just that much more enjoyable.
Besides the music there was a classic car show, a skateboard ramp plus horror movie, art, memorabilia and charitable installations.
And all this might seem superfluous, but it truly reflected the ultimate goal of Orion — to reflect the loves and tastes of Metallica. This easily could’ve been a two day heavy metal festival, but the band decided to make it special. They hand choose bands from not just the metal and rock world but jazz, blues, country, pop, punk and comedy worlds. They brought bands to the show that were real throwback treats to their fans like Suicidal Tendencies and Sepultura but also bands that be off their fans’ radar like Best Coast and The Soul Rebels.
It was just a really awesome weekend, filled with bands I love, bands I finally go to see in concert and bands that I discovered and fell in love with.
Lucero (Orion Stage)
I had heard about Lucero from Pop-Break’s Jeanne Crump, so I was interested in checking them out. Their whiskey-soaked mixture of punk, country and blues was entertaining and highly enjoyable. Fans of Social Distortion would definitely dig a band like Lucero for sure (although I think they’d probably know about them already). The band really has this rough yet refined working man quality that actually is very in-tune with Metallica’s core fanbase and the response they received from the mid-afternoon crowd reflected that.
Don Jamieson (Frantic Tent)
I had to catch Don’s set at the Frantic tent. I’ve been covering him for well over five years and have interviewed him more times than just about anyone else in my career. I think he’s hilarious and on this Saturday afternoon he performed to a packed audience. The current That Metal Show co-host performed a number of bits you can find on his debut album Live & Hilarious as well as some well-timed metal jokes including a few well-deserved digs at Axl Rose. His unabashed love of heavy metal and his vh1 hosting gig made him the perfect addition to the festival and kudos to Metallica for adding the comedy element to Orion.
The Gaslight Anthem (Orion Stage)
It’s no secret that I love this band and it has been one of my biggest musical frustrations to have missed multiple opportunities to see them live. Outside of Metallica, Gaslight Anthem were hands down the best performers of the two day event. They had the crowd eating from the palm of their hand the entire set. And what I personally enjoyed about their set was you can tell that this band loves performing. I mean the smiles on Brian Fallon and Benny Horowitz’s faces during this set were infectious. You could tell the band was just stoked to be there. And of course, makes me pop like mentions of New Brunswick and The Court Tavern, which Fallon put over huge. Also, if you haven’t listened to the band’s new single “45″ do so immediately, it’s probably one of their best songs to date.
Modest Mouse (Orion)
I’m usually a very positive person on this site, but honestly, this was singelhandedly the worst performance of the two days. I mean this was terrible. First, to give the band a break, whoever did their audio, should really be taken to task. They did a terrible job on lead singer Isaac Brock’s mic. It was so muddy and so low, he was practically unintelligible. As for the band’s set, well the audience was pretty quiet and only really came alive during the band’s megahit “Float On.” The rest of the time they looked at their phones wondering if the band’s hour was up. It was just an odd set and I think the risk Metallica took of bringing bands that were outside their fanbase’s wheelhouse did not pay off with Modest Mouse.
Metallica (Orion Stage)
I’m putting my bias out front for you — this is my favorite band of all-time. Outside of their Lou Reed collaboration, they can do no wrong in my eyes. And on this night they absolutely slayed it. They opened things up with “Hit the Lights” off Kill ‘Em All followed by “Master of Puppets” and then “The Four Horsemen” — all performed with furious anger and reckless abandon … in short, perfect. On this first night they performed all of their second, classic record, Ride the Lightning. The highlight of that set for me was their brutally beautiful performance of “Creeping Death.” Tens of thousands of people chanting “Die! Die! Die! Die!” has never been cooler and completely not creepy. An A+ effort from the greatest band in the land.
Passing By Notes: Caught a few songs from Fucked Up and Cage the Elephant while walking about the festival, both were interesting, but not something I was racing over to see. Arctic Monkeys did a fantastic job of going over their allotted time, delaying Metallica’s set which basically pissed everyone off.
Gary Clark Jr. (Fuel Stage)
I have heard great things about this artist, but it was not until I heard his smokingly hot electric blues that I discovered my new favorite musician. Gary Clark Jr. is out of this world fantastic. His guitar playing is the type of stuff I was digging when I first started listening to Hendrix nearly 15 years ago. If you love Jack White or The Black Keys or any guitar driven classic rock from the 60s or 70s or the blues or just good music, it is imperative that you starting listening to this musical maestro.
Soul Rebels (Frantic Tent)
I only caught two songs from these guys, one of them being a cover of Eurhythmic’s “Sweet Dreams” and I just absolutely loved them. This is the type of undeniably fun music that no matter your musical leaning, you gotta love. Metalheads were clapping there hands, stomping their feet and dancing, yes dancing, to the big brass sound of The Soul Rebels. Next to Gary Clark Jr. these guys were my favorite musical discovery of Orion.
Best Coast (Orion Stage)
This was the band that I wanted my wife, who after being disappointed by Modest Mouse, to see. And luckily for us, Best Coast brought it. The breezily beautiful sound of this band wasn’t just perfect for the ideology of Orion, but perfect for a warm day by the water. They have this simple yet lush sound that you can just imagine sitting on the beach, listening to as the waves roll in. Summer music as its best.
Volbeat (Fuel Stage)
These guys had one of the biggest crowds of the festival and deservingly so. The Danish metal outfit’s bouncy, muscular and infectiously fun brand of metal is just so damn good. It’s hard and heavy yet melodic and anthemic. It’s an odd combination, but it really works. And you know a band’s good when James Hetfield not only introduces them but stands on the side of the stage for the majority of their set and sings every song. If that’s not a vote of confidence in a band, I don’t know what is.
Sepultura (Damage Inc. Stage)
I forgot that this was not the original Sep line-up featuring the Brothers Cavalera. However, this version of the band kicked some serious ass. All I wanted to hear was the band’s classic track “Chaos A.D.” and they broke it out on the second song of their set. And man was their live version not just brutal but they actually outdid the original tribal-infused classic.
Avenged Sevenfold: Fuel Stage
Next to Metallica, Avenged has the second largest crowd of the festival. This band has a swagger and style all onto its own and people just eat it up like Sunday Brunch. They also had a lot of pyro, the only other band, outside of Metallica, who had this. So this really kept people’s attention during the set. I enjoyed the wild and wooliness of the band’s performance but wasn’t blown away by their stuff.
Metallica: Orion Stage
I was a little concerned that I’d hear the same opening set as the night before. And when Metallica broke into “Hit the Lights” and “Master of Puppets” I was a little bummed. But only a little, I mean this was my favorite band, playing in my home state, so it was really cool. Then the band banged into “Fuel” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and the place went BANANAS. Seriously, spell it out like Gwen Stefani, you’ll get the point. Then we rolled into the infamous Black Album. The band ripped out “Struggle Within” and “My Friend of Misery” followed by “God That Failed”…man when was the last time you heard those? Seriously ‘Tallica KILLED it again on this night.
Passing Thoughts: The Black Dahlia Murder was murder to my ears, Titus Andronicus was decent and I might be too generous there, Eric Church was unusual ranging from twangy to hard rock.