Metallica's Orion Music + More: Day Two
The second day of the Orion Music + More festival found more than musical highlights but an overall improvement in service and execution compared to the first day. With the move from Atlantic City to Detroit, there were some minor hiccups for the first day, but with festival organizers and even Metallica closely monitoring social media, they took to action alleviating nearly all of the major problems on Sunday. They doubled the ticket booths at Cobo, the shuttles were more frequent and the food lines shifted into pay and pick-up windows speeding everything up. The lines to Kirk's Crypt and the Metallica museum moved with greater speed and were worth the wait. The only exhibit I was unable to see was the Hit the Lights films because all spots sold out in advance. I cannot stress how well the Orion festival was structured. I hope it returns to Belle Isle in 2014 because the stages were easy to navigate and never did I feel the crunch of the crowd, which is sometimes impossible to ignore at Lollapalooza, Coachella and Bonaroo. With perfect weather, the only thing to go wrong on Sunday was the unfortunate cancellation of the Joy Formidable who were unable to attend due to travel issues. Sunday's crowd split into two segments; those who were anticipating the headline set by Metallica and those at the Sanitarium stage that housed Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Never in a million years had I ever imagined something so divergent would be on display with a band known for helping bringing speed metal to the mainstream. However, this is exactly the mission Metallica set out on when creating Orion; they wanted all genres of music to be on exhibit for fans to swim in, enjoy and be enlightened by.
The EDM sets I saw by Calico and the Adventure Club found the Sanitarium covered stage completely filled with fans spilling out the sides and back. The unrelenting beats, mixed pop and rock hits turned on their head with hypnotic thumps entranced the crowd. The power of EDM is best appreciated when experienced firsthand where the fans relinquish themselves to the music copiously. They are lost in a world of dance where all their problems can be solved with a great beat and a community who elevates them in ways they never could have imagined. Right up until Metallica took to the stage for their headline set later in the evening, the Sanitarium stage was filled to the brim and overflowing. I am not sure any other stage could say the same over the course of the weekend.
With the cancellation of the Joy Formidable, it freed me up to catch a few other acts including the Trujillo Trio, led by Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo who in my estimation was the MVP of the Orion experience. Not only did he serve his duties with Metallica astonishingly, but also gave a knock-out set with Infectious Grooves the previous day and on Sunday with guitarist Tony and drummer Ashley Trujillo (who are married and ironically not related to Robert). The Trujillo Trio's set was a bone crushing with a heavy emphasis on squealing guitars and extreme hustle. "Follow the Blood Trail" was the highlight of the trio's set, as Robert Trujillo (performing with a backwards baseball cap), locked with Tony and Ashley for more than a jam but something with a spark that made you stand up and notice. Matt Muir and Dean Pleasants from Infectious Grooves joined the three-piece for the final song, the classic Suicidal Tendencies song "Institutionalized" which was one of many unexpected surprises that occurred during Orion. Here is to hoping Suicidal Tendencies are invited to the 2014 festival.
Vista Chino, which includes two members of Kyuss, made their debut performance at Orion. Placing their sound inside a box is difficult, especially basing it on one performance, but if Cream had a child with Alice in Chains, it is possible it would sound like Vista Chino. Bassist Mike Dean (who is only a touring member) was more like a rhythm guitarist than a bassist and it really provided a sound that is much bigger than a three-piece band. They used their instruments not just to make noise, but also to build the songs that distinctively provided cohesive terror.
The two-piece Vancouver band Japandroids, consisting of guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse, have been heavily buzzed about in blogger circles the band lived up to their press with a hour long set they delivered with absorbing focus. Prowse's drum kit was sideways to allow for interaction with King, who swept the crowd away with his simple and spare guitar chords. Conjuring up an effortless yet yearning Buddy Holly sound, King wore many hats. Besides providing vocals, he shifted between high and low notes, lead and rhythm guitar and at times, provided broad obstinate chords that served more as a bass for Prowse to build upon. The Japandroids played power pop at a fuming pace tearing through their hour set in no time. Songs such as "Fire's Highway" and "Rockers East Vancouver" had indisputable exhilaration and eagerness. They wanted to be here and even told the crowd they were honored to be included. Despite the fact that the White Stripes and the Black Keys have made two piece bands trendy, the Japandroids know their way around a song which only enhances their no-nonsense performances.
Fu Manchu fit right in place in Detroit with their hard rock sounds and songs most identify as stoner rock. They do not sing about changing the world, but instead wax poetically about the simplest of life's pleasures; muscle cars, science fiction and skateboarding. Their profoundly fuzzy sound has been their backbone for nearly three decades. To their credit, the muscle behind their music makes is relatable while still being strong and reliant with bassist Brad Davis synthesizing the hard and fast arrangements.
The Deftones had a prime headline slot right before Metallica's and they rose to the challenge of winning the crowd. Singer Chino Moreno jumped into the crowd on a few occasions proving that even at a festival, artists can make the experience intimate. Shifting between light and darkness, the band gripped the crowd, The Deftones are descendants of what Metallica started more than three decades back, and to their credit, they are still growing and evolving.
The proof Metallica had done their homework in putting the festival line-up together came in the form of the festival's most mesmerizing set by the band Death. Do not be mistaken, there was a metal band with the same name who made a minor masterwork in the 1980's entitled Leprosy, but this is an entirely different band who hailed from Detroit in the 1960's and 70's. When I first saw the announcement, I knew it could not be the death metal band because Chuck Schuldiner passed away more than a decade back. The best gift anyone can ever give another music fan is the discovery of something they never knew existed. I only knew of Anvil by name until their feature film debuted several years ago. Just last year, Detroit native Sixto Rodriguez went from underground 70's hero to the mainstream with Searching for Sugar Man and now Death is getting their due with the release of A Band Called Death: The Documentary. The film is now available on demand and will receive a limited release on June 28th. Death were a trio from Detroit in the early 1970's who can be looked upon as the Godfathers of punk and metal, despite the fact that their music was largely unheard until 2009. Original founder David Hackney passed away in 2000, but the other two members and guitarist Bobbie Duncan are not just paying tribute to their legacy, but creating new music. Their brother David's picture hung at the back of the stage in tribute. Revelations like this are too far and few; it is akin to finding your soul mate. You wonder where they were all your life, but more importantly, once they have made an impression, as Death did on the Orion stage, they will never leave your consciousness again. How is it that this band existed before the Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash? When they performed "Where Do We Go From Here", I could have sworn I had heard the same beats from No Doubt who recorded more than two decades after Death. Beatlesque melodies punctuated by a driven rhythm section led by bassist Bobby Hackney who also provided vocals. The three members of Death swung their dreadlocks not to be fashionable, but rather because it was part of their being and they elicited a mosh pit. The band interlocked into a new song, "Release", which will be released shortly on a seven-inch and full length record. Closing with "Politicians in My Eyes", the band proved it's more about what's not there musically. Bassist Bobby Hackney zigzagged in and out of lanes on the freeway while his brother, drummer Dannis Hackney, was unhinged in his musical mission. The unrelenting nerve they struck with the minimal arrangements speaks volumes. Defined as a protopunk band, Death was Orion's greatest eye-opener.
As the sun began setting over Detroit, the crowd gathered around the main stage in anticipation of Metallica's headline set. Opening the set with the six-string cataclysm of "Blackened", the band and crowd went into overdrive instantaneously. The And Justice For All cut is mean and menacing. As fans furiously flung their fists to the air, it was in sync with the destruction and chaos of society Metallica sings about. Despite being a quarter century old, the songs resonate even deeper today. Like a blackened cloud, fast approaching the riffs and bottom end rhythm evoke darkness and despair few modern rock anthems can touch.
Metallica's two hour set shifted between standard war horses ("For Whom the Bell Tolls", "Harvester of Sorrow", "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)", "Creeping Death") and rarely played album cuts you may only see at special shows. While the former appeased the locals who came to Orion to see Metallica for the first time, the latter rarities kept the diehard fan base gasping with glee. Metallica has always played more to those who are most fervent. They give the casual fans just enough to gnaw on while usually tipping their hat to those who have been with them from the beginning. This has always been a wise choice by the band as performances of "Disposable Heroes" and "Orion" from their 1986 masterwork Master of Puppets took on emotional dimensions unimaginable to most in the crowd. During "Heroes" the crowd roared back at the band during the chorus vigorously chanting "Back to the front" from the top of their lungs the same way they sung along to the pyrotechnic anthem "Enter Sandman" later in the show. Embracing their fans make moments like these possible. When you cater to the mainstream one-hundred percent of the time, you do not always win them over leading to uncomfortable moments during shows where they only want to hear the radio hits.
The downside to the fanatical fan base is they view the first decade of the band in almost biblical and absolute terms. It makes everything that followed pale in comparison, which is a shame because the band's post 1991 catalog has greater depth than anyone gives it credit. The band pulled out "Carpe Diem Baby" from 1996's Load that sounded better than I remembered. Just because the speed of the song was less frantic than their earlier songs, people dismiss it even though it is every bit as menacing. "I Disappear" from the second Mission Impossible film (and the last studio cut Jason Newsted would perform on before his departure) was all muscle as the band had mastered shorter songs by this stage in their career. It is a bit of a misfit because it does not have a home on any Metallica album but it is also one of their top and heftiest cuts from their second decade. The Death Magnetic epic "The Day That Never Comes" made an early appearance and from a performance perspective, may have been the highlight of Metallica's set. The song comes from the same DNA strand that made their best songs. Whether you are a fan of Magnetic or not, the ambition and execution of this particular song shone through on a weekend full of top tier performances. The interplay between guitarists James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett was captivating as their shred in unison and eye-to-eye faced off trading licks. After the guitar fireworks, Hetfield shifted his stage position in front of bassist Trujillo and the two of them constituted a surreal, discursive and dense spine that defines the song.
I praised Trujillo's abilities in my day one review and earlier in this piece, but watching him with Metallica is a sight to behold because this is not about calling it in or nostalgia for him, it is about paying tribute to these songs and making them a bit of his own. Watching him tackle these songs is like hearing them again for the first time. He has been keen to attack them and his impassioned performances show that he is more than a hired gun but a family member digging deep within himself to make these songs sound every bit as powerful as they were the first time around. When it came time for him to perform "Orion", the instrumental from Puppets that Cliff Burton birthed he did not disappoint. It had never been performed before 2006. Trujillo once again did not disappoint. He continually lives in a world where the stakes are high every time he hits the stage with Metallica, but he never relents or disappoints. Performing the song on a six string bass, he and drummer Lars Ulrich led the band in a march that opened the song, took the audience down dark roads, and guided us towards the light. One of the greatest of all metal instrumentals, The meaningful bass performance of "Orion" conjures up more powerful emotions than lyrical ones. The rest of Metallica's set was performed with such epic passion from the wreckage of war on "One" to the back-to-back "Master of Puppets" and "Battery" which found the band at the peak of their musical powers on the stage as they roamed and roared never relenting. The melodies, shifting arrangements and lyrics burned into our brains as we stood in awe of the mightiest of metal bands.
Over two days, I witnessed a wide range of music from discoveries, buried treasures and highly anticipated headline sets by established artists. I do not think any other music festival has as much variety across as many genres as Orion. In my discussions with the many of the festivalgoer's, I was surprised to find out that many had never seen Metallica before and came because of the festival's location and diversity of the acts. Orion is more than a series of bands and stages, but a deeply heartfelt effort by Metallica to further their message and music. those of the artists they love as well. Metallica is one of the planet's greatest live acts and their two-plus hour headline set did not disappoint. For those who missed it, they can get a glimpse in September when their one-of-a-kind concert film Through the Never will be released in IMAX theaters. Metallica has always challenged themselves with their performances, their albums and now the Orion festival by never letting go of that inner fan. From muscle cars to horror memorabilia to movies, Orion is the place for them to share these hobbies along with the music they love.
Please read our in-depth review of day one of the Orion festival here.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Metallica's Orion Music + More: Day Two