Orion Music + More Festival @ Belle Isle Park – Detroit, MI
Words: Jeff Hill and Andrew Bender
Photos: Andrew Bender
The Orion Music + More festival is Metallica’s recent entré into the world of summer music festivals. For its second year, the Orion festival found a new home on Belle Isle park in Detroit, Michigan. It was somehow fitting that the festival from the band that people seem to love to hate on was held in the city that people love to hate on. And although the move may have been driven by logistical problems last year at Bader Field in Atlantic City, the festival was welcome in a city still desperate for the revenue.
[All Photos by Andrew Bender]
In addition to familiar festival favorites like Bassnectar and Gogol Bordello, acts like Silversun Pickups, Foals, Japandroids and Destroid offered a lot more than stage after stage of angry dudes running around screaming and headbanging (but yes, of course lots of that). Truly, as much as festivals thrown by the likes of Phish, moe. or the Disco Biscuits are like family reunions, so was the Orion festival for Metallica for their longtime fans and friends. Indeed, Orion Music + More drew fans from across the U.S. and Canada, as well as South America, Europe and the U.K. Although the idea of traveling so far to see music is alien, to most people, those who spend their vacations traveling to festivals or “On Tour” share a common bond of musical devotion (which others may feel borders on insanity), that transcends any one band.
Friday Night – Baroness
The Friday night official pre-show featuring alt-metal band Baroness was held at historic St. Andrew’s Hall in downtown Detroit. The four members of Metallica took the stage to welcome the crowd and introduce Baroness – a band that combines elements of metal, discordant noise and slowed down tempos with alt-rock songwriting sensibilities. Powering their way through an hour-long riff-heavy set, Baroness drew predominantly from their new double album, Yellow & Green. highlights such as Take My Bones Away and The Line Between sounded as powerful as anything else they have recorded to date.
Day 1 – Saturday
Festival promoters C3 Productions (Austin City Limits Festival, Lollapalooza), estimated Saturday’s attendance at over 20,000, and indicated they expected a larger turnout for Sunday with Metallica headlining. Despite C3’s extensive experience in urban settings, any festival in a new location is prone to some issues, and Orion was no exception. With no reduced advance ticket price, thousands of people showed up to buy tickets on Saturday. This was clearly unanticipated as there were only two ticket windows resulting in an hours long line that stretched the entire length of the Cobo Hall convention center. With tickets in hand, a fleet of school buses transported festivalgoers the five-mile journey up the Detroit River to just outside the festival grounds on Belle Isle. With temperatures in the 70s, and a partly cloudy sky right out of the opening credits of the Simpsons, fans, bands and organizers couldn’t have asked for better weather.
British indie rockers Foals opened the festival on Saturday, playing at the large Fuel stage. Combining the best elements of Phoenix and Bloc Party, Foals engaged the crowd with an infectious set of aggro dance-pop. Though sound bleed from Dead Sara at the adjacent Vans Damage Inc. stage proved distracting during some of the softer moments (Late Night), Foals is a dynamic band, with a harder edge to their indie-rock sensibilities. During their heavier moments, the metal loving crowd was rocking out particularly during the song Inhaler, a bit of a contrast to some self-conscious indie head bobbing and bouncing during new single My Number. Gaelic pranksters the Dropkick Murphys kicked off their main stage set with an apropos cheers to the city of Boston. Because why not? But despite their popularity, the Murphys saw a mass exodus midway through their set due to the whole dehaan thing.
Scheduled for 4:30pm on the Vans Damage Inc. stage, adjacent to the Vans Vert ramp/half pipe, was a band called dehaan. There was just one problem – nobody had ever heard of dehaan before. On the stage backdrop, the band’s name was crudely spray-painted over, and replaced with the words, “Metal up your ass.” Dehaan’s set turned out to be a stealth gig for festival headliners Metallica where they ripped through their seminal album Kill ‘Em All in its entirety. Arguably the most influential thrash metal album ever, the live set was a metal-geeks dream — even 30 years after the album’s release (non-Metallica fan HT readers: Imagine Phish playing ‘TMWSIY’ from beginning to end, at a side stage, unannounced). Metallica frontman James Hetfield had dropped sufficient hints via Twitter and Instagram that a sizable crowd was waiting as word quickly spread. Playing to a crowd of adoring fans, the dehaan/Kill ‘Em All set was a mesmerizing performance, and the talk of of the festival. The prior year in AC, Metallica headlined both nights, covering two albums (Ride The Lightning and The Black Album). This year, Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined Saturday night, causing some Metallica die-hards to skip the first day of the festival this year due to its lack of…well…Metallica. Ouch.
As incredible as that set was to see, one had to feel a bit bad for the Murphys and other acts that couldn’t compete with the quintessence of thrash. Following the dehaan set, a crowd of thousands dispersed to check out other sights and stages. At a nearby stage, in between frantic songs with deep bass washes that could compete with the EDM tent, Tomahawk front man Mike Patton (Faith No More) likened the post-dehaan crowds to a migrating herd of wildebeests.
L.A.-based alt-rockers Silversun Pickups brought their heavier Smashing Pumpkin-esque tunes to Frantic Tent. Although Silversun Pickups are one of the harder-edged acts at festivals like Austin City Limits, at Orion they were more of a novelty as frontman Brian Aubert’s screamed vocals sometimes were taken down a bit. Back at the Fuel Stage Metallica bass player Robert Trujillo was formerly a member of Suicidal Tendencies and side-project Infectious Grooves. While ST’s made an appearance at last year’s Orion festival, Infectious Grooves reunited their original lineup for the Detroit festival. Showcasing their trademark blend of funk and punk, the Grooves also brought out their comical stage show including a band of characters that could have once inspired Detroit’s own Insane Clown Posse.
A headlining set from the Red Hot Chili Peppers capped off the first day of music. Fans of the later portion of their career were well rewarded as 12 of their 18 songs played were released in 1999 or later. In addition, the band delivered a trio of hits from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground and a deep cut from way back in 1987 (Me And My Friends). The Chili Peppers played competently all night but lacked the fireworks of Metallica’s Sunday show (both figuratively and literally). Nonetheless, the crowd delighted in Flea’s leaping bass licks and Anthony Kiedis’ flawless vocals, even if the set was shorter than many may have hoped.
Both the ticketing company and Metallica issued formal apologies for the problems with ticketing and long bus lines early on. Besides these issues, the festival was exceptionally well coordinated, with ample trash and recycling, clean port-a-potties and an enthusiastic but well-mannered crowd. Truly, at any larger jam band-centric festival, or show, there are plenty of obnoxiously wasted wooks – the only fans at Orion close to meeting that description were at Bassnectar. Go figure.
Day 2 – Sunday
Detroit garage rock heroes The Dirtbombs kicked things off Sunday in the Frantic Tent. Joined for most of the set by former member Troy Gregory on bass, the band played a festival-appropriate set of aggressive R&B, punk and soul music. Hardcore rock/punk act The Dillinger Escape Plan played the Fuel Stage nearby, despite founding guitar player Ben Weinman being out of commission with a broken arm. However, in the spirit of rock n’ roll The Dillinger Escape Plan decided to show up and give it their best shot anyway. As the band played, the out-of-commission Weinman lounged onstage reading magazines, drawing pictures and rating individual song performances. What the set may have lacked in musical perfection and complexity, it made up for with much-appreciated comic relief. Frontman Greg Puciato maintained his characteristic intensity throughout, screaming and crowd surfing. Around that same time, in an unfortunate, major debacle, the Welsh alt-rock trio The Joy Formidable missed their slot on the main Budweiser-Orion Stage due to ‘travel difficulties,’ leaving an unfortunate gap and many disappointed fans waiting for a band that never appeared. Canceled. Bummer. Next year they need to come back and bring fellow Welsh contemporaries Super Furry Animals with them. Other than that instance, however, the schedule on the Orion smartphone app (Android version seemed better than on the crash-prone iPhone app) was updated regularly with other small scheduling changes.
Over on the Vans Damage Inc. Stage, in one of their first-ever gigs, was the Trujillo Trio. Festival MVP Robert Trujillo unites with pro-skater Tony Trujillo (guitar) and his wife Ashley Trujillo (drums) for a set of feel good family afternoon death metal. And no, movie badass Danny Trujillo was not there. Filling the void left by Toronto’s Death From Above in 1979, the Vancouver-based guitar/drum duo Japandroids brought their surprisingly full-sounding blend of upbeat indie rock to the Fuel Stage. Echoing the sentiments of many in the younger generation of festival attendees, guitarist/singer Brian King expressed his excitement that he would be finally seeing Metallica for the first time.
Almost a mini-festival within the festival, the Sanitarium EDM Tent featured dubstep all day. The Sanitarium’s popularity was evidenced by the sizable proportion of fans there exclusively for the EDM performers, save the main-stage headlining performances during which all the smaller stages closed down. The largest crowds showed up for Datsik and Bassnectar, with fans packed like sardines against the stage while ravenously crowd surfing and chanting along with pre-recorded vocals. EDM super group Destroid’s second-ever public performance brought dynamic live-show intensity to a genre that is sometimes criticized for lack of a human element. Dressed in robot suits and wielding guitar-shaped MIDI samplers (along with a “cyborg” drum kit), this energetic trio certainly could not be accused of simply phoning it in and pushing play on a CD player while halfheartedly fist-pumping.
Not willing to be one-upped at their own festival by any of the excellent acts that preceded them, Metallica proved themselves undisputed kings of Orion during their 2+ hour festival-closing set. As mainstream rock gods, Metallica can do as they like, and Orion was their only scheduled U.S. appearance for 2013. But as Phish fans know, if the band cuts down on touring, they’d better make each performance really count. rom the first oh-shit moments of show-opener Battery through the final chant-a-long encore of Seek And Destroy, Metallica flat out killed it.
Whether playing certified classics (Harvester Of Sorrow, Sad But True) or later-era rarities (The Day That Never Comes, Carpe Diem Baby), the band played with engaging fire and conviction as crystal clear sound from the Orion Main Stage pummeled the audience. Hetfield’s voice was commanding, 30+ years of singing adding enough depth and grit to make it sound perhaps as good as it ever has. Trujillo confidently emitted nimble thunder from his bass, including an excellent solo prior to Welcome Home (Sanitarium).
Drummer Lars Ulrich was in full effect with the double bass wherever it was needed. And lead guitarist Kirk Hammett ran acrobatics up and down his fret board to the delight of slacked jaws and raised fists and goat horns all across the festival. A heart-stopping highlight combo of One and Master Of Puppets late in the set brought out the production value defibrillation of blinding lasers and pyro, an onslaught that delivered continuous shocks through the remainder of the show. Even during decidedly more genteel tunes such as Nothing Else Matters and Motor City tribute Turn The Page (Bob Seger), Metallica truly delivered at their first (and perhaps not last) Orion appearance in Detroit.
After the encore, the band members stuck around on stage and took a few minutes to soak in the sweat-soaked calls for more from the frenzied audience. Proclaiming their love for Detroit and the venue, the band alluded the festival’s return to Detroit in 2014. Whether the festival comes back to Detroit as suggested, or they decide to take Orion somewhere new entirely, one thing is for certain: Some lucky city is getting a serious dose of metal up its ass.
2013 Orion Music + More: In Brief:
The Good: Food curated by Slows BBQ; Metallica secret set playing their debut album Kill ‘Em All in its entirety for the album’s 30th anniversary; great crowd, amazing weather; Indie rockers Foals kill their opening set; second ever live set by live dubstep supergroup robots Destroid; Metallica encores with Bob Seger’s Turn the Page and their own Seek and Destroy; immaculate porta-potties; Android app
The Bad: only Budweiser? Really? Spotty cell service; RFID wristband check-in system was faulty as numerous chips malfunctioned; iPhone app (crashed a lot)
The Ugly: With only two windows for ticket sales and no pre-sale pricing incentive thousands of fans waited hours in line to buy tickets; Welsh alt-rockers The Joy Formidable missed their main stage Sunday afternoon slot due to travel issues.