Lucero was my original reason for going to Metallica’s first annual Orion Music + More Festival in Atlantic City, NJ this past weekend but Metallica really did their homework. During their set James Hetfield (lead vocal/guitar) kept telling us how this festival was a dream come true for them. They’ve played lots of festivals and figured out what works and what doesn’t. They hired a great crew. The four stages were close enough to each other that it didn’t feel like a hike everytime you wanted to see the next band but the sound was kept pretty much just to each individual stage. Plenty of good food vendors with lots of choices, the festival store plus some independent vendors, and lots and lots of port-a-potties. There was also plenty of beer being sold but no one was so drunk or out of control that there were fights or injuries.
Hetfield could not stop smiling and telling us how much Metallica loved us for making their dream come true.
I was staying for both days and started out on Saturday morning. I managed to score a hotel that was across the street from Bader Field but once there I found out that the boardwalk and beach weren’t that far away, which was a nice treat on Sunday morning. I had to get up at 4:00am to make the four trains to Atlantic City. Why train and not a shorter ride on the bus? Because trains are more comfortable. And one of the treats are beautiful train stations like the one in Philadelphia. This is part of a wall carving.
Coming into Atlantic City you could see these modern windmills and the boardwalk casino skyline. You could see the hotels from the field and it was weird thinking about what a very different world was happening not very far away.
I got to Atlantic City at about 12:30pm and then had to find a cab driver who knew where my hotel was. Apparently you don’t need to know much to be a cab driver in Atlantic City. The room wasn’t ready so I went over the bridge to the Wonder Bar, which has an outdoor bar on a deck that people ride up to on their boats.
I sat at the bar and had a couple of Ketel Ones and crabcakes with wild rice and broccoli and just relaxed and enjoyed the gorgeous day. The day before was full of thunderstorms and I felt sorry for the crew who had to set up in the storms on Friday and then break down in the rain on Sunday night and Monday. Crossed back over the bridge, checked into my hotel, and then entered Bader Field.
The music had started at 1:00pm but I wanted to see Roky Erickson at 2:45pm and then cut out to see Lucero at 3:00pm (why did they have to be playing at the same time?). It wasn’t crowded and easy to get in and check everything out.
Roky Erickson was at the Frantic stage, which cracked me up because you couldn’t find a less frantic person.
His band was a woman on keys and guys on drums, bass, guitars, and backing vocals. “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” rocked the tent. Unfortunately I could only listen to a few songs because I wanted to make sure to catch all of Lucero’s set.
Earlier in the day, Roy Berry (drums) posted on Facebook that Hetfield had complimented his drums. Most people commented on how cool that was and Berry said he hoped that he played well. He needn’t have worried. Despite the early time, the daylight, and the small crowd Lucero rocked like they always do. Ben Nichols (lead vocal/guitar) said that he wished the area in front of the stage wasn’t so empty (they were at the main Orion stage and there was a moat in front for VIPs only) but he could hear those of us behind the VIP section singing. One advantage of playing the main stage was the screens – I got see close ups of all my boys. Brian Venable (guitar), John C. Stubblefield (bass), Rick Steff (keys/accordion), Todd Beene (pedal steel), Jim Spake (saxophone), Scott Thompson (horn) all were at top form. Late in the set Ben said even though it was not a Saturday afternoon song, “Fuck it. I’m go what I want to do,” and we heard “The War.” At the end of their set Ben announced that he would be in search of whiskey. One of the funniest moments for me was later in the day when I overheard one guy describing Lucero to another guy as a bluegrass band.
The ASL signers were almost as much fun to watch as the bands.
Some of the other activities were a skateboard show, vintage cars, films, comics, a Metallica museum, and a horror house. The lines for the museum and Kirk’s Krypt were very very long.
All the members of Metallica – Hetfield, Lars Ulrich (drums), Kirk Hammett (lead guitar), and Robert Trujillo (bass) – participated in some of the activities with Q&As and announced a lot of the bands. It really felt like they were the hosts of this party.
There were some bands that I wanted to check out and in reading back on some of my past reviews it turns out I had seen at least one of them before. I also found out that my drink of choice at music festivals is a root beer float because I’ve mentioned having one at the other festivals and I had one at Orion.
Gaslight Anthem I really enjoyed. They also played the Orion stage and Ulrich introduced them. They had a New Wave/Indie sound that really worked for me. They came onto the stage with a Beastie Boys song and the lead singer’s enthusiasm was catching.
I walked over to the Fuel stage for Cage the Elephant and realized that I was very tired. Which seemed to be okay because the band sounded as if they were tired also. I never got a good view because I was too tired to stand and I ended up napping through most of their set.
Back to the Orion stage for Modest Mouse. Their set started with a lot of thunder and other sound effects. They sounded amateurish to me and I was confused by their sound until I realized I was mixing them up with Frightened Rabbit. I can never remember which animal is feeling what emotion. I sat through their set.
I now had a very good spot for Metallica’s set and did not want to move. So I never made it over to the Fuel stage for the Arctic Monkeys. But I could hear them and I wasn’t that impressed. Then I read my APW review and see I described them as heavy metal lite. That description still fits.
While waiting for Metallica I noticed a guy with a group of people near me. I fell instantly in love. I was too shy to approach him while he was with the group but when he left them to buy a beer I still was too shy to run up and say hi. Regrets. I only have them for the stuff I didn’t do.
So look carefully at these photos. If the guy in the wheelchair looks familiar to you and he is single, please have him get in touch with me. Don’t let me down internet!
I also watched the crazy people who work on the spotlight tower.
The sun was setting and the skyline was lighting up.
Finally we heard AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” and then watched the Eli Wallach cemetery scene from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Metallica hit the stage with “Hit the Lights” and never took a breath. Once the band started playing I was no longer tired. I was up on feet and singing and bouncing. The stage set-up was the same as they had in Yankee Stadium last September. Hetfield and Trujillo would go up on the platform every so often. They also had a catwalk into the VIP crowd. Ulrich was much better this time around. The band played some songs from their regular sets and then we saw a short film of a very young Metallica. Then they played “The Call of Ktulu,” which is the last song from Ride the Lightning. They played the album’s tracks in backwards order and when they got to where “Escape” was supposed to happen, Hetfield teased the crowd. They have never played this song live and this is something that longtime fans of Metallica have been waiting for. My friend Joe* texted me the next day, “They played Escape! I can die now…” After they finished the album tracks we heard some more songs from their regular sets.
We also got a lot of the heavy metal/hard rock clichés – fireworks, fire pots, fans singing along with their arms in the air looking like a Bund rally, and lasers. But the difference is that Metallica plays really well. Their thrash guitars are the fast, the lyrics are good, their songs are melodic, and through the Cookie Monster growls and sticking their tongues out they show a lot of love.
Hetfield kept wrapping his arms around himself as if he was hugging the entire crowd. When he gestured for the crowd to sing or yell and they did he just rocked back and smiled and took in all our love. Joe asked me what I thought of the first night. I said that even though it was only my second** Metallica show, it was probably one of the best shows they had ever done. Joe said that long-time Metallica fans agreed.
*Joe and some friends drove down that day just in time for Metallica’s set and then drove back to Queens. We were supposed to meet up but the field was packed and it was impossible.
**I realized later that I saw Metallica when they headlined the 1996 Lollapalooza show. I faintly remember them from that show and don’t remember Soundgarden at all. I do remember the Ramones and Patti Smith from 1996.
The set list can be found at LiveMetallica.com, where you can also buy many Metallica live shows including this one.