When I initially heard that Metallica was hosting a festival in Atlantic City, NJ, I figured it would hold little-to-no interest for me. I imagined it would be a bunch of aging metal bands that were past their prime. Then I saw the line-up, consisting of newer, relevant metal bands (Red Fang, Liturgy, Torche), along with punk/hardcore (Gaslight Anthem, Fucked Up, Hot Snakes), indie/alt (Arctic Monkeys, Modest Mouse, A Place to Bury Strangers), and suddenly it became a festival I had to go to, if for no other reason than to see how the diehard Metallica fans responded to pretty much every band that wasn’t Metallica, Suicidal Tendencies, or Sepultura.
My curiosity had to wait, though. Due to an unexpected family-business detour Saturday to King of Prussia, the horrible parking/shuttle situation at Orion (more on that later), and (admittedly) my own poor planning, I didn’t make it to Day 1 of Orion until almost 6 pm, which meant I missed The Sword, Lucero, Fucked Up, Red Fang, and all but the last of the Gaslight Anthem. Fortunately, I did get some good reports from friends: Red Fang and Fucked Up killed it, and the Metallica-heads were surprisingly receptive to Lucero and the Gaslight Anthem.
The four stages at Orion were well organized. The Orion Stage was mostly for the bigger bands (and where Metallica closed both nights). The Fuel Stage was where the next tier of bands seemed to be playing. The Damage Inc. Stage was primarily straight-up metal, and the Frantic Stage was where the smaller, more “challenging” bands (at least for Metallica-heads) were playing. For the most part, the stages were set far enough apart that there was no bleed-over between stages (of course, the blaring sound at each stage helped, as well).
As soon as I got to Orion, my main priority was to get to the Frantic Stage to see the reunited Hot Snakes play their first Mid-Atlantic show (not in the DC or New York areas) since they broke up in 2005. On the way there, I passed the Orion Stage, which gave me a chance to catch the last of the Gaslight Anthem’s set, including “The Queen of Lower Chelsea” one of my favorite songs from their 2010 album, American Slang.
Eventually, I made it to the Frantic Stage, to join a relatively small but passionate crowd waiting for Hot Snakes. Soon, they took the stage, as did Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who introduced the band and spoke a little about how a friend had turned him onto them about a year ago (apparently, Lars was a little late to the game with Hot Snakes, but better late than never). In fact, members of Metallica introduced quite a few bands over the weekend, giving the impression of this being a fest that was actually curated by Metallica, as opposed to one put together by a management or booking company.
After the introduction, Hot Snakes launched into a slightly slowed-down version of Suicide Invoice opener, “I Hate the Kids”. It was awesome to hear Hot Snakes play again, but why was “I Hate the Kids” so slow? Had Hot Snakes lost something during their six year break?
Fortunately, that song was immediately followed by “Gar Forgets His Insulin”, which the band tore into with reckless abandon. Ah yes, this is the Hot Snakes I remembered. They then launched into four more songs from Suicide Invoice, before turning to a mix of songs from Automatic Midnight and Audit in Progress. Throughout, the band seemed genuinely surprised and pleased by the warm reception they got: guitarist John Reis frequently bowed and thanked the crowd, and bassist Gar Wood had a smile on his face for most of their set.
Soon after Hot Snakes finished up on the Frantic Stage, Modest Mouse took to the Orion Stage. Unfortunately for them, it seemed like most of the crowd were more interested in staking out a good spot for Metallica, who was up next on the Orion Stage, then watching Modest Mouse, as the response was lukewarm at best. “Float On” got a warm reception from the crowd, but other songs like “Bury Me With It”, “Satin in a Coffin”, and “The View” did not fare nearly as well.
Next up was Arctic Monkeys on the Fuel Stage. An excited crowd had already gathered by the time I got there, and they grew even more enthusiastic when Lars came out to introduce the band, talking about how he had been introduced to them by the New Musical Express around 2006. He shook their hands as they took the stage, and they launched into “Brianstorm” from Favourite Worst Nightmare. The first part of their set drew heavily on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, as well as Favourite Worst Nightmare, including crowd favorites like “The View From The Afternoon” and “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”. To me, the middle part of their set dragged on, before they ended strong with “Fluorescent Adolescent”, “Evil Twin”, “Brick By Brick”, and "R U Mine?". As such, it seemed to mirror my impression of most of their albums: strong beginning, boring middle, strong ending. Overall, though, it was a strong set, and the crowd clearly ate it up.
Finally came the part of the night that most of the crowd seemed to be waiting for, as the numerous Metallica t-shirts in the crowd attested to. After a clip from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly played on the three giants screens that surrounded the stage, Metallica came out to play “Hit the Lights”, “Master of Puppets”, “The Four Horsemen”, “Sad But True”, and Death Magnetic outtake “Hell and Back”. Then, the stage went black as a short video played featuring Ride the Lightning-era video and pictures of Metallica, introducing the album that was to be played in full. A noticeable roar of appreciation rose from the crowd when deceased bassist Cliff Burton appeared on the screen. After this, Metallica came back out and began playing Ride the Lightning - but backwards, starting with the instrumental "The Call of Ktulu". When the band got to “Escape”, which had never been played live by Metallica before this night, singer/guitarist James Hetfield made reference to the fact, which prompted the other band members to launch into a jam of "The Frayed Ends of Sanity" (which has also never been played live by the band). That started the crowd chanting the recognziable "Oh wee oh, oh oh" intro, but the band declined to humor them, instead continuing with Ride the Lightning. After they ended that part of the set with "Fight Fire with Fire", they closed with "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman", before encoring with "Battery", "One", and "Seek & Destroy". Then, I made the long walk - and shuttle journey - back to my car.
Regarding that shuttle: there was no parking available on-site at Bader Field, so attendees had to park elsewhere in Atlantic City and shuttle to the field. However, the shuttle dropped attendees off at a location that was about a 10-15 minute walk from the front gates. For the most part, the event, which was organized by C3 Presents (who also handles Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits festival), was extremely well run. There were staff cleaning the field and the many portajohns frequently, the stages stayed pretty close to the announced set times, and there were few sound problems throughout the weekend. With everything else they did well, though, one would think they could have come up with a better parking/shuttle situation.