It was 4:45 on Saturday afternoon when everyone’s day at the Orion Music + More Fest basically imploded. No matter where you were, either across the field watching Dropkick Murphys or in a tent waiting for Death Grips, when the opening notes of “Hit the Lights” rang out across Detroit’s Belle Isle, there was scarcely an alternative other than to flock to the Damage Inc. stage, where the mysterious band Dehaan turned out to be Metallica performing their 1983 debut, Kill ‘Em All, front to back. James Hetfield walked out as if to introduce this “band from Baltimore,” but his hints on Instagram earlier in the week had tipped off that something special would be happening.
Metallica were carefully rehearsing the Kill ‘Em All material when Rolling Stone visited their studio on Tuesday, particularly focusing on playing the songs in their original incarnations, note for note. Even a song like “The Four Horsemen,” which the band plays semi-regularly, is typically performed in an abridged version, but on Saturday they restored the entire song, including the melodic bridge that the band refers to as the “Lynyrd Skynyrd part.” The no-frills set drew the majority of the crowd to the comparably smaller stage, tucked into the corner of the festival grounds, and all simultaneous stages were briefly suspended to avoid overlap. The quickly surging crowd ate up songs like “Motorbreath” and “Whiplash,” and the band delivered the tight, 10-song set without much stage banter, production or hooplah.
But even if the day peaked there for some, there was still plenty to see, including an energetic, eccentric set from Tomahawk, the Mike Patton-fronted band that specializes in creating a disorienting maelstrom of chaos, and the jubilant reunion of 90s funk metal pioneers Infectious Grooves, featuring Metallica bassist Rob Trujillo, Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir, and a rare appearance by former Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin. Trujillo was visibly enthused to play in a different style, embracing a slapping technique that would get him kicked out of Metallica if he tried it in that context. He will play another two sets today, with Trujillo Trio and Metallica, putting him in first place for this year’s iron horse award.
Although the night’s ostensible headliners, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, had some of their thunder stolen by Metallica’s surprise performance, they still drew a substantial crowd as the sun began to go down, delivering hits like “Scar Tissue,” “Dani California,” “Can’t Stop” and their cover of “Higher Ground” early in the set as seagulls began to swarm and create their own circle pits. Several extended jams encouraged a steady trickle towards the exit, as lengthy waits for shuttle service earlier in the day – no cars are allowed on the island – caused some uncertainty among the departing crowd.
One of the big question marks this year was the addition of an EDM-centric stage, which remained nearly full throughout the day, with several DJs dropping in obligatory Metallica samples between relentless bass drops. Hetfield and Trujillo made their first appearance of the day to introduce hometown metal band Battlecross, who delivered a spot-on rendition of Slayer’s “War Ensemble” in tribute to late Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman.
Orion Music + More continues today, featuring sets from the Deftones, Gogol Bordello, Rocket from the Crypt and FIDLAR, and will be capped off by Metallica’s headlining performance. Are Kid Rock and/or Bob Seger in town?