photos by Ana Gibert
The first weekend of Rock in Rio USA revved up the volume on the Vegas Strip with a hard-hitting rock n’ roll line-up that burned brighter than the city’s neon lights. 82,000 fans showed up to the festival’s 30th anniversary and United States debut for two days of soulful jamming, new age progressive rock and heavy metal that spanned more than three decades of legendary talent. The City of Rock’s streets were themed with culture from the United Kingdom, United States and Brazil lined the festival grounds with flavors and street performances inspired by the different countries.
Saints of Valory, a band that originally formed in Rio de Janeiro before relocating to Austin, buzzed the crowd to life on Friday afternoon with their pillowy vocals and artful layering of alt rock vibes during songs “Big Eyes” and “Kids.” Smallpools fused chic pop with electro-rock to bring the crowd at the main stage to their feet with songs that will be likely to get tons of attention soon – including “Dreaming” and “American Life.”
Gary Clark Jr. delivered the best performance of the entire festival as the sun went down on Friday evening, beaming through the crisp air with his bluesy velvet voice and distorted guitar solos. His contemporary take on blues was a refreshing texture for the metal-heavy festival, especially when he busted out favorites “Catfish Blues” and “Travis County,” shut it down with “Bright Lights.”
International sensation Maná pumped the festival with enough energy to dance past the unusually cold desert night with their delightful pop rock ballads inspired by their Guadalajaran roots. Whether everyone getting their groove on actually understood the Spanish lyrics was not important, their bouncy beats and festive hits like “Labios Compartidos” and “Clavado en un bar” created a deep sense of comradery that was palpable throughout the crowd. The energy carried over into No Doubt’s set, which delivered funky ska-pop classics including “Underneath It All” and “Hey Baby.” Gwen Stefani owned the stage like a true rock star throughout the entire night, even showing her softer side with acoustic renditions of “Simple Kind of Life” and “Excuse Me Mr.”
Coheed and Cambria brought back the nostalgic edge of post-hardcore with their epic lyrics and adventurous music on Saturday afternoon, setting the stage for the weekend’s more raw rock day. Sepultura commanded one of the largest audiences with their intensely heavy metal set and were joined by guitar god Steve Vai joined the group on stage for a mind-blowing performance of “Roots Bloody Roots.” The Deftones performance was packed with plenty of punch, sticking to heavy versions of old favorites including “Engine No. 9.” Fireworks celebrated the close of the weekend just before Metallica took over the fest for the heavy metal heads that couldn’t get enough of their “Enter Sandman” and “Nothing Else Matters.”
Throughout the weekend, the ‘what happens in Vegas’ mantra was heard occasionally as festival goers climbed up to the top of the 64-feet tall zip-line tower, hopped in mosh pits or sipped from their colossal drinks in life-size guitar-shaped cups. It was a wild start to the inaugural Rock in Rio USA, and will certainly bring even more excitement with sets from James Bay, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and more on weekend two.
– Jesse Lingenfelter