An uncharacteristically chilly breeze swept over the 40-acre open-air venue on the Las Vegas Strip that had been transformed to accommodate the Rock in Rio festival’s debut in the United States.
Considering that this would be the 30th anniversary of the festival that started in Brazil with Queen headlining, the four main stages, three themed rock streets, a Ferris wheel and VIP area complete with a zip line that had been erected in the desert for a pair of weekends was more than fitting for this grandiose experience.
Thousands descended upon Vegas for the day one festivities that commenced on Friday afternoon (May 8) and carried through until the wee hours of the morning. Highlights included Theophilus London, who was a late replacement for Bleachers. London powered through his set while still reeking of the combustible energy he provided on Kanye West‘s “All Day.” The Trinidadian warmed up the crowd with choice cuts, including “Tribe” and the soothing “Rio” to set the stage for what was to come. Gary Clark Jr. and his cooing guitar brought the sun down with a bluesy session. The Austin artist mesmerized the still swelling contingency as he serenaded them with the adrenaline pumping “Don’t Owe you A Thang” and capped his session off with “Bring Lights” and a wicked guitar solo.
Threats of rain quenching the dry land had subsided entirely by the time Foster the People took to the stage at 9 p.m. Festival-goers danced on the artificial turf to “Coming of Age” and “Pumped Up Kicks” in between gulps from their plastic guitars and saxophones that doubled as oversized contraptions that held copious amounts of liquor. By the time Mexican pop rock band Maná took to the stage at 10 p.m., the festival was stuffed with people from various parts of the country. A healthy amount zipped over to the main stage to sing along to the band’s hour long session that spanned over two decades of hits.
At the stroke of midnight — and after an impressive fireworks display that illuminated the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Blvd. — chants of “we want Gwen” were answered as drummer Adrian Young appeared on stage behind a red, yellow and green drum kit to signal the arrival of No Doubt. Bassist Tony Kanal soon followed as the rest of the musicians took their places. Finally, Gwen Stefani emerged dressed in a pair of plaid pants, a white vest and her blonde hair tipped with black. The same spunk that Stefani possessed 20 years ago when Tragic Kingdom helped launch the third-wave ska revival of the 1990s was present despite the “Holla Back” girl being a mature mother of three.
The band rumbled through their genre-weaving catalog as VIP attendees continued to use the zipline that glided them past the main stage and over the healthy crowd of fans.
“I want to see every single f—ing person in here jumping with me,” Stefani shouted at the crowd. Well aware that most festival-goers had been partying for several hours, Stefani welcomed the challenge of keeping them alive through their nearly two-hour performance.
The reggae-tinged offerings of “Underneath It All” and “Settle Down” entranced the legions of fans, but before they got too comfortable, the 45-year-old bounded into punk rock favorite “Ex-Girlfriend.” With the crowd wide awake, Stefani took the time to talk to the crowd about keeping their energy up and even snapped brought a lively fan onstage to snap a selfie.
With such an extensive catalog, it was refreshing to see No Doubt transition into an acoustic session that was reminiscent of an MTV Unplugged performance as the band gathered close the front of the stage and performed graceful versions of “Simple Kind of Life” and “Excuse Me Mister.” But the name of the game was keeping the fans on their toes and No Doubt jolted them with the energetic “Sunday Morning” as Stefani hijacked a camera to capture the crowd’s energy.
By the time Stefani channeled 1995 with “Don’t Speak” and “Just A Girl,” the female contingency that was likely in high school when Tragic Kingdom released was in full dance mode as ladies bounced off of one another with a teenage vitality.
With day one in the books, it will be interesting to see how those that will get only a few hours of sleep will recuperate heading into the second part of the Rock weekend that will be capped off by a highly anticipated performance from Metallica.