Adelitas Way: I only caught the last few songs from these Vegas hard rockers, but like fellow locals Otherwise, they managed to play in front of a sizeable crowd relatively early in the evening on the larger U Stage. Frontman Rick DeJesus expressed his hometown pride by admitting, “I still get nervous playing in front of Las Vegas,” but the crowd definitely seemed to be on his side, singing along to minor radio hits “Invincible” and “Notorious.” DeJesus followed the lead of Otherwise’s Adrian Patrick by bringing his young daughter onstage before the final song, and bassist Andrew Cushing sported a T-shirt repping his other band, fellow Vegas hard rockers Taking Dawn—who’d be a great addition to next year’s festival.
Saxon: These British warhorses have been going strong since 1977, and they brought plenty of power to their 10-song set. Whether new tunes (“Thunderbolt,” “The Secret of Flight”) or classics (“Denim and Leather,” “Power and the Glory”), every song sounded like something Wayne and Garth would headbang to in their AMC Pacer in Aurora, Illinois, in 1992. Singer Biff Byford remarked that this was “the first time we’ve had sun in five weeks,” and he looked a little fatigued at times, but his piercing, soaring voice never faltered. Introducing new song “They Played Rock and Roll,” a tribute to Motörhead, Byford noted that when Saxon and Motörhead first toured together in 1979, “some of you weren’t even born.” He also joked that he himself was only seven years old in 1979, and while that clearly isn’t true, Byford and his bandmates have held up remarkably well, and they easily matched up to the younger bands on the festival bill, in terms of both musicianship and stage presence.
In This Moment: It’s a shame that In This Moment isn’t an arena-level headlining band, because singer Maria Brink is clearly meant to be a massive pop star. In a little less than 45 minutes, the band’s set had more costume changes than a Cher concert, with Brink in a different elaborate outfit for each song. Her bandmates stayed in the same all-black outfits, but with their faces painted in black crosses over chalk-white backgrounds, they looked suitably menacing and surreal. Brink took the stage (emerging from a very vaginal-looking backdrop) wearing a literal crown, and she certainly ruled over Las Rageous for a short time. Using a headset microphone so that her hands were always free, she gyrated along with two background dancers, amped up the crowd and sang her heart out on catchy pop-metal songs like “Blood,” “River of Fire” and “Roots.”
Disappointingly, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford didn’t show up to sing “Black Wedding” with Brink, as he does on ITM’s most recent album, even though he was performing half an hour later just a few hundred feet away; Joe Cotela from Ded, who had played earlier in the day, did an adequate job, but he’s no Halford. The time needed for costume changes (with some eerie video interludes between songs) meant that the band only got through seven songs, culminating in 2013 hit “Whore,” with Brink delivering a Lady Gaga-style inspirational speech while wearing a white dunce cap with the word “whore” written on it in red.
Judas Priest: It’s sort of crazy that this legendary band wasn’t the Las Rageous headliner, and frontman Rob Halford might have agreed with that sentiment. Early on, he complained that the band only had a short amount of time to play, and Priest’s set felt rushed, even though it exceeded the allotted time by several minutes anyway. Condensing the typical headlining set down to about an hour meant sacrificing some Priest classics, including “Breaking the Law,” which appeared only in a truncated version before set closer “Living After Midnight.” It also meant that the guest appearance from longtime guitarist Glenn Tipton, who recently stepped away from live performances for health reasons, went completely without mention, although he seemed energetic and upbeat while performing the final three songs.
Before that, fill-in guitarist Andy Sneap fit right in, with his Flying V guitar and studded leather jacket, and the band sounded as powerful as ever, led by Halford’s trademark wail. Opening with the title track from new album Firepower, Priest gave the crowd the full-on rock-show treatment even at the smaller F Stage, including Halford riding a motorcycle onstage for “Hell Bent for Leather.” Halford’s thanks to the audience “for keeping the heavy metal faith alive” may have just been cheesy stage patter, but it struck a chord at an event like Las Rageous, which is keeping that faith alive in an era when rock (and especially hard rock and metal) is marginalized in mainstream music.
Five Finger Death Punch: Although originally formed in LA, Five Finger Death Punch has adopted Las Vegas as its hometown (the band members all now live locally), and singer Ivan Moody donned both a Golden Knights hockey jersey and a UNLV basketball jersey over the course of the show. On the second show of their current North American tour, the band members still had a few kinks to work out (an acoustic version of “I Apologize” fell apart shortly after it began, as Moody lost his place after attempting to get the audience to take over), but they appeared to be in strong shape compared to the turmoil of the past few years. Moody, who’s been in and out of rehab (and in and out of the band), addressed his recent problems head-on before playing the band’s latest single, a turgid cover of the Offspring’s “Gone Away.”
“I’m not proud of being an alcoholic, but I am,” he said. “I almost lost my band, my f*cking family, all of you beautiful motherf*ckers, for a bottle.” It was a vulnerable moment in what was otherwise a confident and even cocky performance, with Moody playfully bantering with audience members and the band’s crew. Even sober, he can still be abrasive and confrontational, but his voice sounded as good as ever, and while FFDP’s music is bland and formulaic, the band knows how to work an audience. If anything, the set was too short, wrapping up in a little over an hour with early hit “The Bleeding,” followed by an odd curtain call in which FFDP’s version of “House of the Rising Sun” played over the speakers, as Moody occasionally sang along. The band might still be getting its act together, but for the Las Rageous audience, it was a very welcome homecoming.