Whether you were there for 12-plus hours or simply showed up to see the main attractions, Sunday’s inaugural River City Rockfest on the AT&T Center grounds had something for everyone.
Newer bands for today’s generation. Older bands for their parents. Three stages. Food and beer vendors. Bodypainted models.
And Guns N’ Roses.
Making what’s believed to be their first San Antonio appearance with the post-original lineup, GNR rocked for 2 1/2 hours and entertained thousands (many of whom braved the humidity), culminating a festival that has aspirations of becoming an annual event.
A good chunk of those “very unofficial 12,000-14,000” — according to an AT&T Center spokesman — looked on curiously for most of the show. And you couldn’t blame them. Combined with the weather and the long hours of the event, fans were more intent on seeing how original singer W. Axl Rose and his whopping seven bandmates would pull off a performance in which a majority of San Antonians appeared to be hanging on nostalgically to the original lineup that endured an ugly breakup in the mid-’90s.
The surprise came in the fact that the fans, at least those surrounding the soundboard area and beyond, merely watched throughout the back-to-back-to-back Appetite For Destruction songs of “Welcome To The Jungle,” “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone,” which followed the opening title-track to Chinese Democracy. Even when Rose belted his trademark, “You know where you are?” preceding Jungle, the fans on either side of a runway divider up front responded enthusiastically, but those parallel to the soundboard and further back didn’t have much energy to react.
Which begs the question: If you’re attending a GNR show and not rocking to songs from one of the most successful, iconic and best albums of all-time, are you really in attendance?
Admittedly, fans were also curious to see what time GNR would hit the stage. Given Rose’s long-standing reputation for going on a couple of hours late, many did not stick around to see the headliners after Alice In Chains’ set wrapped up at 9:20 p.m. They missed out. GNR, scheduled for 10 p.m., went on at 10:15 and played a solid mix of tunes through 12:45 a.m. (setlist at bottom).
While it’s unfortunate GNR is the only band in which fans who didn’t attend a show are more likely to inquire “What time did they go on?” before asking “How was it?” and “What did they play?,” the truth is Rose brought that on himself over the years. Still, Rockfest party-goers had the advantage of Sunday’s show taking place at a festival and not strictly being a GNR headlining concert. In other words, the band had a tight window of when to take the stage and still put on a full performance, rather than being afforded the luxury of waiting three hours if it wanted knowing it was the only group there and that fans would hold out for them.
But Rose and Co. delivered the goods, and if San Antonians chose to let reputation override substance and entertainment by not showing up, it was their loss.
That being said, many of the songs, particularly in the latter half of the set, had jam session intros that grew tiresome. Further, nearly everyone in the group had a solo: all three guitarists (Bumblefoot, DJ Ashba and Richard Fortus) and longtime GNR keyboardist/pianist (and bongo player) Dizzy Reed. The solos served not only to let band members have their moments, but to give Rose a few breathers. Lest ye forget, the man has been singing for nearly 30 years — give or take a few years of seclusion after the breakup. But from a fan’s standpoint, standing around at midnight after a 12-hour day in sticky temperatures called for complete tunes rather than mere instrumentation.
While Rose’s voice, naturally, isn’t what it used to be, it did the job. GNR played all the hits, and Rose didn’t shy away from tackling the ever-tough-on-one’s-vocal-cords “You Could Be Mine.” Personal favorites were “It’s So Easy” and “Estranged.” The crowd cheered at the conclusion of seventh song “Rocket Queen” — not just because of the tune and its performance, but because it marked the first time Rose took off his sunglasses (at 11 p.m.) to truly see the GNR faithful. The post-midnight “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” dragged on for roughly 12 minutes, and the band lost brownie points by partly covering Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall.” That couldn’t morph fast enough into the full version of “November Rain.”
Fans and festival organizers could thank their lucky stars rain and lightning stayed away only 48 hours removed from 9-plus inches having hit San Antonio, which led to three deaths. Officials were prepared to cancel whatever remained of the festival at the first sign of bolts, and, depending on what time that may have happened, refunds may not have been given. Fortunately, no such ugly situation formed. So, with that proverbial, and literal, cloud hanging over the AT&T Center parking lot, Rose and his mates rocked to their hearts’ content and put to rest preconceived notions of anything that didn’t have to do with the performance.
GNR’s set was a more-than-adequate way to cap a River City Rockfest that included Halestorm, Bullet For My Valentine, Skillet, Asking Alexandria, All That Remains, Clutch, The Sword, Young Guns, and San Antonio’s The Heroine, Memory of a Melody and Battle of the Bands winner Texas.
Some of those artists, and others, took in GNR’s show. Disturbed and Adrenaline Mob bassist John Moyer was on hand, and so were All That Remains guitarists Mike Martin and Oli Herbert, with Martin telling the San Antonio Metal Music Examiner that GNR is his “favorite band of all-time.” But even he didn’t stick around for the finish. During his band’s headlining set on the second stage, All That Remains singer Phil Labonte pointed to the main stage, chuckled and said, “Do you know who’s playing over there? Guns N’ Roses. I get to tell my friends I played a show with Guns N’ Roses.”
While GNR did not allow any professional photographers or even the AT&T Center’s house photographer inside the photo pit in front of the stage, the SAMME shot a few from behind the soundboard, nearly a football field’s length from the stage (click slideshow above).
Whether GNR makes another appearance around these parts is anybody’s guess, and even if it does, it could be a few years. They’ll be in Dallas tonight and Lubbock on Saturday.
From the opening note to the showers of red confetti and fireworks on final encore “Paradise City,” GNR came and conquered. Sure, it wasn’t the original band that became one of the biggest artists on the planet in 1987. But at least there aren’t two versions (talking to you Queensryche, L.A. Guns and Great White). What Rose’s band does have is the original voice and several talented musicians. And since that’s the next-best thing, Sunday’s winners were the ones who had a little “Patience,” mimicked Rose’s snake dance on “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and stuck around to see the first River City Rockfest through to the end.
SETLIST: Chinese Democracy, Welcome To The Jungle, It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone, Estranged, Better, Rocket Queen, guitar solo (Richard Fortus), Live And Let Die, This I Love, band jam/piano solo (Dizzy Reed), Catcher In The Rye, You Could Be Mine, guitar solo (DJ Ashba), Sweet Child O’ Mine, Another Brick In The Wall (intro)/November Rain (full version), guitar solo (Bumblefoot), Don’t Cry, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Nightrain, Patience, Paradise City
For the SAMME’s review of Halestorm’s performance from the rockfest, click on the “Suggested” links in blue below and stay tuned for more RCR coverage.
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