Concert review: Rock on the Range 2018 at Mapfre Stadium

Brad Keefe

Partway through Alice in Chains’ closing set at Rock on the Range on Friday, it dawned on me that, technically, the band also performed as part of my first real concert.

I’m only counting concerts I attended of my teenage free will (apologies to Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith). It was Lollapalooza ’93 at Legend Valley, and Alice in Chains headlined with original frontman Layne Staley.

Then I did the math. That was 25 years ago. I’ve been going to concerts for a quarter-century.

This wouldn’t be the first time I felt old at a Rock on the Range, but this may be the year where my disconnect with the core ROTR audience was the largest.

Mind you, I’m near the target age group. The umbrella of hard rock that this festival embraces isn’t young and hip, and the audience appreciates this.

But at Rock on the Range, I may in fact be the hipster. Two of my favorite sets from Friday did not appear to be those most enjoyed by the masses.

Post-hardcore act Quicksand played a killer set before an undersized crowd, as a vast majority landed on the other side of the weekend’s toughest conflict and went with Body Count.

Then an hour-long set by A Perfect Circle — one of two headline acts fronted by singer Maynard James Keenan — that I found majestic received a lukewarm reaction from a crowd full of people wearing T-shirts for Keenan’s other band on the bill, Tool.

A set heavy on new material received online complaints that the band “put everyone to sleep.” Oh, and they didn’t play “Judith,” the band’s biggest hit, from an album released nearly 20 years ago.

Of course, ’90s nostalgia factored heavily into the weekend, although it might have been more of a draw for those who didn’t have a chance to see these acts the first time around. The aforementioned grunge forefathers Alice in Chains, for one, played with William DuVall, who replaced the late Layne Staley.

While that set was a testament to the enduring power of Alice in Chains songs both new and old, my feelings were more mixed on a regrouped Stone Temple Pilots. DuVall has his own rock star swagger, but STP’s new singer Jeff Gutt goes full tribute band, mimicking Scott Weiland’s mannerisms and even bleaching his hair. Those songs are still singalongs, but it felt more than a little weird less than a year since Weiland’s death.

Still I can get more into the '90s throwbacks than the generation of hard rock that immediately followed, as evidenced by my antipathy toward a Saturday lineup headlined by Stone Sour and Avenged Sevenfold. This was peak ROTR party, but I wasn’t feeling it after a long slog through day one.

So much so, in fact, that after Mapfre Stadium had to be evacuated due to lightning strikes reported within an eight-mile radius, the lengthy delay led me to abandon ship. The evening’s performances eventually resumed, with bands playing shortened sets as the fest stretched past its usual curfew.

I passed the time during the delay reading comments on the event’s Facebook page that lamented the delay, suggesting the festival was somehow screwing over patrons by not carrying on despite the lightning threat. All part of an elaborate plan to not sell a bunch of overpriced beer, I guess? I’m just not sure I get these people.

There were exciting, new-to-me discoveries to be had among all the expected acts, most notably blistering midday sets from Underoath and Code Orange. This year also brought back the J-pop/metal mashup of Babymetal, an act that must be seen to be believed, in a good way. This also drew a massive side-stage crowd.

But it was Tool that was the grand unifier of both my esoteric “hipster” tastes and the sunburned-and-dehydrated aggro crowd.

Playing its first Columbus show in 12 years, Tool plunged through a career-spanning set with methodical precision. Keenan, who sported a blue, three-piece suit and long blond wig for his A Perfect Circle set, spent the night on a platform at the back of the stage with Tool. He was lit only by the swirling light show and clad in full riot gear.

Tool’s brand of prog-metal, replete with songs that break the 10-minute barrier, is not exactly party rock, but the stadium packed it in for the Sunday closing set. Those slow-building and swirling soundscapes are a borderline spiritual experience live. I’ll be eternally grateful to ROTR for bringing the band here.