Riot is one of the most criminally underrated hard rock bands of all time. Starting in New York in the latter half of the 1970s, the band had a unique breed of rock that won them many followers, particularly in Europe. The band’s early hard rock years with vocalists Guy Speranza and Rhett Forrester remain their most popular, but the group has existed in many incarnations over the years, shifting from hard rock to power metal in the latter half of the 1980s, a sound they have maintained ever since. Despite the changes, the group’s lineup always included guitarist Mark Reale.
Sadly, the band is one that has been no strangers to tragedy. In addition to begin neglected compared to a number of other bands of the era, the group has endured the deaths of many of its former members. Former vocalist Guy Speranza died of cancer in 2003. His replacement, Rhett Forrester, was killed in a carjacking in 1994. And the long time one constant member of the band, Mark Reale, passed away in 2012 due to complications from Crohn’s disease. But, despite it all, the band has persevered and continues to make music.
Following Reale’s passing, the group was rebranded as “Riot V” (pronounced “Riot Five.”) The lineup for the current incarnation of the band is comprised of Mike Flyntz (with the band since 1989), Don Van Stavern (previously a member from 1986-1990, and in the more recent years prior to Reale’s passing), Todd Michael Hall, Nick Lee, and Frank Gilchriest. To date, the new “Riot V” version of the band has released one studio album, Unleash the Fire, which came out in 2014. In my review upon its release last year, I praised the musicianship of the record and how it seemed like the next logical progression for the band’s “power rock” sound, but at the same time, was disappointed to not see the band make any attempt to revisit the classic hard rock style sound from the Speranza/Forrester era. That said, the latter view did not make me any less eager to see the band in concert; it has been interesting to hear the band diversify and progress over the years.
Riot had two support acts for their Vamp’d show, the first of which being Vile Child. This is a group that has been active on the local Vegas music scene for several years now, and definitely strikes the fancy of anyone who is eager for some good, straight-up thrash style metal. Members of the band wore shirts for both Pantera and Metallica, and I could perhaps best sum up Vile Child as a combination of those two band’s respective sounds. The result was clearly a hit with the Vamp’d crowd this Thursday night! These guys are definitely worth keeping your eyes on if you are a fan of the hard and the heavy.
The second support act was Resistance, out of California. This is a band I had never heard before, or even heard of, for that matter. That said, they did not disappoint. Their drummer brought along a massive kit that took up most of the stage (they did not use the house kit), and they rocked with a ferocity that was a welcomed addition to this evening of rock and roll. The band played original material, but closed things out with a surprise cover of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” something this fan is sure every headbanger in the venue appreciated. If there was one minor complaint here, it was that the massive drum kit did not allow for the band members to move around the stage very much during the set (but every venue is different, obviously). All things considered, these are some great hard rockers I would be eager to see at Vamp’d again.
And then came Riot! As a band that mostly plays the East Coast and Europe, it was great to get the quintet in Vegas. This has been an eagerly awaited show by many a fan of hard rock and heavy metal in Sin City, and I am pleased to say that the group did not disappoint their audiences. Following an intro sequence, the band began rocking tunes from their new album, Unleash the Fire. Their setlist was primarily comprised of material from the band’s “power metal” period that stated in 1987 with Thundersteel, but they paid respect to the legacy of previous vocalists and founding member Mark Reale’s legacy by playing a handful of songs from those older albums as well. The result was a diverse setlist that would please any fan.
The musicianship of their performance was, by far, the biggest highlight here. It is not uncommon to have two guitarists in a band, with one doing rhythm and one doing leads, and/or the two musicians in question trading off. Riot is a band that says “to hell with that” and gives their audiences a dual lead guitar assault, unlike any other hard rock/metal act out there, yesterday or today. This is something that has really helped the band to stand out, and reigns true today in the Riot V period. Another key standout musician in the current version of the band is vocalist Todd Michael Hall. Riot has had several vocalists (they are so named “Riot V” because he is the fifth singer), but he manages to perform the parts of all of those previous singers effortlessly, doing justice to the material. Combine this with the brand new Riot V material, and you see what a talent he really is. Everyone on the stage brought their best to the table, and did not fail to please. Solid musicianship coupled with a choice setlist was just what this audience was in need of. Anyone who did not go to this show because it was “no original members” was a fool; they missed out on one of 2015’s best rock and roll performances in Vegas so far.
Throughout it all, you could tell the band was not only passionate about their music, but also their history, and even brought a sense of humor to the table. The group talked about their past with Mark Reale, and their own respective histories as well. Each member of the band had his own experiences and history with the band/Reale/etc., which made for some interesting comments throughout. But this was a rock show first, and the commentaries were fairly minimal compared to the rock and roll itself. The crowd was disappointingly small (the fact that it was on a Thursday night did not help any), but what few people did attend were banging their heads and enjoying the Riot music, past and present alike. It is clear that the Riot V incarnation of the band is going to be around for years to come, and no one will deny that it is a good thing. The band members were even good enough to sign autographs and take pictures with the fans following the performance!
In the end, this was another great night of rock and roll at Vamp’d. Riot is one of classic hard rock’s finest bands, and it is good to see that the Riot V incarnation is here to stay, with a quintet of hard rock/metal’s finest brought together! If Riot comes to your city, get to the venue and do not hesitate to rock out with them. This is an onslaught of classic hard rock and power metal you cannot afford to miss.