REVIEW: Here’s What We Experienced At Louder Than Life 2023

With the complete and utter disaster that was Blue Ridge Rock Festival (which is NOT run by Danny Wimmer Presents) in Alton, VA, earlier this month, all eyes were on Louder Than Life. More than a few people who went to BRRF (or attempted to go before it was abruptly canceled) were looking to Danny Wimmer Presents to save what was left of their summer. Others, disparaged after wasting time and money on Blue Ridge, were understandably skeptical of attending Louder Than Life, fearing that it would end in a similar type of train wreck. I get it, but these people obviously haven’t experienced a Danny Wimmer Presents festival before. I’ve been to my fair share of different music festivals over the years, and I can honestly say that none are better run than DWP-produced festivals.

And what an amazing time it’s been! Two stellar back-to-back festivals eight days of music stretched out over an 11-day period. DWP’s Chief Marketing Officer Chamie McCurry said it best in the interview I had with her: “Between Bourbon and Louder, it truly is the eight biggest days of music in the United States. There’s nowhere else where this many artists perform in the same city over eight days.” In the past week and a half, we have seen performances from the likes of Foo Fighters, Bruno Mars, Green Day, Tool, Weezer, The Killers, The Black Keys, Avenged Sevenfold, Duran Duran, Pantera, Blondie, and so many more. Over 180 band/artist performances ranging from Dethklok to Wayne-Fucking-Newton! It’s almost impossible to comprehend! New York, L.A., Chicago, maybe, but…in Louisville? I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t been there. The level of thankfulness I have to Danny Wimmer Presents for giving Louisville a chance to host a music festival 10 years ago and building upwards from that first Louder Than Life is immeasurable. They may not be from here, but I think a “Danny Wimmer Presents’ Louisville” banner is in order!

As much as I love Bourbon and Beyond, it’s always the warm-up for me, a place to get into the festival mindset, get my feet wet, and relax in the calm before the storm. Although my age and outward appearance are certainly more in line with that of the Bourbon and Beyond crowd, my heart is with the Loudmouths: the freaks, the oddballs, and the outcasts who, once a year, all converge on the Highland Festival Grounds. Just walking into Louder Than Life is like walking into a whole new world. A world full of ridiculous amounts of fishnet bodysuits, vulgar shirts ranging from hilarious to downright offensive (but admittedly pretty hilarious, too), people blurring the lines of public nudity, bare butt cheeks aplenty, and an insane number of people (or insane people, really) dressed in full costumes in 80-plus-degree weather as people/things such as Gandalf, Inosuke, Elvis, Jesus, a plague doctor, Beetlejuice, Pennywise, Chuckie, Spiderman, a purple fox, Macho Man Randy Savage, Dr. Rockso, female Dr. Rockso, numerous Where’s Waldos, people riding giant chickens, a human balloon animal, a working human stoplight, bananas in a mosh pit, a crowdsurfing unicorn, a crowdsurfing inflatable penis, and, of course, the legend himself, crowdsurfing Santa.

Oh, and there’s music, too! While I certainly could write up my thoughts on the ridiculous number of bands I saw over these past four days, it would make for one hell of a lengthy review. So I’m narrowing it down to my favorite performances instead.

Thursday really started for me with one of my picks for bands not to miss at Louder Than Life: Kyng, who proved they definitely got screwed with their earlyafternoon placement on the smaller Revolver stage. Kyng simply dominated during their all-too-short set of six songs, one of them being an amazing cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.” Immediately following Kyng on the adjoining Disruptor Stage were Louisville rapcore artists Guerrilla Warfare, who, when I say they killed it, I mean they absolutely fucking crushed it! The crowd continued to swell for the duration of their set, everyone drawn in by the trio’s high energy and explosive sound. As festival first-timers on stage, GW proved without a doubt they deserve a place on the bill at future LTL festivals, winning over hundreds, if not thousands, of new fans in the process.

A half-hour after GW’s set saw Louisville’s only band to grace the main stage this year: White Reaper. Fresh off a tour supporting Thursday night co-headliners Weezer and an appearance at Chicago’s Riot Fest, White Reaper wasted none of their 35-minute time slot by cranking out nine tunes covering all four of their full-length albums. Forsaking all the metal going on around me, I headed over to the Kroger Big Bourbon Bar for a half-hour set by country music’s latest, albeit seemingly reluctant, superstar Oliver Anthony, and I was not alone in doing so. Anthony, accompanied by an additional guitarist, proved to be witty, charming, humble, and even relatable to the huge crowd packed into the small stage area; his booming voice overpowered the music from the bands performing on the three stages around him.

Later, I watched part of 311’s amazing set, but I decided to catch L7 on the smaller Disruptor Stage. As I was walking, 311’s drummer went into this absolutely insane drum solo that I had to stop and watch. I’m not a huge fan of 311, but their drummer looked surprisingly familiar. I’d find out why during the Foo Fighters’ set. L7 certainly brought the raw, unapologetic fury to the stage in a set that relied heavily on their early 90’s material, including four songs from their breakthrough third album Bricks Are Heavy; “Pretend We’re Dead” and “Shitlist” garnered the biggest responses.

Then I went back to the main stages to catch Rancid. Early on, it wasn’t hard to tell that age has slowed them down performance-wise, although their drummer was giving it everything he had for the entire set. I remarked early on that I had never seen a band look bored while playing punk rock before. But the band seemed to find their stride towards the middle of their set and ended on a high note. They did sound great the entire set, though, and with the motherload of the songs played being from their records …And Out Come The Wolves and Let’s Go (two of the greatest punk albums ever, in my opinion), I was quite pleased with their set. Weezer, a band many people were unhappy to see on the bill, showed exactly why their inclusion was not a fluke. Their performance, with a stage set designed to look like an old car dashboard and a video screen showing cartoony scenes as if you were looking through that car’s windshield, was easily one of the most entertaining of the entire festival. All the while, Rivers Cuomo — with his thick-rimmed glasses, opened polka-dot blue shirt, and classic dad-style tan pants — proved to be the ultimate cross between geek and rock star as he masterfully worked the crowd up while rolling through their many hits.

Foo Fighters took the stage next, and there is no one who knows how to entertain better than Dave Grohl. His charisma and enthusiasm were infectious and left the whole crowd Thursday night with ear-to-ear smiles. During band introductions, Dave Grohl mentioned that new Foo Fighters drummer and drum legend Josh Freese was not only playing the Foo Fighters’ full set, but had already played full sets that night for Weezer and 311 (I knew he looked familiar), and had done some stuff with Rancid. Yeah, there is a reason why Freese, as a studio musician, has played on most of your favorite albums whether you know it or not. Foo Fighters were everything you’d hope they’d be live and an absolutely perfect choice as the day’s headliner. Certainly from the looks of it, Foo Fighters most likely had the biggest crowd of the entire festival, and they sent everyone on their way that night by closing out the set with a fabulous rendition of their hit “Everlong.”

Friday ended up being my favorite day of the festival. So many great bands to see, starting off with Gnome, who, despite their horrible band name and goofy gnome hats, play some pretty awesome stoner rock tunes. Following them was my ultimate pick of bands not to miss at this year’s Louder Than Life: Hanabie. A few weeks ago, I had no idea who they were just another name on the bill. But I was flipping through this year’s LTL bands I was unfamiliar and eventually came around to them. I really wish I’d taped my reaction. I was definitely unprepared for it, but I loved it! Mixing brutal metalcore with J-pop and anime aesthetics, Hanabie blends sounds that shouldn’t work together, but do. And the all-female Japanese four-piece was absolutely amazing live, dominating the Revolver Stage and winning over multiple fans in the process. 

Louisville’s FoxBat, who won the chance to play the Road Hounds Stage by exactly one vote, certainly proved that they not only deserved to win, but should be included on the bill and playing one of the larger stages in the future. Corey Taylor, the first half of whose set I missed in favor of FoxBat, proved that he doesn’t need to be under his Slipknot mask to entertain a crowd. Dave Mustaine and Megadeth showed that age is just a number, ripping through songs dating back to the mid-80’s while making them sound as fresh as if they were written yesterday. And as a surprise to us long-time fans, they threw in the classic “Hook In Mouth,” which they apparently haven’t played live in a decade. Unfortunately, I forgot that Kittie was sandwiched between Megadeth and Limp Bizkit, and I missed their set. But let’s talk about Limp Bizkit for a minute, shall we?

If you weren’t there, then I’m sure you’ve heard about it by now, but a few minutes into their “set” (if you could call it that at the time this happened), Fred Durst demanded they turn off the large monitors that flank the two main stages. You know, the things that people in the back of the crowd use to watch the performers. Even more surprisingly, DWP obliged. Why? They were not the headliners; they were under contract to perform; Fred doesn’t have the clout he used to back in the early 90’s, and ultimately there was no fucking reason to. If this was an issue for Fred, it should have been worked out before their set. DWP’s allegiance should be to the fans, not to any band or performer’s vanity. They should have told him to go fuck himself and kept the monitors on. If he walked out, then sue his ass, but don’t fuck the festival attendees over for him. The people in the back paid for their tickets, too; they deserve for the monitors to be kept on. Rumors abound as to why Fred demanded they be turned off, but I’ll leave those for the readers to discover since no official statement has been made. But it’s really, truly sad to see that Fred Durst hasn’t changed at all since the days when he was relevant. Even though he is now long past his prime, he’s still the same self-absorbed asshole he always was. The band seemed to bumble through the first half of their set anyway, playing two covers and what amounted to snippets of their own songs, followed by the band vamping while Fred complained and half-assedly tried to work the crowd up. However, this actually turned into a great thing, as it drove me and a good deal of the crowd back to the Revolver Stage, where Fever 333 was playing, and they ended up being way better live than Limp Bizkit ever was or could hope to be. Their energy was off the charts and their set ripped!

Following Limp Bizkit on the main stages, Godsmack had a lot of cleaning up to do in getting the festival back on track, and damned if they didn’t do it in spades! Godsmack put on a commanding 12-song performance that covered their entire career, impressing the hell out of fans and non-fans alike with a show that was certainly worthy of a headlining slot. Next came a band I’ve been waiting a very long time to see: Friday night’s headliner, Tool. Depending on if you love them or hate them (as there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground), they were either amazing or they sucked. I’m in the first category, obviously. While Tool is certainly not the most exciting band to watch live, the combination of their music and visuals more than make up for it. And they sounded great! Not unlike Limp Bizkit, Tool also did not show the band playing live on the monitors, opting instead to show visuals. Here’s the big difference, though: with Tool, it was planned ahead of time. That’s why the visuals being shown on the monitors were a continuation of the visuals being shown on the screen behind the band; they weren’t just completely turned off. And while there are aspects of Tool’s set that one could certainly complain about (no “H.,” no “Ænema,” no “Parabol/Parabola,” no “Schism,” no “Lateralus,” nothing from the Undertow album, and the set ended 10 minutes early), the fact remains that they sounded perfect and the visuals during the songs were amazing! I know I walked away that night happy as fuck for having experienced Tool’s set.

Saturday highlights: the wall of death during Suicide Silence’s set was one of the most insane things I have ever witnessed! It wasn’t surprising to see that someone ended up in the ER afterwards with a separated shoulder, chest contusion, and severely bruised ribs. Louisville’s own Devil’s Cut was playing on the Revolver Stage during Suicide Silence’s set, so I missed them, unfortunately. But I’m hoping they had a great set and won over a shitload of new fans! The Hu once again delivered an incredible but way-too-short six-song set that included a cover of Metallica’s “Through The Never” amongst their original songs. 

Babymetal was enthralling to watch! Parkway Drive, with their use of fire and a rotating drum set (which, although blatantly stolen from Motley Crue, was still an effective visual), whipped the crowd into a frenzy and showed that they are definitely worthy of a later, longer time slot. Over on the Revolver Stage, Whitechapel was fucking brutal as hell. I was largely unfamiliar with them, but damned if I wasn’t impressed. A lot of people were saying that Dethklok should have been on one of the main stages, and they weren’t wrong. If you knew the animated show “Metalocalypse,” then you knew what to expect. Their mix of melodic death metal coupled with animated scenes from the show and downright funny lyrics was quite the sight and sound to behold. 

Then it was back to the main stages for Pantera. Much debate has been had about the band getting back together sans the late Abbott brothers guitarist Dimebag Darrell and drummer Vinnie Paul replaced with Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde and Anthrax’s Charlie Benante, respectively. I’m pretty much in the middle. While I think it’s great that the younger fans are getting the chance to finally hear these songs live again, and I don’t blame vocalist Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown for getting back out there under the Pantera name, there’s also the issue of Vinnie Paul having said numerous times before his own passing that under no circumstances should Pantera ever reunite without Dimebag. If I’d never seen them before, I would have been blown away Saturday night. But, having had the opportunity to see them with both Abbott brothers numerous times between 1990 and 2001, I gotta say they were alright. Not great, not terrible, just alright. I wasn’t disappointed, nor was I impressed. But, like I said, I saw them a lot back in their prime, so that’s always going to be my frame of reference regarding Pantera live. And it was obvious Saturday night that Wylde and Benante bring a different dynamic to these songs. But at the same time, with Dimebag and Paul both gone and that original dynamic being impossible to ever get back, Pantera 2023 is way, way better than never hearing these songs live again. If you’re going to replace Dimebag and Vinnie with anybody, you couldn’t have done better than Wylde and Benante.

But I will tell you, I walked away a few songs into their set because there was a band playing on the Revolver Stage called Sleep Token that I had been hearing a lot about, so I felt like I needed to at least check out a song or two of their set to see what the fuss was all about. What I got was far beyond anything I was expecting. Sleep Token live was a level of captivating I haven’t experienced since Slipknot’s early days! Even though I was completely unfamiliar with any of their songs, I stayed for the remainder of their set. Their music, their image, and their light show all combined to transfix the crowd, who seemed to know every word to every song. I’ve since seen where people regard seeing Sleep Token live as going to church, and I am now a convert! I can pretty much guarantee you that Sleep Token will be headlining a main stage at Louder Than Life in the next few years, and rightfully so. I did make it back to the main stage in time to catch Pantera end their set with “Cowboys From Hell,” which I quite enjoyed. Seems like Phil Anselmo is a bit more humble these days, as he thanked the crowd in what sounded like genuine appreciation from him. 

Avenged Sevenfold capped off the night. This may piss off some people, but I’ve never been able to get into them. I have been a fan of their drummer, Brooks Wackerman, since his days in Suicidal Tendencies and Bad Religion, though, so I stuck around for a few songs to watch him before heading home. Not much to review there, although I did see that they stopped their set three times when people up near the front needed medical treatment, getting the crowd to part each time so EMS could reach the person in need, which is highly commendable.

Sunday brought me an incredible amount of foot pain, resulting in my holding off on going until later in the day, missing several bands I was planning on seeing. Turnstile, a band who, just a few years ago, was buried in the Louder Than Life lineup, proved they were up to the task of a late mainstage slot. With a set that leaned heavily on their 2021 breakthrough record Glow On, the band gave every ounce of energy they had to the enthusiastic crowd, who, in turn, gave it right back. Queens of the Stone Age were up next on the adjoining Loudmouth stage, and, from what I’ve read so far, figuratively split the crowd between the younger attendees, who were bored, and the older attendees, who loved it. Obviously not the most exciting band live, but vocalist/guitarist/band founder Josh Homme regardless put on a commanding performance that saw the band playing songs that covered the majority of their career, going back to 2002 breakout album Songs For The Deaf. Much like The Killers did with “Mr. Brightside” at the beginning of their set at Bourbon and Beyond, QotSA opened their set with arguably their biggest hit, “No One Knows,” which is not only a pretty big flex, it’s always a great way to start a set! Not gonna lie, though — as a huge fan of Homme’s previous band, Kyuss, who broke up back in the mid90’s, a huge part of me had hoped that he would break out an old Kyuss tune for the hell of it. Obviously, it didn’t happen, or otherwise you’d be reading me babbling on about it right now. But QotSA’s set was quite enjoyable for an old guy like me regardless. 

Sunday night headliners Green Day kicked off their set… interestingly. After Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” finished playing over the speakers, a person in a bunny suit suddenly appeared on stage dancing awkwardly as The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” played, which then blended into a mashup of “Blitzkrieg Bop”, “I Love Rock and Roll”, and “We Will Rock You.” We’re already three songs in and Green Day hasn’t even come out on stage yet. Finally, the bunny guy is pulled off the stage and Green Day launches into “American Idiot,” and for the next two hours, they don’t let up! Having never seen them live before, I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. What I got was a band that is still running around like they’re still in their 20’s putting on a masterclass in entertaining a crowd! You could argue that another band put on a better show at this year’s Louder Than Life, but you’d be wrong. Green Day proved to be the perfect choice to wrap everything up this year, tearing through a 23-song set that included cuts going back to their 1991 album Kerplunk all the way through their 2009 album 21st Century Breakdown, while surprisingly ignoring their last five records released since 2012 in favor of covers of “Rock and Roll All Nite” by Kiss, “Knowledge” by Operation Ivy (during which a young fan from the audience got to come up and play guitar), and “Shout” by The Isley Brothers. However, all the hits were played and extremely well-received by the fans. Green Day closed out the set with singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong, armed only with an acoustic guitar, playing the aptly titled “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” during which the entire crowd sang along to every word, ending in a massive confetti shower. A perfect close to the best Louder Than Life yet, in this reviewer’s opinion. Now, time to let blistered feet rest and the post-festival blues kick in until next spring when the bands for the 2024 Louder Than Life and Bourbon and Beyond festivals are announced.

Loudmouths: for what it’s worth, it was worth all the while. I hope you had the time of your lives!