Having become something of a longstanding tradition for the city of Louisville, the festival of booze and bands aplenty dubbed Louder Than Life has been regarded as one of the premier concert events on the eastern half of the continental United States. Whether it’s because of the wide assortment of whiskey, craft beer, gourmet food or numerous exhibits that naturally include 5 stages booked to the hilt with rock bands old and new, the crowd draw for this 4-day extravaganza has grown considerably from its 2014 inception and topped out at a whopping 160,000 just last year. The first day of the 2023 version of this grand endeavor started yesterday with favorable weather conditions gracing the early hours of autumn on September 21, 2023 and a respectable showing of concertgoers, ready to enjoy an impressive lineup of bands reaching from the recent past all the way to the alternative rock explosion of the 90s.
Much of the early afternoon would be dominated by younger and lesser known acts that would rock the smaller stages in a bid to make some waves among a veritable sea of potential new fans. Standing tall among the pack would be punk rockers with a notable retro 90s alternative rock flourish to their sound and Philly natives Mannequin Pussy, took to the Loudmouth Stage and brought down a truly raucous showing for all within earshot. Flamboyant guitarist and lead vocalist Marisa “Missy” Dabice would prove the most eye-catching member of the fold, matching an eccentric blend of neurotic vocalizations with a rather unique stage getup consisting of a see-through top and a baseball cap, though it was tough not to notice the flamboyance of the rest of the fold with guitarist Maxine Steen‘s leather skirt and flowing pink hair turning many a head, ditto the almost individually stylized outfits of touring keyboardist/guitarist Carolyn Haynes, drummer Kaleen Reading, and especially the towering hulk of a bassist Collins “Bear” Regisford.
Yet when putting the Village People-like visual aside, what flowed forth from the stage in auditory form was a blend of impactful rocking angst and atmospheric nuance that called to memory the iconic post-grunge trappings of Hole and the bizarre pop stylings of Imperial Teen, though was also more musically intricate and drew more fervently from the traditional formula of punk, with bangers like “I Got Heaven”, “Drunk II” and “Patience” being among the standouts.
Not long after the aforementioned medley of 90s-infused punk entries concluded, a fairly different take on the indie/alternative rock formula would grace the Space Zebra Stage, by the hand of Essex, England’s own Nothing But Thieves. If one wished to liken the angst ravings of Mannequin Pussy to the loud and loose legacy of Hole, the closest analogy existing within the 90s to what this British quintet brought to the table would be that of Blur, though that naturally only tells a small part of the story. Led by the smooth and highly emotive voice of helmsman and guitarist Conor Mason, the musical presentation was an exercise in melodic, highly infectious smoothness that almost bordered on symphonic at times given the healthy input by guitarist Dominic Craik when switching over to the keyboards.
But in terms of kinetic energy, the band played it pretty close to the hip and allowed their audience, comprised heavily of younger women, to do the vast majority of the movement, though Craik and fellow guitarist Joe Langridge-Brown proved to be fairly animated, one donning a “The Number Of The Beast” t-shirt while the other sported what could be likened to more of a Latin getup. Each chapter in their 8-part novella of a set was masterfully realized, though it was tough to not regard the fun melodic swag of “Tomorrow Is Closed” and heavier rocking opener “Futureproof” as highlight moments.
Keeping the British alternative/indie rock end up over at the Revolver Stage would be the tatted hip-hop dabbling fold known as Kid Kapichi. As one of the newest acts to feature at this Louisville-based marathon event and this being their first show in the U.S., let alone having released 3 LPs in as many years since their 2021 debut This Time Next Year, it could be said that they had a lot to prove and would subsequently bring their A-game to bear upon the masses. For a quartet that dabbles in the fusion of rap and rock, their approach would prove highly unique, bringing to mind the classic UK Grime approach to the former that would stand in stark contrast to the usually nasal and abrasive sound normally associated with the likes of Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock.
Likewise, the generally short hair, British accents and animated showing by their perpetually mobile bassist Eddie Lewis and guitarist Ben Beetham, and the slightly less mobile yet attention-grabbing front man Jack Wilson gave off the vibe of a bunch of football (soccer to all of us, Yankees) hooligans out to destroy the local pub after a home team victory. Entries like “Sardines” and “Let’s Get To Work” stood the tallest, but their entire set was an exercise in raw power with a poetic edge.
During this year’s Inkcarceration Festival, we learned about a metal band from Scranton, Pennsylvania, named Traverse The Abyss, and they impressed us very favorably. Turns out these dudes won the DWP Presents Twich contest for up-and-coming bands and graced the Road Hounds Stage stage on the first day of Louder Than Life 2023. And I’ve got to say that as much as I enjoyed last July’s show, they took things to a whole nother level this time around.
If I had to compare these guys with another band that would quickly make our readers understand their sound, I’d say they sound like a younger version of Suicide Silence. Once again the trio of axe-slingers comprised of “Iron” Mike White, Jamie Macheska, and Justin Coe took care of the punishing riffing department, while David “Goblin” Wilczewski did his best at beating the shit out of his drumkit without apparently breaking a sweat, and Nick “Big Shits” Cotillo alternated between laying down some thunderous basslines and headbanging like there was no tomorrow.
The three guitarists and the bassist pulled off the same stunt as they did when we last saw them: they came off stage at once and started running into the crowd while playing their instruments, meanwhile, Eric “Abyss” Ross – who brought forth his deep growling voice, paired with some higher pitch screams – would go to the barricade and engage with the fans, while also throwing fee band t-shirts to the crowd.
As you can probably imagine, the audience went into a totally batshit, frenzied stage with a band that probably half of them didn’t know about before the show, and the crowd-surfing and moshing escalated to epic proportions. To say Traverse The Abyss totally owned their 30-minute set and made a ton of new fans during the process would be an understatement. Refreshing to see a relatively new band leaving it all on the stage and succeeding at delivering like consummate professionals. I’m sure I’ll cross path with these dudes in the future to come.
The British invasion of Louisville would continue back at the Space Zebra Stage with the arrival of West Sussex-born old-school blues/garage rock duo Royal Blood. Naturally the minimal composition of the fold under consideration and their adopted style might tempt one to liken this slightly more than a decade-running outfit to The White Stripes, the combined efforts of bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher (occasionally assisted by touring keyboardist Darren James) resulted in something notably more impact-based and heavy, bordering on metallic at times, which would be no surprise to anyone that has heard their pummeling rendition of Metallica‘s “Sad But True”.
Though the widely viewed and aforementioned rendition would not be on their set list this particular day, they brought a truly gripping performance of attitude-infused rock with a minimalist flair that kept the bodies of every onlooker moving. Crushing anthems like “Mountains At Midnight” and “Little Monster” brought down the house, though it would be the boisterous rocker “Boilermaker” that would highlight the performance, with Thatcher leaving his kit and going down to the barricade to pump up the audience and all but hinting at diving off the stage as the lights around his drum kit blared on.
The tide of rocking vibes would finally switch back to the American side of the Atlantic with the arrival of progressive rock darlings and masters of the art of the live show Coheed & Cambria. Though they were without the elaborate stage lighting that has often graced their performances, they were able to include a neat LED backdrop that featured some of their video material related to their songs and performed masterfully both at their respective instruments and at keeping the crowd jazzed up as they proceeded to cram 10 songs into a criminally short set.
Everything was on point as the opening resound of “The Embers Of Fire” was played in part, this time with the band actually playing it live instead of relying on the usual recording to kick things off, and among the stellar performances that would grace the late afternoon air would include that of “Gravemakers & Gunslingers”, “A Disappearing Act” and “The Liars Club”, all the while helmsman Claudio Sanchez maximized his kinetic flow from behind the microphone with guitar in hand and with the assistance of the rest of the quartet, led the crowd through an expansive journey of sound that walked a brilliant line between hard rocking power and progressive intrigue, culminating in a mighty roar from all in attendance to the classic hooks of live staple and closing anthem “Welcome Home”.
A trip down the more unusual side of memory lane would ensue for those huddled at the Space Zebra Stage shortly after, with the arrival of Omaha, Nebraska’s more unique contributions to the 90s, namely rap/rock/ska fusion junkies 311. The brand of show that they would bring to the fore could almost be likened to a novelty act, as despite being in the game for many years now, the wildly eclectic character of their song selection and the energy that they would put into them definitely set them apart from the pack.
There was naturally no shortage of hard-hitting rock moments to be found on classic MTV favorites like the Iron Maiden-infused dueling guitar attack of “Beautiful Disaster”, or the heavier riffing adorning key moments of “All Mixed Up” and the lion’s share of their breakout single and closing number “Down”, yet the quirky punk/ska moments and the unusual interplay of Nick Hexum‘s Morrissey-influenced baritone and Doug “SA” Martinez‘s nasally rapping had the audience continually guessing in spite of all the infectious hooks being pumped into their ears. But at the end of it all, different meant no less on point for those who came to see what 311 is known for putting out.
The decibel factor would be cranked up considerably over on the Disruptor Stage with the arrival of punk/grunge icons and Los Angeles-born original bad girls L7. The passage of time may have proven a factor in their relatively static stage showing and the wear and tear of age may have been worn shamelessly on each of their faces, but when it came to delivering the rawness in sonic form there were no punched pulled. Guitarist/vocalist Donita Sparks spared no expense in delivering her words of discontent and rage in a jagged fashion that could almost be likened to Stevie Nicks after gargling hydrochloric acid for 2 hours, and the combined battery of Jennifer Finch‘s bass work and Demetra Plankas‘ drumming provided an almost metallic foundation upon which the rustic, punk-infused vibes of this 90s staple could truly shine, further bolstered by an unapologetically sloppy, blues-infused showing by lead guitarist Suzi Gardner to boot.
Classic odes to Gen X’s penchant for being pissed off at a world that passed them by such as “Shove”, “Pretend “We’re Dead” and “Fast And Frightening” could all have easily functioned as show-stealing moments, though the short but sweet ode to chronicling one’s hatred and Natural Born Killers soundtrack staple “Shitlist” arguably topped them all if crowd response were any indication.
As the evening hung in the air and the time for the middle-weight fighters to give way to the headliners was at hand, the punk bona fides of this year’s Louder Than Life festival would be codified over at the Loudmouth Stage with the presence of 90s revivalist extraordinaire outfit and Berkeley, California’s own Rancid. Concepts like high energy and explosive don’t even begin to describe the type of performance brought to the table courtesy of this traditional punk rock fold, as one up-tempo banger followed the next for a grand total of 22 by the time the last chord was struck. In like fashion to the Ramones and Sex Pistols before them, the name of the game was speed, simplicity, and a good hook to bring the whole thing home, and there was not a silent voice in the crowd from the opening resound of classic banger “Roots Radicals” to the good times classic “Ruby Soho”, and even some brand new arrivals to the band’s live shtick such as “Tomorrow Never Comes” were greeted with the enthusiasm one would expect from an elder rock icon outfit on their farewell tour.
The accessible grit and working-class punch of vocalist Tim Armstrong and the general simplicity of the delivery he brought via his guitar alongside that of Lars Frederiksen, bassist Matt Freeman and drummer Branden Steineckert (the band’s de facto new guy since 2006) culminated in a performance that could be best dubbed as one for the ages, with other assorted bangers like “Time Bomb” and “Salvation” wowing in standout fashion with their classic edge.
Rounding out this first day of culinary, alcoholic and sonic festivities over at the Disruptor Stage Pittsburgh natives Code Orange were in charge of bringing the proverbial house down with an avalanche of riffs, and they proved worthy of providing this event’s obligatory apex point. Modern metallic thunder of the highest energy of varieties was the order of the hour, as every member of the fold brought new meaning to the idea of being all over the place in both their playing and their stage activity. Front man Jami Morgan‘s stances could be best described as utterly histrionic, as if like a maddened fish dangling from a hook his body just seemed to pull away from the microphone while his face stayed glued to it like a magnet, never failing to bring the passion and fury through his mostly distorted voice. Guitarists Reba Meyers and Dominic Landolina were comparatively unfettered as they danced about and worked the crowd with near-reckless abandon.
Also of note was the demented, adorned with complicated fills and double bass-happy drum performance turned in by Mike Portnoy‘s son Max, helping to codify the metallic splendor of a band that stood alone amid a seemingly endless succession of punk and post-grunge outfits. There were no dull points to speak of in this set of freshly sharpened knives, but the pummeling fury brought forth by the likes of “Grooming My Replacement”, “Swallowing The Rabbit Whole” and “Out For Blood” was more than palpable, and functioned perfectly in closing out our coverage for a very respectable first day.