In the recent aftermath of what could be best described as the most metal days of Louder Than Life’s 2023 run, the question of how the final day will close things out was likely on the minds of those who enjoy their rock-hard and metal-heavy music. The final hurrah of this massive 4-day marathon of alcohol, food, and music would in turn circle back to a more eclectic take of what the first day had to offer, being dominated by a mixture of hard rock, pop-rock, hip-hop, and punk outfits. The milder weather that greeted the seas of devotees on September 24, 2023, could be likened to the musical results that were to unfold, cooler and more within the comfort zone of those who enjoy a more radio-oriented form of entertainment. Nevertheless, though pickings were slim for the metal crowd, the silver linings that came along were sufficient to give this mostly off-the-hook festival a proper denouement.
Following an early afternoon mostly dominated by mainline pop and hip-hop artists, a strong retro blues rock storm was brewing over at the Space Zebra Stage courtesy of Long Beach, California hard rock revivalists Rival Sons. Being no strangers to the stage while either on tour or featuring at one of the many rock festivals across the continental U.S., the core membership of vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jay Buchanan, lead guitarist Scott Holiday, bassist Dave Beste and drummer Mike Miley laid down an old school mix of early 70s zest and late 60s psychedelic fuzz that did not falter. The lion’s share of the crowd work was handled by Buchanan and Holiday in a masterful, entertainer duo fashion, while the former’s Robert Plant-like soaring notes and wails melded perfectly with the latter’s Page meets Hendrix blend of guitar wizardry, occasionally flirting with the heaviness of Iommi‘s earliest concoctions with Black Sabbath. Whether it was established odes from yesteryear like the groovy show closer “Secret” and chunky rock machine “Open My Eyes”, or recent handiwork like the fun and tantalizing “Sweet Life” and semi-regular 2023 tour fixture “Mirrors”, this outfit proved a raging hurricane on stage amid an afternoon of mostly passing breezes.
Not long after a more punk rocking vibe with a folksy, Celtic twist would keep the energy up over at the Loudmouth Stage, courtesy of Irish turned Los Angeles rabble-rousers Flogging Molly. In true showman fashion, frontman and Dublin expat Dave King stole the show with his quick wit and endless bag of quips, taking a particular occasion at the beginning of their performance of “The Hand Of John L. Sullivan” to yuck it up with a fan in the first row holding a sign reading “I need a Guinness”; prompting him to respond “Who better a person to share a Guinness with!?” and proceeding to approach the edge of the stage and toss the man a beer can, who artfully caught it amid a sea of cheers. Another noteworthy moment happened right before jumping into their subsequent crackerjack performance of “A Song of Liberty”, when King asked the crowd to help him salute Vladimir Putin and proceeded to lead them in flipping the bird with both hands. But amid the medley of jokes and good cheer was an equally competent performance by this massive 7-piece folk-rock ensemble, and stellar renditions of upbeat Celtic punk brilliance like “Seven Deadly Sins”, “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” and an explosive finale featuring “What’s Left Of The Flag” were the clear standouts.
Later one, just prior to 5 PM and back at the Space Zebra Stage the clock would seem to turn back to the glory days of 90s ska-punk with the arrival of Los Angeles purveyors of this upbeat and recently revived art form The Interrupters. From the opening, pop-drenched hook of “”Take Back The Power”, it was pretty clear that highly charismatic frontwoman Aimee Allen (whose musical exploits have been known to us who frequented YouTube in the late 2000s) was running the show with her highly animated stage presence and distinctive voice, though her matching suit-clad band mates did their part to keep the show animated with frequent jumps and dance-like movements, not to mention the frequent chime-ins by touring trombonist and keyboardist Billy Kottage adding some tasty flair to the arrangement. Among the highlight musical moments to grace their set was a mid-paced and semi-jazzy noir take on Billie Eilish hit “Bad Guy” and a faster and attitude-steeped take on Bob Marley‘s “Judge Not”, though their original material proved quite fun and eventful, particularly ultra-catchy banger entries that would have made Save Ferris sit down and take notes like “In The Mirror” and closing blowout “She’s Kerosene”.
Keeping the energy factor pressed to the max and arguably pushing the pedal through the metal on the same stage, Maryland hardcore trustees Turnstile will enact one of the biggest crowd responses for the day. Having pushed their way to popular prominence and critical acclaim over the course of their 13-year run with 5 EPs and 3 studio LPs to their name, not to mention 3 nominations at the 65th Grammy Awards, they were no slouches during a kinetic live show, bringing a forceful brand of traditional hardcore to the masses with a vengeance. The liveliness level of the entire band was highly palpable, with lead vocalist Brendan Yates and bassist “Freaky” Franz Lyons spending seemingly more time in the air than on the ground, while the combined battery of Daniel Fang‘s kit work and the riff proficiency of lead guitarist Pat McCrory and touring axe-mate Meg Mills culminated in a truly meaty sound, which at moments would be punishing enough to make you believe Dave Mustaine had joined them for some riffing. Stand-out moments included ground-shaking renditions of their recent bangers and recipients of the aforementioned Grammy nominations “Blackout” and “Holiday”, while punchy performances of swift and fleeting beasts like “Endless” and “Drop” were no less formidable, and certainly equally memorable.
With the onset of dusk and the hegemony of both punk and traditional hard rock having clearly been established to this day, a well-known institution more closely associated with the latter would come to the fore as one of the headliners via the Loudmouth Stage in Queens Of The Stone Age. As a band that has ebbed and flowed over the years, they came to this occasion with a newfound sense of resurgence courtesy of the release of this year’s In Times New Roman, their first studio entry in 6 years. They brought a strong performance that afforded some solid Kodak moments, matched by a highly elaborate stage setup including a massive LED light display in the form of a huge pyramid just above the band. The set did favor the latest album with rocking renditions of “Carnavoyeur” and “Emotion Sickness” that were well received, but if crowd response was any indication, the high points of their 13-song slough would lay with their opening foray with classic 2000s hit “No One Knows”, their performance of “Make It Wit Chu”, which saw them sneak in a snippet of The Rolling Stones’ “Miss You”, and the sonic onslaught of the stoner masterpiece – and show closer – “A Song For The Dead” with drummer Jon Theodore ramping up the energy to thrilling levels behind his kit, while Josh Homme‘s fuzzy and unnerving guitar offered a masterclass of up-tempo rock and roll.
With the end in view and the looming stroke of darkness, all eyes would be affixed upon the Space Zebra Stage for the culmination of the final day celebrations, in the sendoff performance of pop punk revivalists and unquestionably legends in their own right, Green Day. From the standpoint of this old metalhead, there has been no greater ambassador for the punk rock scene than these guys since The Ramones, and they brilliantly matched their brand of ultra-catchy and upbeat music with an elaborate stage show that kept all in attendance fully engaged. Be it the opening recording of Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody” inspiring all to sing along before the band even took the stage, or the hilarious drunk guy in a bunny costume frolicking about on stage while “Blitzkrieg Bop” rang out of the speakers, it was a pure spectacle even before Green Day themselves made an appearance after an intro theme made of a mashup of “Blitzkrieg Bop”, ” I Love Rock and Roll”, and “We Will Rock You”. Their regular practice of bringing a fan on stage for one of their songs had attracted folks from all over, to the point that I sighted a front-row fan holding a sign that read: “I flew from the UK to be on stage with you today”.
When Billy Joe Armstrong and crew finally did hit the stage, which had been heavily modified for the event with an added catwalk for audience access, the extravaganza of lights and stage gimmicks that accompanied them was nothing short of breathtaking. Pyrotechnics blared forth while they ushered in a familiar, yet grueling 23-song set, that was set in motion by the opening riff of “American Idiot” and included rock-solid performances of “Holiday”, “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” and “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, much of it occurring early in the set. Their total presentation was a solid representation of the band’s rich history, tapping several obligatory hits from the 90s like “Basketcase”, “When I Come Around” and “Brain Stew” from the band’s original ascent to prominence in the 90s to massive cheers, though the early underground punk bangers a la “Welcome To Paradise” and their whimsical cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge” were no slouches in bringing the noise, ditto their cover of Kiss’ “Rock And Roll All Nite” and a snippet of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” that was snuck into their performance of “Hitchin’ A Ride”. Confetti cannons bathed the audience in heat and paper during their set closure “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”, the mellow melodies of the song serving as a magnificent farewell for both their show and the festival at once.
When closing our coverage for Louder Than Life 2023, I honestly feel that there’s nothing new I can say that I haven’t expressed before. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I must again confirm that DWP Presents outstanding and well-deserved reign over big music festivals in The States remains unchallenged. The still-fresh news of the massive disaster during a comparable-sized event with different promoters makes us appreciate the exceptional efficiency of everyone involved in these musical celebrations to a much higher degree. 2023 broke last year’s attendance record, and there’s only one way 2024 will go down, which is by doing it again: rocking harder, faster, and most importantly… Louder