(Live Review) THE TOP 40 LIVE ACTS OF 2023 (The Beard) - Part 3 (#s 20-11)
Happy Holidays metal fans! I’m sure you are busy with all the fun and frivolity the season has to offer. Some of you are probably overwhelmed with everything still on your to do list, and many of you may be anticipating (or dreading) relatives coming around to visit. Sometimes it’s good to take a few moments for yourself, and here’s your opportunity to do just that.
Today we will continue our countdown of the Beard's favorite live sets of 2023 with bands #20-11. If you are interested in the methods I utilized to reach my conclusions, look back on Part One of this series. You can find it right here on The Mighty Decibel. And, for those interested in my partner, (the irrepressible Little Johnny), and his take on the year, be sure to check out his top 40 list, (also right here on The Mighty Decibel.) So, let’s get started.
#20: Jag Panzer (9-28-23 at Blades of Steel Night#2 in Madison Wisconsin)
This Colorado power/thrash act had its heyday between 1981-88, and although The Beard certainly remembered hearing their names, somehow I had never actually witnessed them play. Credit to the great promoter Randy Kastner for making this one possible.
Still sporting three of the five original members, this set felt authentic. (Like how it would have been seeing them back in the day.) Harry Conklin (vocals) still has a big voice and could hit high notes to boot. This was a great throwback set and for me it stood out as fulfilling a missed opportunity to see a band I should have seen way back when.
#19: Alice Cooper (9-1-23 in Tinley Park, Illinois)
I almost feel bad placing Alice Cooper this low on the list. However, they are an act I have seen seven times at this point and even though Alice never disappoints, there is that pesky “icon” rule. Alice gets more points when he is the headliner, and that was not the case here (which abbreviated his set length and number of effects). Pluses though, were both the return of guitarist par-excellent Nita Strauss, and some of the lesser-known numbers that were on the set list such as “Lost in America” and “Snakebite”.
Special acknowledgement for a sterling “Ballad of Dwight Frye” (Alice usually chooses “Steven” for the set up to the execution scene.) Performing “Frye” instead allowed for great up-close facials of a crazed & straightjacketed Cooper screaming “I want to get out of here!!”) Alice Cooper is probably one of the most consistently great acts in the business today.
#18: Spirit Adrift (5-18-23 in Chicago, Illinois)
This Mesa, Arizona stoner act was one of my big surprises this year. I had neither seen, nor even heard of this band before the show. Major thanks to The Mighty Decibel for getting me VIP into the event (or I never would have seen these guys play.)
Clean lyrics and a sound that somewhat resembled fellow stoner band Khemmis, Spirit Adrift is a certain headliner in the next year or two. The Beard will be keeping an eye out for their names and for another chance to catch their awesome grooves.
#17: Early Moods (11-23-23 in Chicago, Illinois)
My second time in two years catching this act and my second mid 90’s grade for them.
This is a relatively newer band that somehow can capture the vocal sound of great doom bands like Candlemas, Witchfinder General, and Saint Vitus, and wrap them in the musical stylings of a “first four albums” era Black Sabbath. Early Moods have a new album coming out in 2024 and I look forward to catching them on tour, (or at a major festival) again next year. Big up and comers.
#16: Amaranthe (11-10-23 in Chicago, Illinois)
This six member Swedish act took the sound of Halestorm and made it heavier. Mixing clean and death vocals (ala Lacuna Coil), the band was amazingly proficient in its production. There’s that old saying “The whole can sometimes be more than the sum of its parts.” That saying applies to Amaranthe.
During the set, I saw pits breaking out from fans loving the heavy death sounds of Mikeal Sehlin, but also women (and a few guys) just listening and enjoying the music (and clean vocals) of Elize Ryd & Nihls Molin on a wholly different level. Amaranthe was able to reach a wider array of audience than anyone else that evening. This is a metal band that I believe can attract crossover fans without losing their edge and thus really stood out this year.
I first saw this band back in 2012. At that time, they were a four-piece with an almost completely different line-up. Even then, they immediately won me over with their merger of 1970’s brand music with an occult rock sound and clean lyrics.
In 2023, (eleven years later), Brimstone Coven had replaced both their singer and drummer, and dropped to a three-piece act. Somehow they got stronger. Now a true power trio, the old numbers sounded as heavy, and the new numbers made me want to go buy the latest CD. Any set that can cause the audience to then spend money on your merchandise achieves every band’s goal in playing live shows.
#14: Pallbearer (6-11-23 in Chicago, Illinois)
This show was pretty light attendance wise, and in my opinion, one of the biggest missed opportunities of the year for people to hear a unique set of music. Now, admittedly Pallbearer is not for everybody. This is NOT jump around music, and you will NOT be seeing it anywhere on Little Johnny’s list. Singer Brett Campell is simply a master of heavy melancholia, and often his emotive resonance isn’t what people want to hear. Songs like “The Ghost I used to be” or “Foreigner”, when accompanied by the music Pallbearer creates, is like already being cold and then wrapping yourself in a wet blanket. Your sorrow and despondency get dialed up to eleven, but you cheer anyway because (if you get it), then you appreciate just how very excellent Pallbearer is at producing it.
One of my favorite moments of the set was after their closing number “Worlds Apart” had ended, Little Johnny looked at me and said, “Man, those dudes sound so depressed that “I” want to buy “THEM” a beer.” Johnny is a notorious mooch so from him, that’s a big deal.
#13: Ministry (9-1-23 in Tinley Park, Illinois)
The Beard had long “heard” of Ministry, but had never “seen” Ministry play, nor owned anything by them. As they were one of the openers, Ministry only got to play for about 40 minutes, but WOW!.
Normally, I am not a fan of the industrial/grunge style, but I don’t think there was a song in that set I didn’t enjoy. Energetic, rebellious, and definitely “dirty sounding”, (not like it was dirty language or anything, just a “dirty” sound), Al Jourgensen had a voice that commands rather than sings, and even their one cover tune “Supernaut” from Black Sabbath was rendered unique and totally in their style without departing from an underlying Sabbath sound (especially on the drums.)
I appreciated Ministry more than I ever expected to and by virtue of their clearing the bar I had set for them by so very much, here they sit on this year-end list.
#12: Windrose (5-16-23 in Joliet, Illinois)
Sometimes, a set is “just THAT fun”. This smaller five band power metal event in Joliet featured in the semi-headliner slot this Italian act called Windrose. Now going in, Johnny and I knew nothing about them, but while waiting in the line to get in, you could tell that was who most people were there to see. Dressed and looking like Dwarven Warriors, these guys played songs inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and his great Lord of the Rings saga.
This was a fighting, drinking, and partying band and by their second song “Drunken Dwarves” indeed the party was on. While most metal bands have a mosh pit, Windrose had a Row Pit. Essentially people sat on the floor and emulated rowing a giant galley ship. I had never seen that before at a live show and admittedly it was amusing and enjoyable. Earlier in this countdown I discussed enjoying Pallbearer for their melancholia, but sometimes I also just want to carouse and Windrose was the band to do that with. Their final number “Diggity Diggity Hole” would have been a hit in any beer hall anywhere in the world. Truly a fun night and a great set for everyone.
While Randy Kastner's Blades of Steel festival featured Riot V (see part II of this list), Bob Byrne’s Legions of Metal festival produced Riot Act. This is the other band that rose from the ashes of 1970’s Rock Icon act Riot. In this version, guitarist Rick Venture and mates delivered the killer set of this festival. Even in his 70’s Venture still plays like a much younger man. He had moves like Page and sounds like Schenker era UFO. This group was an all-in for me right from opening number. Points for the great old classic song “Swords & Tequilla” .
In the battle of Riot’s offspring bands, The Beard must award Riot Act as the best one.
And this brings us to the end of the best Live Sets of 2023, part three. Tune in again next week when The Beard's top ten out of his almost three hundred reviewed bands will be revealed.
Remember, you can catch ALL the parts of this list right here on your award-winning home for metal, The Mighty Decibel. For those who love my partners take on things, the Little Johnny top 40 list can also be found right here on The Mighty Decibel, and afterwards be sure to check out all the videos of your favorite acts of 2023, (or perhaps ones you read about here.) These can be found on our TIKTOK site by searching thebeard0728, or #thebeardandlittlejohnny.
Until next time, this is The Beard saying: