(Live Review) TOP 40 LIVE ACTS OF 2023 (The Beard) - Part 4 (#s 10-1)
Here we stand, five States, sixty-nine events, and 296 bands reviewed and finally we reach the end of our 2023’s The Reviews Never Stop Tour. It has been a whirlwind of a year, and I would be remiss if I didn’t extend a sincere thanks to two very important people.
First, from The Mighty Decibel, Editor/Owner/Voice of Reason & sometimes Chief Babysitter, Chris Tighe. This was a dude just sailing along doing his thing and bringing great metal shows and podcasts to the masses in both Canada & the U.S., and into his lap drops two silly guys who want to write and review shows.
Although Chris & The Beard don’t have the same tastes in metal, it’s clear we both enjoy it and Chris both recognized that and graciously gave me a platform, a soapbox to stand on, and a vast canyon to shout into. This year I wrote 71 articles for The Mighty Decibel comprising a bit north of 115,000 words total. (For reference that is the equivalent to just under 400 pages.) So, thank you Chris Tighe for letting me essentially write a book about metal shows this year and then publish it on your site. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m ready to do it again in 2024.
Second, to the man that makes me laugh, drives me crazy, and is the single best sidekick for shows anyone could ask for, the one and only; cap wearing, IPA drinking, pit diving Metal Maniac, our own Little Johnny. Thank you little dude for being Lou Costello to my Bud Abbott. Enjoy the short break and get ready for the new season, “Review some more in 24.”
And now, the culmination of the year. The Beard's top 10 Live Sets of 2023
#10: Glen Hughes (8-26-23 in Saint Charles, Illinois)
Even more than event headliner Yngwie Malmsteen, whom I knew well and had seen multiple times previously, was The Beard's interest in co-headliner and under-rated talent Glen Hughes. From his run as singer for the iconic band Deep Purple (in the 1970’s), through his run with Thrall (in the 1980’s), his time with Black Sabbath (1986), his solo work through the 1990’s & 2000’s) and his latest run with The Dead Daisies (2019), I just never seemed to catch him live.
This set was to feature all Deep Purple songs, most from the seminal and best non-Ian Gillan release Burn. Glen Hughes does not look like a man in his 70’s, and he absolutely doesn’t sing like it. Many songs featured high pitched wails that very few singers can do ever, and guys in their 70’s who can do it, well you can count them on one hand. Hughes gave us a memorable set and the highlight was the bluesy/rock song “Mistreated” which I would also list as one of the ten best songs I heard in all of 2023. This was one man that deserved the term and moniker Iconic.
#9 Leilani Kilgore (6-30-23 Summerfest Milwaukee Wisconsin)
Summerfest is not really a metal music festival. Of the hundreds of bands that play during their nine-day run, less than ten percent could even be classified as hard rock. Leilani Kilgore would fall into a blues/rock category though and anyone who knows their music history understands that underneath the tree of rock & metal, are the roots of the blues.
Kilgore’s set of rock and blues featured great guitar work, a smoky and sultry voice edged with barbwire and a strong backing band. This set was my surprise of 2023 and that made it stand out all year long. At Summerfest, the temptation is always to wander and see what the other nine stages have to offer. For this lady's set, The Beard wasn’t going nowhere!
#8 Toxic Holocaust (8-9-23 in Chicago, Illinois)
The Beard saw a LOT of thrash, speed, black, and death metal bands this year. The Beard saw grindcore, metal core, and some stuff even I had a hard time defining. THE craziest Pits of 2023 had to go to this set. You could have offered me a thousand in cash with the caveat that I had to remain upright on that floor throughout the entire Toxic Holocaust set and there’s no possible way I could have collected the money. I’m not sure how it stacks up vs some of the greatest pits ever from Testament, Exodus, Destruction, Lamb of God, and of course Slayer, but this year Toxic Holocaust wins.
Now, besides that fact for memorable intangibles and crowd participation, the band was also stylish, had good lights, and played a kind of thrash that I enjoyed with semi-distinguishable vocals and great sound. This band hit on all the areas I evaluate, and they are very deserving of their ranking this year. My applause Toxic Holocaust. I am NOT setting foot on the floor when you play, but I love watching from the WAY back shadows.
#7: TOOL (11-01-23 in Milwaukee Wisconsin)
I am NOT a TOOL fanatic. I know a few, but I am not one of them. TOOL is fine. A pretentious grunge era Pink Floyd.
Here is why they got ranked this high. One, Danny Carrey was the best drummer I saw this entire year. Two, backdrop effects and lighting were easily top ten of the entire year. Three, even without knowing 90% of the set list, I enjoyed 90% of the set list. No way that happens without an amazing band doing an amazing job. Songs develop like adding all the ingredients and watching it turn into a casserole. TOOL is the musical equivalent of fine cooking. You look at the recipe and think, I’m not sure how all of THAT somehow ends up making THIS, but I can’t argue with the result. Respect, a slight bow, and the number seven spot on the year end list.
This is the highest ranking for a non-headlining act. To top that, these guys were on first on a ten-band day. When they started their set there was a WHOLE lotta vacant open lawn in front of that huge stage. They might have been playing to fifty people. From the opening song though, and until they ended, people flowed onto that lawn like the venue had turned on faucets. By sets end, I would comfortably bet they had ten times the audience they started with. They fully deserved it.
This Canadian band of youngsters brought as much energy as any band this year. They played with the confidence of youth. This was speed metal with zero speed limit. Truthfully, I had never heard of them and didn’t know any of their music, but I can tell you two things; one, I know their music now, and two, these guys can be big. If they keep it together, this will be a headlining band two years from now. Truly awesome performance and if I were in a band, I wouldn’t want to have to follow a Riot City set.
#5: Ted Nugent (8-13-23 in Saint Charles, Illinois)
No doubt this is a polarizing choice. Right off the bat, as much as is possible, let’s take politics off the table. As I said when I initially reviewed this set, “Do your own research and believe what you want.” This review (and now this ranking) has nothing to do with terrible Ted's leanings. The reason he is on here in this slot is that a 73-year-old man can still play guitar like that. Ted Nugent gave a great set of music. That’s what I am looking at and listening to. Once he walks off the stage he goes back to his life, and I go back to mine.
While on that stage though, Ted Nugent entertained me. I enjoyed the set. I loved hearing “his” songs actually done by him for a change instead of just artists covering his music. One final stat that mattered in my evaluation, more people viewed the Ted Nugent videos on my site than any other single artist in all of 2023. Love him or hate him, Ted Nugent is a conversation starter, a talented guitarist and frankly an entertaining musical performance. I stand by my placement.
#4: YOB (6-6-23 in Chicago, Illinois)
This band was the overachiever of the year. The Beard had seen YOB multiple times over their decades long career making slabs of doom/death music. This three-piece act is known for music that is long, loud, and heavy. What helped immeasurably was their location venue. Thalia Hall is the best venue in Chicago for sound & lights. Any show I go to there is ideal for both of these features.
YOB looked good under the Thalia Hall lights, and the venue’s soundman was able to handle their crushing volume and not have it turn to bouncing balls of mud in the mix. YOB songs take time to develop. This set went about 90 minutes and contained six songs. For some metal fans, that can be like watching paint dry, but when YOB chooses the right songs, it can be like looking over the Grand Canyon and being overwhelmed with how majestic it truly is. Their main piece “Catharsis” ran just over twenty-three minutes long and it is to me the doom metal equivalent of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. YOB’s three-man unit function as one entity when they are fully grooved and frankly I would pick “Catharsis” as my favorite live song of 2023.
#3: Styx (7-7-23 at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Now, The Beard had been a fan of Styx all through junior-high and high school which took me through their prime era. I have eight of the albums (most in actual album form), and I admittedly wanted to attend Summerfest this season to see THIS act. I was NOT disappointed. Throughout the set I got to hear many of my favorites, and even a couple new ones I had never heard before. Although I was impressed by current vocalist and classical pianist Lawrence Gowan, (who stands in very adequately for classic era Dennis De Young), for this reviewer the night belonged to guitarist Tommy Shaw.
A man in his mid-seventies, Shaw ran around the stage all throughout the set, climbing the stairs to solo on top of the amps, and basically defying Father Time with his performance. Shaw also had the showstopper of the evening with “Crystal Ball.” Not only his singing, (that made me believe it was exactly how he sounded doing it almost fifty years ago), but a guitar solo that made me feel exactly the same way.
I would be remiss if I did not also include the crowd participation factor. During “Come Sail Away”, I believe I witnessed the single loudest crowd sing-along of 2023. Summerfest BMO arena holds a LOT of people and apparently all of them were waiting to sing along with that song. So, great musical set, great lighting and effects, top notch crowd participation, and the intangible of ninety-minutes taking an old man back to a time before The Beard when everything was still new and the road to forever was far more in front of me than behind me. When I cracked a cold one for Styx it was with a smile on my face and a tear in my eye.
Sometimes you realize that you are only going to get one chance at something, so you had better fully enjoy it while it happens because that is it. In the 1980’s (when metal had split into two basic camps, classic & hair metal or fast as you can play it metal of thrash, speed, black & death), Tom Warrior & Martin Ain did something VERY different with Celtic Frost. Creating something that fused thrash with Sabbathian doom, Celtic Frost gave us two albums (and an EP) of truly unique music that nobody else was doing.
Fast forward to today and Martin Ain is gone having passed away in 2017. For one single evening though under a warm Houston night sky, Tom Warrior and his band mates from Tryptycon gave us all a night of Celtic Frost by playing a set with every single song from both Morbid Tales & To Mega Therion in it. This was something unlikely to occur again and The Beard was thrilled to be there to see & hear it live. I salute you Mr. Warrior…”UGGGGGHH!!!!”
#1: Ghost (8-15-23 in Chicago, Illinois)
The best live set of 2023 goes to the biggest deceivers playing music today. I watched thousands of people dance and sing along to a set of music filled with “sell your soul to the Devil” lyrics wrapped up in tasty little pop metal beats. I watched cheering and revelry in the sight of blasphemy and anti-religious doctrine being flaunted openly and unrepentantly by the costumed and made-up Pappa Emeritus IV and his band of nameless ghouls collectively called Ghost.
Now, that opening paragraph would indicate I condemn Ghost for what they do. Au Contraire readers, indeed, I applaud them for it. This band has effectively figured out how to market Satanism to the masses. They have talented musicians, a charismatic frontman, eye-catching stage show with lights, and fire and a giant cathedral backdrop. Their music is catchy and so innocent sounding musically. It creates earworms that days later still have you humming and tapping along to the beat in your head. Repeating the abhorrent pledge to Satan contained within their clever writing.
Anton Levey said, “People are sheep, and like sheep they can be led to slaughter.” I am not going to assume whether Ghost believes a word of what they sing about, but if ever I watched an example of mass hypnosis, it was watching Ghost do their thing. Again, I am NOT speaking for anyone specifically. You can enjoy their show for a myriad of reasons and their content doesn’t have to have anything to do with it. You can be “above” the silliness of religion or beliefs of any sort. I am not judging ANYONE. I am just saying “IF” you wanted to corrupt people, Ghost has figured out how to do it with a smile, a wink, and a song and that made for the most memorable set of 2023.
That’s it. The list is ended. The year is over.
Thank you to anyone/everyone who followed along with us or looked in on our writings. You are appreciated for allowing me even five minutes of your time. Remember to also keep checking the TICTOK site for great videos of all the bands by searching.
Thebeard0728 or #thebeardandlittlejohnny
Stay Heavy & Horns Up!!!