It goes without saying that the final stretch of a marathon tends to be the most interesting, and the many thousands that had flocked to Louisville, Kentucky for the Louder Than Life music festival had definitely partaken in something comparable within the live entertainment realm when the final day had been reached. Nevertheless, how the ending of any story manages to grip the reader tighter than the rest of the book is an open-ended question, but for the lineup of bands that would round out the final hurrah on September 25, 2022 the specific path of a final blowout would be through the power of the music over theatricality and stage high-jinks. Though the total number of bands that would populate the five stages would be slightly smaller in number than on the previous 3 days; the level of eclecticism and effectiveness in translating simple rock anthems into celebrations of sound would easily rival all that had come before.
Mounting the Loudmouth Stage at around 1pm, Missouri-born punk rock mainstays with a soulful and bluesy twist Radkey would take the task of warming up the masses for their final day of sonic consumption in stride and at a swift pace. The old saying of blood being thicker than water held particularly true for the 30-minute set of this power trio of brothers, which started their presentation by saying "we believe we were born to rock, so check this out!." They cycled through an assortment of well-crafted bangers that included standout performances of "Dark Black Makeup," "P.A.W." and "Le Song" that pulled no punches and saw singer and guitarist Dee Radke tearing up the fret board with a level of technical prowess normally reserved to classic rock axe-slingers like Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi, while his husky baritone register helped to transform a set of well-realized but generally straightforward punk/garage rock songs into semi-tributes to the legacy of Misfits with a psychedelic edge. Even though it was one of the first performances of the day, it cooked with the best of them and elicited a roaring response from those in attendance.
Not more than a few minutes later via the Space Zebra Stage, the tone would get a bit less bombastic and more nuanced with the Mexican alternative rock power trio The Warning taking over. Though fairly new to the scene, the band got a warm introduction from promoter Jose Mangin in Spanish, humorously lead off with "I know you can't understand what I'm saying, but I don't give a f***!," before proceeding to deliver a massively killer rocking kick to the guts for every onlooker. Pummeling renditions of their fist-pumping originals "Disciple" and "Choke" were among the standout moments and somehow managed to come off as even heavier than their original studio incarnations, but the song that truly sealed the deal for them in the eyes of the crowd was their unique re-arrangement of Metallica's "Enter Sandman," which left little mystery as to why the aforementioned metal icons saw fit to include it in their recent "Blacklist" compilation. Color me impressed with these 3 young gals, their showmanship and aplomb transpired those of veterans acts, and their set climbed to one of my favorites of the entire festival. Bravo!
By 2pm the air was getting pretty thick with anticipation of more unique flavors to be added to the melting pot, and two bona fide winners were all too willing to oblige. Landing on the Loudmouth stage straight from their home in Los Angeles, blues rock aficionados and old school revivalists Dirty Honey were a sheer force of nature as they cycled through new classics one after the next, buoyed by the Robert Plant with a slightly more gravely edge vocals of Marc LaBelle, though there were no slouches to speak of amongst this killer quartet. Aside from some brief technical issues with guitarist John Notto's equipment, they flawlessly jammed their way through easy going rockers like "Heartbreaker" (not a Led Zeppelin cover for those unaware) and the riff-happy "California Dreamin'" (not The Mamas And The Papas song either). If you've seen these guys before, you know what they bring to the hard rock scene, and as someone who has followed them for years, I couldn't be happier to see them playing all these big festivals and delivering their riveting blend of classic rock with blues/folk melodies for a truly astounding set. Meanwhile via the Space Zebra Stage, Welsh alternative rockers The Joy Formidable rocked to a smoother and less technical beat. The drumming of Matthew Thomas providing a thunderous and active counterpoint to a static assortment of guitar drones and a generally smooth vocal display out of Rhiannon Bryan as they wooed the audience with standout renditions of mid-90s styled bangers "Csts," "Sevier" and "Whirring."
Mid-afternoon would see the enveloped being pushed in the variety department as the generally harder rocking air was cut with some curious stylistic twists. Indie rockers from Derbyshire The Struts would keep the foundation of old school influences front and center on the Loudmouth Stage, with flamboyant front man – and possible answer to Prince and Freddie Mercury rolled into one – Luke Spiller raising the concept of crowd work to a high art. The infectious hooks and grooves of hits "Fallin' With Me," "I Do It So Well" and "Body Talks" stood the tallest, but every second of their set was an exercise in getting the crowd jazzed up and then competing with them for who could be the most animated. Straight from Antioch, TN country/rap impresario Jelly Roll brought a less raucous brand of entertainment to the fore, with his assembly of acoustic and lighter rocking anthems such as "The Hate Goes On" and "Son of A Sinner" bringing in a massive crowd draw and inspiring a near otherworldly level of elation and crowd-surfing. A poignant moment would be struck towards the end of his 45-minute set when he spotted a younger fan with a temporary tattoo with his name on and invited her up on stage to perform a duet version of their closing hit "Only."
The stylistic bag would continue to be mixed as the afternoon progressed, bringing an interesting new accent to the very concept of alternative rock. The New York-based rap/rock outfit Oxymorrons definitely put a different spin on things via the Revolver Stage with a noisy mix of fuzz-driven guitars and raucous drums combined with a curious blend of grimy rapped verses and almost smooth R&B choruses amid the hardcore instrumentation. This highly unique splicing of genres that proved a far cry from the Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park takes on hybridization was delivered in a forceful fashion, with punchy anthems like "Green Vision," "Definition" and "Justice" being the standouts. At the stroke of pm over on the Loudmouth Stage, black-clad hard rockers The Pretty Reckless would make a highly concentrated ruckus, spearheaded by a eccentric blend of soulful vocalizations and almost crooning moments of actress turned rock star Taylor Momson, whose relatively small stature would be contrasted by a fiery and animated stage presence reminiscent of Lita Ford. The precision-based instrumental delivery by the rest of the band was not to be downplayed either, as meaty renditions of fan favorites "Make Me Wanna Die," "Heaven Knows" and newer bangers "Death By Rock And Roll" seemed to leave their original studio versions in the dust in the heaviness department.
With the late afternoon inching closer to introducing the masses to the early throes of evening, the energy factor would be kicked up a major notch. California alt-rock / nu-metal crusaders Papa Roach were definitely the band of the hour from a crowd reaction and decibel standpoint, as the pit became so active and the number of crowd-surfers became so numerous that the security crew struggled to keep from being overrun. Despite the pandemonium, the reaction proved a logical one as Jacoby Shaddix roamed the stage incessantly and the rest of the band treated stillness like a total stranger, with kinetic renditions of classic tracks "Getting Away with Murder" and especially set closer "Last Resort" inspiring the most intense audience reactions. Veteran emo/punk rockers Bayside proved no slouched in getting the crowd to raise the Richter Scale reading from the Disruptor Stage, bringing their animated and occasionally technical brand of up tempo, New York made mayhem with the best of them. Led by a brooding vocal presentation from front man Anthony Raneri, whom also undertook the task of trading flashy leads with fellow guitarist Jack O'Shea, repeatedly delivered the goods with stellar performances of confessional protestation anthems like "Devotion And Desire," "Sick, Sick, Sick" and "Duality" towering above what proved to be a grueling 40 minute set.
The onset of evening would initially find a less overtly kinetic and more nuanced air taking hold, though with it a continual triumph of diverse elements achieving a seemly impossible synchronicity. Riding the Loudmouth stage starting at around 7 PM, late 90s and 2000s alternative rock darlings Incubus would dial back the intensity factor a tad with a more measured set of highly catchy numbers. Brandon Boyd's vocal delivery would prove heartfelt and emotionally charged, and the fusion of various disparate styles that included semi-frequent turntable sounds and quirky synthesizers managed to complement the puzzle, but apart from more driving rockers like "Circles" and "Megalomaniac," would prove one of the lighter moments of the entire festival. At the same time and in the opposite side of the festival grounds, punk-rock icons Bad Religion enacted one of the biggest crowd responses seen in the Revolver stage. Unquestionably responsible for defining the California half-pipe punk blueprint, the quintet's signature melodic riffs, zooming harmonies and viciously verbose lyrical punches resonated as explosive and vigorous as ever, as they faultlessly tore through a massive 17-songs long setlist that included almost everything fans could hope for, including anthemic cuts like "21st Century (Digital Boy)," "Recipe for Hate," "Sorrow" and the audience-frenzy inducing closer "American Jesus."
By complete contrast in terms of musical styles, Seattle legends and dark metallic masters Alice In Chains didn't pull any punches on the Space Zebra Stage as the early signs of dusky hung above. With singer William Duvall effortlessly channeling the massive and morose vocal presence of Layne Staley (R.I.P.), they repeatedly reprised the dark and forbidding character of classics like "Again," "Down In A Hole," "Them Bones" and "Man In The Box," from the sludgy riffs to the haunting vocal harmonies provided by Jerry Cantrell with DuVall also wielding a guitar at times, as if they were playing to an audience in the mid-90s. Newer crushers "Check My Brain" and "The One You Know" proved no less equal to the legacy these icons have forged over the past three decades; it was an hour of greatness for the entire 60 minutes, and another of my favorite sets of the 4-days musical extravaganza.
Night now having fallen upon the city of Louisville, the headliner that would close out the marathon-like event would prove one of most odd yet somehow fitting folds for the job. Though always being a difficult band to nail down in terms of their signature style, L.A. alternative rock icons Red Hot Chili Peppers definitely presented a consistent niche throughout their extended 2-hour set, with obvious fanfare and semi-ballad hits from their turn of the millennium era "Californication," "Dani California" and "Snow (Hey Oh)" inspiring the legions of enthused fans to sing-along in near perfect unison. Nevertheless, when delving into their more primordial repertoire and dredging out more animated fair like "Suck My Kiss" and "Give It Away," the crowd moved to the up tempo groove with a comparable level of intensity to some of the more metallic acts that had manned the Loudmouth Stage in the days prior, and both Flea and Anthony Keidis frolicked about the stage with the energy level of their former 20 year old selves, while drummer Chad Smith could have been just as heavy on gesticulation were he not glued to his kit. John Frusciante would prove the closest thing to a sane man from a stage presence standpoint, but his playing was arguably the most off the hook, and his wild guitar solo during their extended rendition of "Danny's Song" arguably stole the entire show.
It is likely impossible to fully quantify the levels of both euphoria and fatigue that every witness of Louder Than Life 2022 took home with them when the clock struck 11pm and an extended period of filing back to their places of rest commenced. The recent growth and expansion of festivals such as the one that saw the city of Louisville turn into a de facto carnival in the latter half of September has been more than a boon for local economies, it has proved a highly welcome eventuality for all whom love music and want to experience beyond the confines of their computers and phones. It's undeniable for me at this point that the Danny Wimmer Presents team has set up the gold standards when it comes to running events of this magnitude, and having experienced first-hand the inadequacies of other music festivals around the country, I can attest to the almost unbelievable efficiency and clockwork-like accuracy and professionalism of everyone working behind the scenes, making every aspect of such a ginormous undertaking running smooth and guaranteeing a top-notch experience for everyone who purchased a ticket; which speaks volumes about their groundwork and competence. How they'll top this one in 2023 is anyone's guess, but the track record here suggests that the powers behind this event will have little trouble accomplishing just that.