FESTIVAL REVIEW: LOUDER THAN LIFE 2017 Live at Champions Park, Louisville, KY – Day 1 (Saturday)
Saturday September 30th was a beautiful Fall day in Louisville, KY, though the humid atmosphere could have led you to believe it was Summer instead. No matter the season, it would have been a great day to be outdoors and luckily, this just so happened to set the upbeat tone for the city’s acclaimed and hyped Louder Than Life rock festival at the Champions Park grounds. Now in it’s fourth year, this Midwest fest has been rapidly gaining attention from music fans all over the world and even rivaling other Danny Wimmer Presents-ran fests in attendance numbers. Your festival is only as good as your lineup though, so let’s revisit day one for starters.
If you’re familiar with music festival format, you’ll understand the concept of two main-stages (Monster and Loudmouth) and one side stage (Zorn) on the opposite side of the venue that Louder Than Life upholds. No more than two artists would play at any given time, the main-stages alternating with each other, which made catching all your favorites easy. Palisades had the honor of opening the entire festival up on Loudmouth, no easy task, especially when this is their first time even playing a festival bill. They, however, did this with ease, opting to play strictly from their latest and self-titled record. Their combination of feelsy R&B and rock energy were a hit with the rapidly growing early crowd. For We Are Many immediately kept this up with a contrasting aggressive metalcore sound that upped the ante from the Monster stage, even spawning a few pits. Goth rockers New Years Day were a crowd favorite on Loudmouth, continuing the alternative sound with a twisted edge and adding anthems that get bands like them booked on huge festival bills like this.
Meanwhile, on the Zorn stage He Is Legend made quite an entrance with their signature rowdy Southern-tinged post-hardcore style as well as their newly founded active rock belters. They were a great choice for starting up the Zorn stage’s 2017 run. Back at the Monster stage, Sleeping With Sirens brought a dose of their youthful Warped Tour pop rock to a mostly unassuming crowd. The fact is, they won over Louisville with a set that blended their newer more outspoken alternative rock direction with the pre-teen singles that earned them their notoriety. One thing I noted this year with Louder Than Life is that no band was too light nor too heavy to play this time around. Around mid afternoon though, the Zorn stage played host to the dose of adrenaline I had been waiting to experience in the form of talk of the town up-and-comers, DED. Their nu metal-inspired rage prompted memorable shout-a-longs and sore necks in the now glaring sun and so far, they were the highlight of the day by a long shot. The fact that with one album they were already commanding the audience with such ease proved to me that these guys will be back and on a bigger stage in the future.
Starset attracted the fest’s largest crowd of the day thus far to the Loudmouth stage, a testament to the large amount of hype surrounding their intergalactic, wide-screen brand of active rock. Bringing their full stage production didn’t hurt either, as pillars of clouded smoke, flashing lights and an astronaut backing band created quite a spectacle. The inclusion of live orchestral pieces ala Skillet is an especially nice touch. Needless to say, Starset, armed with currently huge chart-toppers and ambitious compositions, brought something special to Louder Than Life and the crowd took note. Monster stage didn’t skimp this hour either however, as Of Mice & Men strolled to the stage. I hadn’t seen them perform since Austin Carlile departed and I was curious to see how the lack of a free-moving frontman would affect the band’s performance. I’m happy to say that Aaron Pauley somehow is just as capable of a lead and still a killer bassist despite handling all vocal duties. This alone is impressive, but the quality of the songs and the band’s live sound is even more incredible. Of all the bands in their scene, Of Mice & Men just might be the tightest to catch live right now. There was no lack of heaviness and the sing-a-longs were just as huge as you’d expect. The set was well-balanced and swift, determining my new favorite of the afternoon.
Through Fire took over at the Zorn stage during Of Mice & Men’s mainstage set. Though their following in the area isn’t quite as big as it could be yet, they carved a respectable path with their set of hard rock hits. Their stage chemistry hinted at a headline-worthy band. As their set ended, Eagles of Death Metal became the first rock & roll outfit to grace the fest that day. Known as survivors of the tragic Bataclan shooting in Paris, it’s clear onstage that they’ve long outlived that and use the strength to show love through their music. This allowed their set to really connect with the crowd.
Next came a double dose of ‘nu’: Hollywood Undead on Monster and Fire From The Gods over on Zorn. Utilizing a stage set-up that perfectly fit their Cali motif, Hollywood Undead brought an actual Hollywood sign with them that shot sparks. Already an energetic live band, something as subtle as an additional prop gave them a better set than years previous. The three new songs played off upcoming album ‘Five‘ also went off without a hitch and joined already established classics for the band such as “Undead” and “Coming In Hot“. And as with the previous bands on Zorn stage, Fire From The Gods brought a youthful energy that rivaled the veteran bands on the mainstages. Playing a familiar take on alternative metal, FFTG combine melodic hooks with sweeping riffs and atmosphere that reminds me of Sevendust combined with Northlane or Volumes. The crowd loved their set and I’m sure will clamor for the band to return.
As light began to fade from the late afternoon sky, Gojira entered the Loudmouth stage. Hailing from France, this quartet bring a new meaning to heavy. Although their sound wasn’t cooperating to allow for that to fully show through, you could still tell that the playing abilities were tight as could be. I was surprised how many songs were played off the latest album ‘Magma’ with very few previous albums represented. Nevertheless, Gojira brought a memorable stomp and neck-depleting rhythm to the festival grounds, something that was indeed welcome for a fan of metal such as myself. They also garnered an impressive crowd as there were no other bands playing while they were. As Gojira ended, the Zorn stage’s final day 1 party had just begun with the outrageous Steel Panther. Their crowd stretched all the way to the middle of the venue before they even played a single note. Needless to say, their set played off that huge reception very well. For all of their usual choreography and antics onstage, I was surprised how well they played a short festival set and cut out a lot of the filler to allow for more focus on the songs. They closed the stage out with its biggest and most over-the-top performance.
Evening was shifting in now and Monster stage welcomed Halestorm, who rocked the socks off Louder Than Life. Driven by pure rock adrenaline and a penchant for soul, it’s not hard to understand why they have such a large following. Frontwoman Lizzy Hale arguably had the best pipes I heard all weekend and her singing was LOUD. It could be heard for miles. Talk about power. My personal favorite of the day however, was over on Loudmouth stage directly as Halestorm ended: Mastodon. The immense talent of this technically incredible (mostly) bearded foursome was unrivaled all day. And while for some their music was probably hard to follow, that didn’t stop the crowd from being incredibly rowdy. It was during easier to digest rockers such as “Show Yourself” and “Oblivion” that things were most well received by the audience. No matter what point during the set though, you could find someone headbanging. As the one “progressive” band to play day 1, Mastodon proved they have a unique set of talents and a different sound than any other artist on the bill. For that, they won day 1 for me. I hope when Brann Dailor said “Thank you Louisville, we’ll see you real soon.” he meant the immediate future.
Night settled in, setting the stage for the headliners that so many had stuck around for. It was significantly cooler at night and many had found a way to bundle up to 50 degree temps. The infamous Rob Zombie was the first of three main stage headliners and in my opinion, the best of the three. A cool Fall evening set the tone as suitable for a near-Halloween spook show, the kind Zombie specializes at. Theatrics were present, but not the focus which is a little different for a Rob Zombie set. But that only meant the music was worthy of focusing on. And indeed, it was. A huge screen of projected horror scenes and eerie stage lighting were enough of a backdrop to produce a hellish good time for all involved. A good fifty percent of the most recent record was played in addition to all the hits from ‘Hellbilly Deluxe‘. The new songs were simply more ridiculous than any expected in a live environment, one specific instance trashing green alien inflatables to the crowd with the challenge of getting the alien all the way to the back with chants of “Go ET, Go ET, Go!”. Just as silly as it sounds. It was this willingness to be silly that made the set so much fun, even going so far as including a medley of classic punk songs in the middle of “Thunder Kiss ’65“, bringing new life to a standard. Naturally, John 5 had to be given a little spotlight for his guitar skills which came in the form of a five minute solo that pleased the crowd. Pleasing the crowd was the entire band’s forte however and Rob Zombie took the crown for night 1 by a long shot.
Though I was scratching my head about the order of performances when Five Finger Death Punch plowed to Monster Stage after the legendary Rob Zombie, they still performed a tight set that the crowd couldn’t get enough of. Over half those attending were wearing the band’s merch so it was evident that their being a near-headliner was embraced. The set was a slight variation on the order the band use when headlining their own show, the most significant change being the early inclusion of “Never Enough” off the band’s debut, ‘The Way of The Fist‘. And aside from closer “The Bleeding” that was the only love the debut received during the set. The majority of the remainder were the singles from “American Capitalist“, “The Wrong Side of Heaven” and “Got Your Six“, “War Is The Answer” being mostly shunned aside from the expected inclusion of the band’s “Bad Company” cover. No bad headlines would come out of this set though and it was nice to see Ivan Moody standing on his own two feet with no mishaps. Altogether, FFDP looked like they were in a better place than in months prior. However, their set is scripted down to a science to the point where Ivan knows when he is to be bringing kids onstage and that night, he announced the rare omission of this moment due to wanting to respect the festival’s time slot for the following Ozzy Osbourne. For all the hate the band receives though, they reach more people than just about any mainstream metal band currently going and that showed during this set.
The moment everyone had been waiting for was finally here and it was quite surreal to see Ozzy Osbourne step on to the Monster stage to prompted chants of his name. He was audibly excited shouting, “It’s good to see you!”. Zakk Wylde took his usual stance as the entire band went into “Bark At The Moon” as Ozzy proclaimed “Let the craziness begin!”. Ozzy could be seen bouncing on the mic stand to the class’s galloping rhythm. My personal favorite Ozzy song, “Mr. Crowley” followed and it is just about the best song to hear on a cool Fall evening. For the next few songs, the focus shifted to Zakk as Ozzy suffered a few vocal issues having to often resort to water. The crowd didn’t mind as having two legends on the same stage is a rarity and Ozzy’s willingness to continue on and not give up was downright respectable, especially considering his age. Thankfully, for the second half of the set, Ozzy sounded himself again and overcame his throat issues just in time for his slot of greatest hits and Black Sabbath classics. Personally, I wasn’t overly huge on hearing Zakk’s techniques over “War Pigs” and “Paranoid” but the latter put the focus on a montage of Ozzy throughout the years that was incredibly memorable and one of my favorite moments of the entire festival. “Suicide Solution“, “Goodbye To Romance“, “Crazy Train” and “I Don’t Know” were among those played. I think everyone felt Ozzy played too short of a set and it was obvious some songs were cut out due to the stage mishaps. However, the gratitude towards Ozzy and the wonder of seeing him were universally expressed and the crowd were gracious towards him. The night still ended to roaring applause, as it should.