Following on from the previous Top 10 Singles of 2023 feature, today I'm lifting the lid on some of my favourite live music moments for me this year. Full disclosure - the majority of my gig-going activities are largely work-based. The occupational hazard of life working in music means that gigs and live events are an extension of my day job; but when I stop and really think about it, that fact is pretty damn amazing, and I feel so fortunate to have witnessed some incredible shows this year.
For today's edition, it's The Soundcheck's Fave 5 Live Shows of 2023. Come and revisit some of the unforgettable moments courtesy of some local and international gems. It was a year where we were insanely spoiled for choice, and a shout out to every band who hit the road and brought their music to the masses this year!
xx Tiana Speter
He Is Legend & Hammers (May 2023)
The first time I was shown North Carolina's He Is Legend, it was by Hammers guitarist Lucas Stone (who you may or may not have heard on last year's season of Behind The Soundcheck). Instantly wooed by their sharp yet woozy sonic witchcraft, my mind would routinely crave to witness this band in a live setting; a fact further amplified by a chat I grabbed with HIL frontman Schuylar Croom last year for the final episode of Behind The Soundcheck season 2 last year - incidentally the same season that Stone appeared on. At the time, Croom was extremely enthusiastic about Australian crowds, and soon after sent out a tweet that the band were talking about visiting Australia in 2023.
Fittingly, it was Stone's revitalised record label Summerland Records that would prove to be the integral piece of the puzzle that led to the group returning to our shores in 2023 after multiple years between shows/drinks. In a hot minute, dreams became reality, and He Is Legend officially confirmed their return to Australia for a national tour in May, with Hammers as national support.
I was fortunate to not only run the PR campaign for this tour, but to also join the bands on the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide shows as an honorary merch slinger, as well as interviewing both Croom and HIL drummer Jesse Shelley for a few outlets along the way, including Music Feeds, Hysteria Magazine and for Desert TV.
For anyone who has previously witnessed He Is Legend in a live setting, you know what a truly transformative experience it is. The razor-sharp execution and otherwordly stage presence is palpable. The music is heavy-hitting yet engaging. Croom swaggers with amiable sorcery and can't help but flow with pure poetry even when merely conversing with the crowd between songs. There is something about He Is Legend that gets under your skin in the most intoxicating way, and witnessing this band bust out flawless performances night after night in intimate rooms is only heightened by the fact that they are also some of the most genuine, hilarious and lovely people you will ever have the fortune to meet in this lifetime.
Perfectly supported by Hammers, the Gold Coast/Northern Rivers based pub-rockers, there was nothing but insanely tight riffs and good vibes from the local quartet who more than warmed the stage for the American stalwarts. A perfect pairing and some genuinely perfect evenings all round.
Ghost (October 2023)
Spoiler alert: I love Ghost. For years friends would rave about the Swedish sensations, and along the way I never quite "got" it. I tried listening to the music over and over, waiting to experience what everyone was hyping; but the final piece of the puzzle finally fell into place for me back in 2018 at Download Festival when the band hurled onstage after the closing moments of Slayer's set at Sydney's event. From the second the band emerged, I was utterly stupefied. Did frontman Tobias Forge careening about like a vampiric Freddie Mercury hypnotise me that night? I wouldn't rule it out, because from that moment I was utterly hooked, and became "that" person who proclaimed that you simply have to witness the band live in action to truly understand and appreciate them.
Fast forward to 2023, I was fortunate to be working with the team who would run the band's PR for their first proper headline run of Australia (a giant shout out to Dallas Does PR). Having two interviews that I recorded with Forge run for two separate outlets in the lead up, Wall Of Sound in print and digital, and Tone Deaf, it's safe to say I got my full Ghost fix this year - and that was all before the band even got to our shores, and before I hightailed it out to Brisbane to catch the main event.
As for the show itself? Let's just say it was bombastic, brilliant and beautiful, as the band's tight-knit fanbase descended on Brisbane's Entertainment Centre to worship in a showing of inclusion and irreverence. Along with the full-blown and gleeful theatricality, hearing the sinewy hooks, witnessing the playful onstage banter and taking in the spectacle that struggles to be confined into a specific genre, there's just something special about this band, whether you're a devout fan or not.
Supported by Southeast Deset Metal, who I had previously seen support Karnivool in Sydney years ago, the whole night felt heightened with grandeur. Between Forge reminding people to be in the moment and seeing the Nameless Ghouls and Ghoulettes go absolutely ham on their respective instruments, you can't leave a Ghost live show without a smile on your face and some of their criminally catchy licks ringing in your ears. No gatekeeping, an insane display of craftsmanship and tracks that will slice into your brain for days, and likely years long after - the Ghost hype remains wholeheartedly real.
Knotfest Australia (March 2023)
Since the likes of Big Day Out and Soundwave died off, us Aussies have consistently been left playing the FOMO game, watching lineup after sweltering lineup announced for overseas festivals. Along the way we have had new additions crop up to fill the void, including Good Things Festival which rounded out my gig-going/working this year in spectacular fashion. But it was in 2023 that a brand new festival (at least for Australia) entered the chat in a major way, with the Slipknot-curated Knotfest hitting our shores for the first time ever bringing along an insane array of global and home-grown talent.
Hosting the Brisbane leg of Knotfest TV backstage, my viewing time was limited overall to catch bands (and certainly not a fact I would ever complain about). But amongst chatting to Megadeth (pictured below), Alpha Wolf, Trivium, In Flames and Amon Amarth, I was able to drink in brief moments of the Knotfest experience - and the vibes were insanely high, from the lack of set time clashes to the jaw-dropping performances across the day.
Witnessing Void Of Vision enamour the crowd was a definite high point, with the band well and truly rising to the occasion via their juggernaut set. Also high on the list was catching Spiritbox live at long last. For years I've become increasingly gobsmacked with the band and the beast-mode vocal stylings of Courtney LaPlante, and you better believe I was not disappointed to finally tick this band off my live list.
With plenty of veteran and up-and-coming bands on offer on the day, it's actually extremely difficult to pin down one key specific favourite moment from the first ever Knotfest Australia. But coming damn close was Parkway Drive once again cementing why they are one of the biggest metal acts in the world. In Australia we seem to want to latch onto bands or celebrities who hail from here once they've become famous, but the refreshing thing with Parkway is that they've been beloved since well before they took the world by storm. Seeing an Aussie band who can headline above some of the all-time greats overseas is something so special for the heavy community. And as someone who has loved Slipknot from the early days right through to the present, it's hard not to declare the group best on ground on the day - but considering it's their festival, that fact should come as very little surprise. Slipknot have certainly grown this experience into something extremely special, and it was a stellar way to launch the Knotfest brand down under this year.
Polaris (September 2023)
2023 was a year of dazzling highs and gut-wrenching lows for Polaris. Unveiling their most prolific material to date via their new album Fatalism, the ultimate release was a bittersweet addition alongside absolute devastation.
With the news of the untimely tragic passing of guitarist Ryan Siew in the lead up, the heavy community and Polaris themselves were rocked to their cores, as was the unimaginable decision the band faced over whether to continue with their planned release and accompanying live shows alongside the album. But with a heavy heart, they forged on.
Snapshotting Siew's final work alongside colossal riffs, brutal thematics, and relentless, sharpened metalcore, Fatalism is laden with chaos and underlying catharsis; inescabably woven with bleak tidings while also marking the band's most impressive output to date sonically. Inescabaly marking a resounding tribute to Siew's talent as well as showcasing the band's stalwart production and precision, Fatalism proved in spades that heavy music holds a significant place and relevance in the Australian music industry, going on to be nominated for triple j's Album of The Year and charting at #1 on the ARIA Australian Album Charts upon release.
Also pressing on to embark on a huge national tour alongside an all-international and star-studden support team of August Burns Red, Kublai Khan TX and Currents, Polaris furthered their ever-growing reputation with their headline Fatalism run earlier this year. Hearing old and new favourites performed to a sold out crowd at the Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane was a moment few would ever forget. Paying tribute to Siew and the fans who had supported them along the way, Polaris rallied to deliver a powerhouse performance, with their supports equally turning in god-tier energy on stage. Taking out the metalcore crown in 2023 in truly trying circumstances, there was nothing but love emanating from the crowd at the Brisane show back in September, and it was a beautiful sight to behold.
Sunk Loto (November 2023)
Aussie heavy heroes Sunk Loto also appeared on The Soundcheck's Top 10 Singles of 2023 feature thanks to their insanely amazing new single The Gallows Wait; but it would be remiss of me not to also include their Between Birth & Death 20th anniversary shows this year, offering fans a chance to witness the seminal 2003 album from start to finish, as well as a few extra sonic goodies at the end.
Seeing Sunk Loto live back in action after 15 years of absence in 2022 for their reunion shows was enough to convince anyone that these guys had found the musical fountain of youth. This year, it became abundantly clear that it was not a one-off, with their 2023 shows offering nothing short of masterclass performances across the board. With new guitarist Ro Stevenson shredding seamlessly with his new bandmates, Sunk's explosive performance of the highly personal and influential Between Birth & Death felt like a celebration of the old and the new. Straight up facts - this album would still slap if it was released this year, with some of the songs feeling endlessly timeless amongst their familiarity, and there was zero loss of exuberance onstage despite the fact that the album released two decades ago.
I was fortunate to also be working on the PR-side of things for this tour, and seeing the excitement from both the band and their fans in the lead up also helped remind me about my own musical excitement. It's easy to get jaded when you're surrounded by music and bands all day everyday, but something about the genuine froth levels for this band and tour (and the ridiculously good music) helped reignite my musical passion - as did the live shows.
Supported with stellar showings from Helm on the Gold Coast, and Red Bee and Ocean Sleeper in Brisbane, it felt like we all somehow transcended time and space and existed in this beautiful moment guided by Sunk Loto that linked 2003 to now with a heaving soundtrack. From the gripping opener 5 Years Of Silence through to the love-soaked Everything Everyway and the terse Past Tense Existence, vocalist Jason Brown transfixed the crowds alongside drummer Dane Brown, bassist Sean Van Gennip and Stevenson. Throw in new music and some old favourites? That's a deadset textbook home run.
BY TIANA SPETER