Another year has drawn to a close, and with it, some amazing rock and roll releases and concerts alike. It’s my annual ritual to put together a “Best of the Year” list, detailing what the highlights of the evening were for me along the way.
One thing to keep in mind before proceeding with this list, however. I can’t attend every single concert, nor can I listen to every single and album that gets released. If something didn’t make the list, odds are I didn’t hear it nor did I get to attend the show! That said, I heard and saw plenty, and was widely impressed and surprised from January to December with no shortage of fantastic material.
We’ll star with releases and then move on to live gigs. Without further ado, let’s start this show!
Best Reissue of a Classic Album:
Green Day: DOOKIE 30th Anniversary Edition
Green Day needs absolutely no introduction; they’re one of the biggest bands in the world and their spotlight isn’t fading anytime soon. But there was a time when they were young and hungry, setting out to conquer the world for the first time. DOOKIE was the band’s third album, their first on a major label, and their first with longtime collaborating producer Rob Cavallo. It remains the favorite of many a Green Day fan all these years later. This four-CD reissue of the album includes some cool bonus swag, but it’s the on-disc content that counts, and this set features an entire disc’s worth of outtakes and demos, and two complete concerts, one of which being the band’s infamous WOODSTOCK ’94 set! For Green Day fans this set is a dream come true.
Best Reissue of a Classic Album Honorable Mention:
Alice Cooper: KILLER and SCHOOL’S OUT Expanded Editions
Alice Cooper’s greatest creative output came from the classic Alice Cooper Band, which consisted of him, Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce, and the late Glen Buxton. These reissues of the band’s fourth and fifth albums, produced by the iconic Bob Ezrin, are among the best in Mr. Cooper’s catalogue, and the package is sweetened here with the inclusion of a bonus CD with each album including a complete concert! As there was never an official live album released from the classic Alice Cooper band, these are a dream come true.
Best Live Release of Newly Recorded Material:
Kings of Thrash: BEST OF THE WEST (CD/DVD set)
David Ellefson was let go from Megadeth, but you can’t keep a good rocker down. Mr. Ellefson joins forces with former Megadeth members Jeff Young and Chris Poland, and for good measure throws in Fred Aching and Chaz Leon to record some classic thrash tunes live on stage at the Whisky-a-Go-Go. The results don’t disappoint. And I have a feeling it’s not the last we’ll be hearing from these guys, either!
Best Live Release of Vintage Material:
KISS: OFF THE SOUNDBOARD LIVE IN POUGHKEEPSIE, NY 1984
KISS didn’t do many shows with late guitarist Mark St. John, making this archival live release from the ANIMALIZE tour essential for the most die-hard of fans. This is by no means the best KISS show; parts of it are even laughably bad and Paul Stanley seems to be aiming for a record for the most F-bombs dropped in a single concert with his between song chatter. But for the biggest fans of the group, this is a worthy addition to a growing archive of vintage soundboard concerts.
Best Rock Doc:
LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING
One of the founding fathers of rock and roll, Little Richard’s music has been some of the most influential of all time. A doc for this guy was long overdue, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint with the info that it delivers. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or a more casual one just curious about his place in rock and roll history, you won’t be disappointed here.
Best Rock Movie:
A biopic of Casablanca Record founder Neil Bogart, this movie was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. Featuring a man crossing paths with everyone from KISS to Donna Summer, it’s a stranger-than-fiction odyssey of one of the music world’s most unappreciated men. Not only one of my favorite rock and roll movies of the year, but one of my favorite movies of the year period.
Best Rock Book:
HIT THE GROUND RUNNIN – THE GREATEST BAND YOU NEVER HEARD OF by Marcus Mason
Sometimes, the greatest stories in the music world are the ones of the bands that never got the credit they deserved. This new book from Marcus Mason is a fantastic look back into one such AOR group; they had an incredible sound, and this is a great read delving into their history and why things never took off for them as it did for many of their contemporaries. At the time of this post I’m still reading it, but I have a feeling I’ll be cruising through this one pretty quickly!
Best Release From a Locally Based Artist:
Crashing Wayward: LISTEN!
Whether these guys belong in the local category is debatable; Stacey Blades of course toured the world with LA Guns, and the other guys in this band are no slouches either, each of whom has their own revered body of work. Blades and company are in fine form with their first CD release, which has more of a modern alternative-based sound and doesn’t fail to please. Let’s hope we get more releases from the boys that are as good as this one!
Best Release From a Locally Based Artist Honorable Mention:
Wheelchair Mosh Pit: “Fun Police” (single)
Do you remember that era from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s where pop-punk bands ruled the world? Apparently the guys in Wheelchair Mosh Pit do, because these guys sound like a relic of that age in all the best of ways, combining an energetic rock sound with a… truly unique sense of humor. I challenge you to rock out to this song and NOT have a smile on your face. Or better yet, go on YouTube and watch the music video. You’ll thank me later.
Best Release Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
-The Beatles: “Now and Then” (single)
It’s been called the last Beatles song ever. And while I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest thing to ever come from the vaults of the Fab Four, it’s certainly a worthy addition to the back catalogue, essentially a John Lennon demo that has been revamped and added to by the surviving members of the band. If it is truly the last original song we get from the band (which I’m skeptical of), it’s a decent enough one to go out on.
-LA Guns: BLACK DIAMONDS
LA Guns never gives up. But as this new release from the band shows, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The production quality on this one isn’t the best, but there’s no denying the musicianship is utterly fantastic. Opening cut “You Betray” feels like the spiritual successor to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and the rest of the album is no less excellent.
-Robin McAuley: ALIVE
Robin McAuley may very well be the most underrated rock singer in history. While best known for his work with Michael Schenker in the late 80s and early 90s, he’s had a host of other bands and solo projects, including most recently, Black Swan. But these melodic AOR-style solo albums of his have been no slouches either, with his latest being a little more rock and guitar driven than its predecessor. This is another worthy release from a man who knows how to sing.
-Electric Boys: GRAND EXPLOSIVOS
Another one of those bands from the late 80s/early 90s that never seemed to get their just dues, I was pleased to see these guys are still active. Best known for the song “All Lips N Hips” from back in the day, the band still makes hard and heavy bluesy hard rock with the best of ’em. This is a fantastic new release from a great group, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
-Mammoth WVH: Mammoth II
Wolfgang Van Halen certainly name a name for himself playing bass in his late father’s band in their latter years, but with his new band, he’s largely differentiated himself from the family name and forged something of his own. Far from emulating his more famous father, Wolf has forged a fantastic modern rock sound more akin to something like Foo Fighters than the band his father and uncle were a part of. Congrats to Wolf for striking out on his own and succeeding with another kick-ass album of rock.
-Tie: Todd Kerns: HEROES AND MONSTERS and BLACKBIRD ANGELS (two different bands)
You can’t keep Todd “Dammit” Kerns down. This year we got albums from not one but two kick-ass bands featuring Slash’s bass player, stepping away from the Conspirators and, pardon the bad joke, conspiring with some other talents in the music world. Heroes and Monsters features guitarist Stef Burns (Y&T, Alice Cooper, Huey Lewis), while Blackbird Angels features Tracii Guns (LA Guns). Both bands feature radically different sounds, ranging from the heavier to the more melodic, but both are equally excellent. Hopefully these won’t be one-offs. It’s some of Mr. Kerns’ best work to date.
Guitarist/keyboaridist Paul Taylor is back in Winger for the first time since that band’s second album. This record, the band’s first since 2014, beautifully demonstrates Kip Winger and company are still rocking out in fine form. Far from being a nostalgia act, the group here shows that there’s still plenty of gas in the tank and age is only a number.
Angel: ONCE UPON A TIME
This is the second album from the modern version of Angel, which combines classic vocalist Frank DiMino (himself a Vegas resident these days) and classic guitarist Punky Meadows with a variety of talented musicians. In “It’s Alright,” the band has released an anthem that may very well be my new favorite Angel song. Long living in the shadows of other band (namely Casablanca label mates KISS back in the day), hopefully the world will finally stand up and see this kick-ass rock band for what they are.
And now, the Top 5 Releases of the Year:
5) Sparks: THE GIRL IS CRYING IN HER LATTE
It’s been over 50 years singe Ron and Russel Mael released their first album… and even well into their 70s, these guys are still musically active. One of the most eccentric acts of all time and one of the most talented and interesting. Continuing to combine many genres and styles, the Brothers Mael are as entertaining and talented as ever. The latest collection of tunes from the twosome is proof enough they’re here to stay. Pick this one up, and if you haven’t seen it yet, add THE SPARKS BROTHERS documentary from a few years back to your watch list.
4) Jared James Nichols: JARED JAMES NICHOLS
It seems like this guy just came out of nowhere a few years ago, supporting many of my favorite artists at their live gigs, but Mr. Nichols is no slouch, having been releasing many excellent blues rock albums over the past several years. This latest self-titled effort from Nichols may be the best of the bunch so far, beautifully demonstrating what the guy is capable of. If this guy isn’t on your radar yet, he should be.
3) Cirith Ungol: DARK PARADE
Long living in the shadows, these heavy metal men never seem to get their just dues. And that’s a shame, because even over five decades after their founding, they’re still putting out some of the heaviest music out there. Having appeared on the original METAL MASSACRE compilation way back in 1982 (the compilation that also gave us the first ever released Metallica song) and having put out several releases across various labels, the band is back on Brian Slagel’s Metal Blade Records where they belong. Next year will supposedly be their retirement from live shows, and if this is the last album we get from them, a damn good one it is.
2) Metallica: 72 SEASONS
Metallica needs no introduction. They’re basically the biggest heavy metal band in the world. So when a new Metallica album comes out, it’s a full-on EVENT. Their first full-length studio album since 2016’s HARDWIRED… TO SELF DESTRUCT, it may very well be their strongest effort since 1991’s self-titled “Black Album.” Ambitious, heavy, and perhaps most importantly, entertaining, this is Lars, James, Rob, and Kirk firing on all cylinders. It’s the Metallica album we’ve been waiting for and more.
And the Number One Album of the Year…
Dirty Honey: CAN’T FIND THE BRAKES
It’s no secret I mainly listen to older bands or spin-off bands/solo albums by older artists. But I’m also pleased to see new bands coming out keeping the world of rock alive. Dirty Honey proudly carries this torch with their fusion of bluesy hard rock sounds, and with their second full-length album, these guys have put out what’s in this rock fan’s eyes, the year’s best album. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing plenty more from these guys… and this rocker welcomes it with open arms. Don’t hesitate to add this one to your collection.
And now, we shift from releases to live concerts!
Best Performance by a Locally Based Artist:
Crashing Wayward, The Industrial Sound
Yup, these guys again! Again, whether they belong in the local artists category is questionable, but what’s important is that they kick ass on the live stage. This was my first time inside The Industrial Sound, which has potential to be a promising venue, with the band making great use of the added stage space and video screens. There were two moments in 2023 when Stacey Blades and company proudly proclaimed they were here to stay – one was the release of their album (which we discussed earlier in this article), and the second was this; the band’s best live show to date.
Best Performance by a Locally Based Artist Honorable Mentions:
Ghost LV, various performances
I’m a relative newcomer on the Ghost bandwagon, but these guys faithfully recreate the band’s songs and look. The group goes all out in their presentation, complete with the nameless ghouls and a frontman who looks like the unholy love child of the Pope and the Grim Reaper. Anyone can call themselves a tribute and simply cover songs, sounding and looking nothing like the artist they’re supposedly paying tribute too. Ghost LV values presentation just as much as they do their sound, and it shows in every single gig. Any chance I get to see these guys is a welcomed pleasure.
LV/DC, various performances
Keith Robert has long been one of the most reliable guitarists in Las Vegas, regardless of what project he’s in. Dee Snider has even made him something of a go-to guy, and he’s even played with Jetboy in recent months. Seeing him try his hand at playing Angus Young? I was certainly game for that. This guy’s energy and sense of humor combined with musical skill make him the perfect Vegas Angus, and their performance are always electrifying. Fortunately, the rest of the band is always up to the task at hand, making this the ideal live AC/DC experience in Sin City.
Best Concert of the Year Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
-The Dead Daisies, Count’s Vamp’d
A supergroup of talented rock musicians put together by an eccentric Australian businessman? This sounds like a gimmick if there ever was one… but the music is actually pretty damn good! It’s been a revolving-door lineup over the years, with this incarnation featuring Doug Aldrich (Dio, Whitesnake, Lion), John Corabi (The Scream, Union, Motley Crue), and Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Billy Idol, Foreigner). It was a packed house and an amazing night of rock and roll. Brian Tichy was even cool enough to come out after and hang with the fans after the gig… but that’s a story for another day.
-Spread Eagle, Count’s Vamp’d
Probably best known for their song “Switchblade Serenade,” these guys are a classic hard rock band that never seems to get their just dues. The group features Rob De Luca on bass, probably best known for playing with UFO and Sebastian Bach, but it’s great to see he’s given his “classic” band another go. Criminally underrated but heavy as hell with plenty of stage presence, these guys won’t disappoint. They certainly didn’t on this evening of rock!
-Roxanne and Last in Line, Hard Rock Live, Las Vegas Strip
Two killer bands in a killer venue. Last in Line, of course, features former Dio band members Vinny Appice and Vivian Campbell, alongside bassist Phil Soussan (Ozzy, Billy Idol) and vocalist Andrew Freeman, who has made himself one of the go-to guys in the music world in recent years. This gig, in support of their latest album JERICHO, was a fantastic one, featuring original tunes and classic Dio-era songs as well. Roxanne opened the gig. One of many underrated bands of their era, the group’s fusion of hard rock and AOR sounds must be heard to be appreciated; I’d seen them a few weeks prior to this at Vamp’d, and they were equally solid at both gigs. Their music is most definitely not to be overlooked.
-Tie: Donnie Vie and Enuff Z’Nuff, Count’s Vamp’d (two different concerts)
Donnie Vie no longer sings for Enuff Z’Nuff, with bassist Chip Z’Nuff now taking over lead vocal duties in the band. And I had the opportunity to see both Donnie AND the current Enuff Z’Nuff at two gigs a few months apart here in the Vegas Valley. Both were excellent; seeing Chip singing classic Enuff Z’Nuff songs and even covering some Beatles tunes was quite impressive, but original vocalist Vie still brings it in his live shows as well, equally doing justice to the songs at hand. If you have a chance to see either concert, don’t pass it up.
-Adam and the Metal Hawks, Hard Rock Live, Las Vegas Strip
Playing at a Dee Snider vodka signing event, these guys were one of the most truly pleasant surprises of the evening. Their eponymous frontman certainly isn’t what you’d have in mind when it comes to a rock frontman, but he belted out the tunes in fine form and won over this audience of rock fans. I’ll be keeping my eye on these guys, hoping that they’ll return to Vegas soon!
-Cash’d Out, Count’s Vamp’d
Not every concert I attend is a head-banging hard rock and heavy metal experience. Cash’d Out is a tribute to the music of Johnny Cash, featuring a four-piece band, and even a female vocalist as well so they can perform the June Carter duets! The band members dress in period-appropriate clothing, and their bass player even plays a full-sized standing bass! From early Johnny Cash favorites like “I Walk the Line” and “Get Rhythm” to cuts from his latter days like the cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” this was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for me. Should they return to Vamp’d next year, I have a feeling I’ll be back!
-Great White, International Theater, Westgate Las Vegas
There are two Great Whites now. Classic vocalist Jack Russell now fronts his own incarnation called “Jack Russell’s Great White,” while the “main” Great White features classic members Mark Kendall, Michael Lardie, and Audie Desbrow. They’ve rotated vocalists a few times, with XYZ’s Terry Ilous having fronted the band for many years, and even a shorter stint from Mitch Malloy. The band has surprised audiences with the arrival of a much younger frontman, Brett Carlisle, who blew me away from start to finish, even shouting without a microphone to prove he wasn’t singing to a track! Young Mr. Carlisle is a badass, and the frontman this band needs. A kick-ass gig to say the least.
Zebra, Count’s Vamp’d
Combining AOR and hard rock sounds, these guys are best known for their hits “Tell Me What You Want” and “Who’s Behind the Door,” but they have quite the impressive back catalogue. Featuring guitarist/singer Randy Jackson (not to be confused with the former Journey bassist/AMERICAN IDOL judge), drummer Guy Gelso, and bassist Felix Hanemann are still going strong. Celebrating the 40th anniversary of their first album, they played it in its entirety plus several other selections from throughout their career. Here’s hoping we get a new album from the boys eventually!
Candy-O Tribute to The Cars, Downtown Henderson
I love The Cars. Their combination of pop, rock, and new wave sounds is infectious as hell, with their songs and albums standing the test of time. When I heard there would be a Cars tribute playing Downtown Henderson (at a car show, appropriately enough), I knew I had to be there. And while you certainly won’t mistake them for the real musicians, their passion for the material and live performances speak for themselves. Let’s hope these guys get back to the Vegas Valley in the near future; live Cars music is something this fan doesn’t like passing up.
Lovedrive, Count’s Vamp’d
I love Scorpions music, and I’ve seen the real band multiple times. And I can say with all sincerity that these guys are every bit as good as the real thing, and that’s no small feat. From hits to the deeper cuts, these guys run the gamut, doing justice to Germany’s finest rockers. Do you like the Scorpions? Then you owe it to yourself to put these guys on your list of concerts to see.
Breaking Ground Tour, Count’s Vamp’d
Sometimes the best shows come from the youngest and hungriest bands who haven’t hit the big time but have all the potential in the world. That’s why this night was one of my favorite of the year. Local favorites Heroine Honey were joined by three other up-and-coming bands from across the country: Hvnted, Black Rock Candy, and Viper Club. An after-show set from local favorites Smashing Alice didn’t hurt either. I would gladly go to see any of these bands again and give them my support.
And now, the Best Concerts of the Year!
5) KISS Night in Las Vegas, Count’s Vamp’d
At one point, this was an annual fundraiser done to raise money for music programs in Clark County Schools, though it hadn’t been done since 2019 due to the pandemic. Fortunately, it was back with a vengeance after a four-year hiatus, with local musician and special guests, not the least of whom was Frehley’s Comet’s Tod Howarth! The event featured a performance of the band’s first album in its entirety, and a massive combination of deep cuts and hits alike. You wanted the best? On this evening, you got the best. At the time I’m writing this, KISS is in the process of what they claim is their final, final farewell tour (yeah, I don’t believe them either). But I have a feeling that what happened on this stage on this night was far more epic and musically capable. Bring on KISS Night 2024!
4) Cheap Trick, Pearl Concert Theater, Palms Casino Resort
The kings of power pop returned to Sin City, giving one of the finest performances of the year. The band still includes classic members Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, and Tom Petersson, and is filled out with Robin and Rick’s sons, who are certainly a chip off the old block. With a 40+ year catalogue of music to choose from, these guys proved themselves more than capable of keeping their musical legacy alive. Some older artists past their prime who stayed too late at the party need to hang it up, but that certainly isn’t true of Rockford, Illinois’ favorite sons.
3) Jeff Blando’s Music Mob, Count’s Vamp’d
Slaughter guitarist Jeff Blando. Dokken/Lynch Mob guitarist George Lynch. Ratt vocalist Stephen Pearcy, Danny “The Count” Koker. Johnny Monaco. And Jackyl frontman Jesse James Dupree.
On stage together. At the same concert.
This revolving door who’s who of kick-ass musicians was about as epic as it gets, with a wide variety of songs spanning the artists’ careers, as well as plenty of great classic covers as well. This was everything you could ask for in a live rock gig and then some. Let’s hope Mr. Blando gets another one of these gigs together for next year!
2) Tesla, House of Blues, Mandalay Bay Casino (multiple performances)
One of the hardest working bands in rock and roll, Tesla had done some residency appearances earlier in the year, but had to add additional dates due to popular demand! I got to attend two of the five gigs, and Tesla packed the house both nights (which is no small feat considering one of the night was a Wednesday). The band performed their classic hits and even had introductions from Eddie Trunk, proudly proclaiming they were an all-live band who never resorted to backing tracks. It was a fantastic assortment of the band’s back catalogue tracks, complete with a few surprises along the way. Make no mistake; these guys still bring it on the live stage.
And… the Number One Concert of the Year…
Angel and Fever Dog, Count’s Vamp’d
Picking a favorite show of the year is no easy task. Especially when 2023 crammed in this many good ones! But this gig from Angel proved to be no slouch, featuring the band performing their classic 70s cuts alongside a handful of more recent songs as well, of course in support of their new album ONCE UPON A TIME (which was mentioned earlier). Vocalist Frank DiMino has one of the music world’s most distinct voices, and guitarist Punky Meadows is one of the most underrated guitar heroes out there. The rest of the band assembled for these gigs, including Danny Farrow, does justice to the music and then some. At an age when some artists would likely consider retirement, the Angel boys proved they’re not going anywhere. Just as impressive was the opening set from Fever Dog, a fantastic younger group of rockers with tremendous potential I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of. There were many killer nights of rock this year, but for me, this was number one. Be on the lookout for a forthcoming Angel documentary as well!
And there you have it! 2023 was an amazing year of music, with killer albums and concerts around every corner. Narrowing this list down was no easy task; there were a lot of worthy artists, old and new alike, doing what they do best. I have a feeling 2024 is going to be even MORE epic, with plenty of releases and live gigs to come. Bring on the new year!
All live concert photography by the author. This list is the author’s opinions only, and does not necessary reflect those of other staff members/writers/photographers/editors of ZRock’R Magazine.
Previous Best of the Year lists:
2020 (this is a YouTube video and only covers albums, not concerts)