Alright, folks, buckle up and put on your life jackets – not because of rogue waves or Titanic-style icebergs, but for the tidal wave of pure, unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll that was the Monsters of Rock Cruise 2023! This was my fourth time embarking on this voyage of velvet, leather, and face-melting guitar solos. The last time my sea legs got a workout was back in 2017, and let me tell you, the boat might have gotten a tad bit rustier, but the music? Just as electrifying as ever.
Now, before we dive in, remember: this isn’t your grandma’s pleasure cruise. Unless, of course, your grandma shreds on a Gibson and swears by Jack Daniels for breakfast. This is the Monsters of Rock Cruise, the place where decibels and sea-sickness go to battle, and rock always comes out victorious.
So, ready your air guitars and let’s dive headfirst into the musical mayhem, the surprising standouts, and the underdog stories that made this year’s cruise one for the ages. Trust me; you’ll want to stick around – this isn’t your average holiday slideshow! There were 40 bands on the boat and I managed to see/ photograph 22 of them; here are my picks for the most epic moments.
Heaviest Riffs on the Ship (Seriously, there should be an award for this!)
“Lack of Communication” – Stephen Pearcy: Ratt n Roll holds up easily at 40. With the dual guitar attack of Erik Ferentinos and Johnny Manoco, this massive riff literally rocked the ship!
“Midnight Dynamite” – Kix: Holy smokes, have you ever truly appreciated just how heavy the main riff is? It’s like a wrecking ball made of pure rock ‘n’ roll crashing into your ears and demolishing everything in its path. No wonder it was a favourite on the ship. I sat across from Brian at the airport, meaning to tell him in person, but I didn’t want to bother him. Now that I heard Kix is retiring, damn, I missed my chance!
Every damn song! – Dirty Looks: From soup to nuts, face-melting and high-energy off the charts. They don’t make em’ like this any more folks.
“We are the Voice” – Michael Schenker Group: My first time seeing the legend that is MSG, and this song blew me away. Schenker’s guitar was a juggernaut, rattling the balcony as I tried to figure out how on earth he was getting that sound.
“No Rest for the Wicked” – Stryper: Holy hell, when did Stryper get so HEAVY? They played this new song and it might’ve been the heaviest moment on the ship. Not only was their set and sound nearly perfect, but they’ve perhaps finally managed to harness the wrath of God into a single song.
Vain: Somehow, I missed this band the first time around, even though all my friends were obsessed. I went to both shows, and they absolutely blew me away. Davy Vain was a master frontman, connecting with the crowd instantly. Lead guitarist Dylana Nova struck the perfect balance between massive riffs and face-melting solos. The Vain catalogue is now on repeat for me. Best live song: Greener
Reckless Love: Living in the UK, I’ve heard great things but never saw them live. We ran into Olli at the Tiki bar, and he was the coolest. These guys are bringing back 1988 and they are doing it with style and some pretty banging songs. Best live song: Hot.
Best for Short Attention Spans:
Soto/Bieler: A variety metal hour? I think so! Bieler was pulling out all the stops with Jeff Scott Soto in the jam-packed Star Lounge. These two complement each other perfectly and have a fantastic comedy duo vibe. I couldn’t believe I got to hear Saigon Kick classics like “One Step Closer” and deeper cuts like “Close to You.” While we rarely got entire songs, each bit left me wondering what they’d do next. By the way, Jason Bieler has a new record out, and it’s brilliant from start to finish. Get it here. Best song: Close to You and One Step Closer from the catalogue. Birds of Prey from the new album.
Top 5 Best Overall:
D-A-D: The songs, the look, the antics, and the eccentric genius of Stig Pederson make this my favorite band and show on the boat. I could’ve watched this show 3 or 4 more times easily. Early songs like “Jihad” and “Sleeping My Day Away” hold up beautifully, while the new songs continue to evolve their legacy. It’s a shame the States never fully got it, but the rest of the world does. Best song: Jihad.
Tora Tora: Is there a better voice or group of songwriters on the boat? It’s debatable. Every time I watch this band, I forget I’m a photographer and get lost in their first two albums. Hearing songs from “Wild America” brought me back to one of my favourite years for music while the newer songs kept my jaw on the ground. Plus, Anthony still nails that note in “Phantom Rider”—you know the one. Best song: Acoustic – As Time Goes By – Full band – Guilty.
Wig Wam: What the fuck is a Wig Wam, you ask? Who cares. I’d never heard of these guys, but after meeting the singer during the photo experience, I had to see what they were about. It was like Cheap Trick crossed with Sweet, and every song was a standout. My only regret is not seeing them twice. Best song: all of them.
Extreme: Jesus, this was next level. No explanation needed. They have a new album coming out on June 9th, and from the few songs that I’ve heard so far, this is going to be more than just a comeback record. Best song: Rise was epic, but Am I ever Gonna Change stole the show.
Faster Pussycat: I’ve seen them nearly 30 times, but something has changed with these guys. The new blood on guitar and the addition of keys have elevated their sound to a new level. Easily the best I’ve ever heard them, and the new songs are classic Faster. Best song: NOLA
Best Underdog Story:
Chris Holmes: If you’ve followed Chris over the years, you know he’s had his ups and downs. But he’s back and sounding better than ever. Not only is his band an absolute beast, but Chris can still shred with the best and puts on one hell of a great show. Add to that he’s just the nicest freaking guy, and you absolutely want him to win – and he is, finally. Best song: The Devil Made Me Do It, and the WASP songs were stellar.
So, there you have it, folks! The Monsters of Rock Cruise 2023 was an unforgettable experience filled with jaw-dropping performances, surprising acts, and underdog victories. Can’t wait to see what the next one has in store! In the meantime, here’s some photos I took when I wasn’t drinking Miami Vices.