Lawrence is known for its quirky music scene, and after a rocky couple of years it feels like 2023 finally got us back into our weird groove. When tackling a “best of” list, it’s tough to tackle everyone. So we’ve narrowed it down to the most badass moments of 2023– and baby, there were a lot of them.

Here’s the disclaimer we have every single year: No, we didn’t get to every single event. In fact, many events we couldn’t even cover (you can forget about photos if there’s a fog machine and a single red light, sorry metal bands). So please take this list with a grain of salt. But from what we saw, here’s what tickled our fancy in 2023:

10. Kevin Morby at the Bottleneck

Kevin Morby / Photo by Fally Afani

It’s always nice when you get to see someone from the area make it big and return for a hometown show. Kevin Morby, who cut his teeth on the regional scene, made a two-night run of his homecoming back in April, starting with a show at The Bottleneck in Lawrence before heading to KC (it’s not every day you get to see someone who started at open mic nights return to the same venue years later to headline a sold out show there).

Morby’s live shows have only grown more energetic over the years, with his final numbers absolutely bringing the house down (the floor was shaky just from the head bobbing, if you can believe it) and we suspect he’ll only become more lively onstage from here on out. Highlights for the crowd included a special Waxahatchee appearance (as is usual at many of his shows) and his very serious sax player.

09. Vision Video at the Bottleneck

Vision Video / Photo by Fally Afani

It was goths’ night out at the Bottleneck back in March thanks a spectacular lineup of eyeliner-clad rockers. Honestly, the goth scene has really had a moment in Lawrence this year, but this was our favorite.

Vision Video brought one fantastic dark wave post punk hit after another. This band’s entire vibe was magnificent. Fronted by everyone’s favorite goth dad Dusty Gannon, they were very much like most goths: bubbly personality, anti-establishment lyrics. A high point in the evening came when the audience learned the keyboard player grew up just down the road in Paola, and she took the lead on one of their rock songs.

08. Thelma and the Sleaze

Thelma and the Sleaze / Photo by Fally Afani

If you like songs about vaginas, cars, and hating Donald Trump, this is the perfect band for you. It also helps if you’re really into all-female queer bands and southern rock. Despite the cozier audience at both of their Bottleneck shows this year, they turned it up to 11 and rocked out for a full set and then some. In return, fans got a full dose of southern grit, and one of the meanest guitar solos we’ve ever seen (several times over).

If you ever get the chance to see Thelma and the Sleaze, know that you’ll get their best show possible each time. One of the poorest attended shows of the year happened to also be one of the best we’ve seen by far this year because of their dedication to rock and roll. Thelma and the Sleaze gave a hardcore lesson in how to keep the momentum high on one of those rare quiet nights on tour.

07. The drummers at the Boris / Melvins / Mr. Phylzzz show

Boris / Photo by Fally Afani

This was a badass show without the stunt, but we love it when an entire lineup comes together to thrill the crowd. When Boris, Melvins, and the wildly unruly Mr. Phylzzs packed the Bottleneck for a sold-out show in Rocktober, they snuck a surprise into the end of Mr. Phylzzz’s set. That’s when all three drummers for all three bands took to the stage and played at the same time, each with a kit in front of each other (Boris in the back, Melvins in the middle, Mr. Phylzzz at the front). It was not only fun as hell, but set the tone for the rest of the night.

06. JPEGMAFIA at the Granada

JPEGMAFIA / Photo by Fally Afani

It’s been a long time since we felt the floor of the Granada shake so heavily, but JPEGMAFIA’s got the ability to make it happen. His March show is the second time we’ve photographed the rapper within a year, and he manages to bring the unexpected to the stage each time.

Since this was a KJHK/SUA-sponsored event, the crowd was comprised of mostly young, white, men (a real “sausage fest,” as we heard someone remark). So you’d think their stamina would maintain. But JPEGMAFIA shows are not for the faint of heart, and we saw a handful leave before the set even reached the halfway point due to exhaustion from throwing down in the crowd.

05. Keanu Reeves blessing the town with his presence

Dogstar / Photo by Fally Afani

Listen, we don’t like “celebrity.” The entire idea of celebrity turns us off. Yes, we work in the music scene and photograph and interview “celebrities” all the time. But that’s our job, we have a journalistic duty to bring you fair and balanced coverage of your music scene. But worshipping a false idol? Psssht. Not for us.

That being said, Keanu Reeves’ manifestation in Lawrence came at just the right time.

First off, his band Dogstar’s stop at Liberty Hall wasn’t initially on the tour. There was such a demand for tickets at their other shows, that a Lawrence date was added as soon as they got back from Japan. So Lawrence had less than a month to get their shit together and snag some tickets. It sold out in two seconds.

But the reason why this lands on our list is because Lawrence embarrassed itself with a fake Taylor Swift sighting just five days prior. This irritated us to no end. For context: Tay-Tay flew in for the world’s most expensive booty call at the Chiefs game over the weekend, and for SOME reason, fans thought she would wake up the next morning craving a sloppy Free State burger. They swarmed the business based on a rumor, and it made the news you guys. Embarrassing.

Dogstar / Photo by Fally Afani

Well, Keanu came to the rescue by giving us actual celebrity sightings later that week. Not a lot of people know that Keanu Reeves is in a band, so imagine their surprise when they saw this giant man towering at about 6’2″ strolling down Mass St. The town was abuzz, and he stopped for all the fans who approached him.

What we like about the show is that the fans at the show weren’t just there to blurt out “Keanu I love you!” or something stupid like that. They knew Dogstar’s songs, and shouted out love for the frontman (the only one who, rightly, had a mic onstage). Good job Lawrence, you didn’t embarrass us and handled the “celebrity” band properly.

04. Dan Deacon’s Dance Party

Dan Deacon fans at The Bottleneck / Photo by Fally Afani

For God’s sake, don’t blink (or even take a bathroom break) during a Dan Deacon set… because you’ll likely miss something phenomenal.

In an era where musicians and fans are navigating life after COVID made us live separately, Dan Deacon has mastered the art of togetherness. When the electronic musician played to a very enthusiastic crowd at The Bottleneck in April, he brought the dance party he’s known for. In a way, it was like training wheels for fans who’d forgotten how to dance, feel the music together, come together as one.

Dan Deacon / Photo by Fally Afani

The pulsating lights and dance instruction helped (much of his set was spent giving the audience detailed courses on how to from a human bridge or tap each other out for a dance circle), but it was really his charming personality and chattiness that held it together for the duration of the show. He previously stopped by about a decade ago with two drummers in tow. This time, it was just Deacon. Rather than letting the stage swallow him and his table of gear, he brought everyone together in one cohesive and playful affair. It didn’t matter your age or background, everyone was in on it.

03. Juneteenth

Macy Gray / Photo by Fally Afani

Juneteenth has really exploded on the local entertainment scene in Lawrence over the last couple of years. In 2023, they gave us a priceless moment by snagging Macy Gray for the free downtown event.

One of the announcers said it best: Juneteenth felt less like a festival, and more like a family reunion.

This is perhaps the absolute chillest and most laid-back event we’ve covered in recent memory. The soothing pace and modest crowd still provided a jovial atmosphere when Macy Gray took the stage. Maybe it was the early set times, but the crowd was all in on this one. It’s also important to note that there wasn’t alcohol at this event, and it had a HARD curfew of 8:00 p.m. Perfect.

There is nothing more fun than a Krizz Kaliko set– and if we had it our way, he’d play every street festival. Paired with the energetic locals and the star-studded performance from Macy Gray (who was ABSOLUTELY on her game this day), we can only imagine the big announcements coming Juneteenth’s way for 2024.

02. Nerd Stuff

Galactic Empire / Photo by Fally Afani

In today’s day and age, it’s important to unapologetically experience joy. If there’s one demographic that experienced all the joy in the local music scene this year, it’s the nerds. In a way, everyone sort of falls into this category. The geeks, the freaks, the sportos, the motorheads, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads… all of them enjoy a bit of fandom every now and then.

That fandom came in the form of events at the Granada, such as Galactic Empire and the Cybertronic Spree. 1313 Mockingbird Lane, the toy store across the street from the Granada, was usually the culprit. Because the owner is an expert in both nerd culture and live music, these concerts felt less like a regular music event and more like a fan convention.

The Cybertronic Spree / Photo by Fally Afani

You could simultaneously don your Jedi robes and watch Darth Vader shred on the guitar at the same time. You want a band dressed like Transformers playing 80’s hits? You got it. The nerd events were in fine form this year, and brought out all the ages in Lawrence. Isn’t that what you want in a healthy music scene? Something everyone at every age can enjoy? This is perhaps why all the geeky, fandom music events landed at the top of our list this year.

Good job, nerds.


01. DragonForce at the Granada

DragonForce / Photo by Fally Afani

SPEAKING of nerd stuff….

We try really hard not to say things like “If you missed this show, we feel sorry for you.”

But if you missed the DragonForce show at the Granada in November, damn. We feel sorry for you.

You don’t go to DragonForce solely because you like metal. You go because it’s an experience.

The longtime British power metal band proved there’s a reason they can still sell out venues after all these years. Every inch of that show at the Granada on Sunday night was wild. It had everything: confetti, a crowd surfing chicken, giant arcade games, a fucking dragon. It was overstimulation at its finest.

DragonForce fans / Photo by Fally Afani

The crowd was comprised of metal heads, video game nerds, a combination of both, and a whoooole lot of kids who got enthusiastically dragged out with their families (calm down, they loved it). The guitarists all took turns shredding our faces off, and sometimes they did it on top of giant props from great heights.

The production on this show is enormous and fit for a large stadium– but we got it in the Granada, so all that energy was compacted and exploded with force. There’s no one out there doing what DragonForce does, and it should be an experience every music lover tries, at the very least, once in their lives.

Nanowar of Steel / Photo by Fally Afani

They were joined by Swedes Amaranthe (so many vocalists!), the operatic Edge of Paradise (the only American band on the bill), and the very, very, very comedic Italian silly boys in Nanowar of Steel, who started the show by talking out of their butts.

If you’ve never experienced a comedic Italian metal band (that is literally the genre they prefer to go by), this may have been your only chance. All four bands on the lineup were big on theatrics, costumes, and lasers upon lasers upon lasers. So it really wasn’t just DragonForce who were into overstimulating the crowd.



Fally Afani is an award-winning journalist with a career spanning more than 20 years in media. She has worked extensively in radio, television, newspapers, magazines, and more.

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