Monday, February 27, 2017

Concert Review: Pop Evil - February 18, 2017

I could not have chosen a better concert to start my 2017 live music experience! On an unseasonably warm February night I headed to the Starland Ballroom in Sayervillle, New Jersey, to see Pop Evil for the first time in almost 4 years. The last time I saw the band live was when they opened for Three Days Grace before Onyx had even been released. A lot has changed for this band in those 4 years, most of it for the better.

This show was originally billed as Pop Evil with special guests Red Sun Rising and Badflower. Yet, for some reason still unknown to me, there was a last minute change and Red Sun Rising was not on the bill. Badflower was moved up to the middle act, and local band Kid Felix were tapped to be the openers. Officially, Red Sun Rising posted on their Facebook page that due to reasons beyond their control, they are no longer on the Pop Evil tour. Unofficially, there is speculation that the band dissed Pop Evil, insinuating that they could not sing, and that got them kicked off the tour. If that’s true, how stupid can you be? Sorry (not sorry) Red Sun Rising, but no one knows who you are yet, you should be thankful that Pop Evil took you on tour with them.

Kid Felix opened the night at the Starland Ballroom. They are a local, south jersey band that I had never heard of before. I had zero expectations for their set, but as always, I kept an open mind and waited to see what they had to show me. What they showed me was simply magnificent. Their set time was limited, but they used it to their advantage. Kid Felix was terrific on stage, performing solid original music that was catchy and impressive. I was also surprised by the number of people that showed up to see their set. Just before Kid Felix took the stage, the Starland Ballroom was 75% full. For an opening act, it’s usually 25% full, if that. It was nice to see so many rockers come out and give support to Kid Felix.

Badflower was the second act and I have to say they just weren’t for me. There were moments when I was hopeful that this band would be decent and I would find a song or two that I could like, but it never happened. The lead singer/guitarist was an odd little man that looked borderline psycho. I’m sure the younger folks in the crowd thought that was really cool, but that’s never been for me. I like positivity and inspiration in my musical messages. Badflower just gave me anger, whining, and noise.

Shortly after Badflower finished their set it was time for the headliners to grace the stage. As I mentioned, it had been a while since I last saw Pop Evil live and I was looking forward to their show. The stage set was very cool with a red brick wall, a chain link fence, and a cardboard sign painted in black that read “Rock N Roll.” I wasn’t used to seeing Pop Evil with any kind of stage (as they had always been the opening act), so this was intriguing.

The house lights went dark and a man in a hoodie and a bandana covering his face like a villain in an old western movie walked out. He walked from the top of the stage to the cardboard sign with a can of red spray paint in his hand. He sprayed painted the word “No” over “Rock N Roll” and the crowd gave a disapproving boo. Then he added a W to the word “No” so the sign read “Rock N Roll Now,” which is the name of the tour. The masked figure pulled his bandana off and flipped his hood back and of course it was Leigh Kakaty. The band then came out on stage and kicked into “Trenches.”

The show was not sold out prior to the night of the concert, and arriving early, I was able to get a ticket with no trouble at all. However, by the time Pop Evil took the stage it was clear that the show had sold out (or was very close to it). The Starland was packed for Pop Evil’s performance. Filled all the way through with loud New Jersey rock fans that wanted to see an amazing night of music. Pop Evil was there to deliver. “Trenches” was followed by “Last Man Standing,” a quick cover of “Eye of the Tiger,” the ellipsis song “…” and “Ways To Get High.” It was a great way to get the night going. I had not realized how beloved “Ways To Get High” was. The crowd roared when the first notes hit and then sang every word back to the band. And while it is far from my favorite Pop Evil song, I grew a stronger appreciation for the song after seeing it live.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews on this band then you know how much I appreciate them as a live act and how I think they are flat out amazing in concert. Having now seen them as headliners and for the first time in almost 4 years, I can only say that their live show has gone from great to spectacular. The way they commanded the crowd, the stage presence that they had, and their ability to rock the club was flawless. This band could easily be headlining arenas with their material and ability. Pop Evil is truly one of the best live acts out there. Their energy is infectious and the New Jersey crowd clearly loved the band.

Leigh talked a lot about his love for New Jersey and his appreciation for how much we care about the band, but that may have been the traditional lead singer language that he will repeat the next night to the next crowd. I want to believe that he really does have a soft spot for New Jersey and that we really are the greatest crowd, but that’s my New Jersey bias kicking in.

Leigh did reminisce on the first time the band played the Starland Ballroom as an opening act. He talked about how they played to approximately 20 people and 2 of them were his parents. That took me back to the first time I saw the band perform live as openers for Theory of a Deadman. I remember not even wanting to go in to see the opening act, but my wise friend Bobby talked me into it. I am so glad that he did, because I fell in love with the band that night and I haven’t looked back since.

The band performed “Purple” for what they said was the first time in over a year. They stated that they wanted to do something special for this special New Jersey crowd and I was delighted to hear the song. “Purple” has always been one of my favorite Pop Evil songs and it was terrific live.

Watching Pop Evil perform as headliners made me very happy. Not only because the show was so awesome, but because the band was doing so well and they looked so happy. Having watched and followed Pop Evil since their first album when they were an opening act performing to a small number of people and then slowly converting them to fans one member at a time, it was nice to see them at such a level of success. I’ve always believed in this band and it’s so good to see them doing so well. It’s akin to watching your children grow up. Pop Evil has been through a lot over the years and they still come out on top.

New drummer Hayley Cramer was a delight behind the drum kit. And while I miss Chachi Riot and his animal like drum playing, Hayley is a fantastic drummer in her own right and fits into the band well. She can also play the keyboards, as was made evident during the first Encore. Leigh and Hayley came out on stage together and played a slowed down version of “Beautiful.” It was a nice arrangement for the song and it was neat seeing Leigh sing it to only the keyboard playing in the background. 

I am somewhere in that photo all the way toward the back of the crowd.
The band would come out for a second encore which consisted of “Footsteps” and “Take It All.” Toward the end of “Footsteps” Leigh stopped the song and asked the crowd if it was all right if he came down to them. Of course they were fine with that! Leigh walked down into the crowd and asked everyone to crouch down low. He had the whole ballroom crouch low and he did so as well. He then talked about how making music was a process that started with great friends getting together working out songs. He wanted us to share that experience, the way that songs began. He then had us all sing the end of “Footsteps” together acapella. It sounded fantastic! Leigh thanked us for being fans and friends and then jumped back onto the stage for the last song of the night.

“Take It All” was jaw dropping and even though there are other candidates for the title, I think this will become Pop Evil’s signature song. It is a perfect ender, full of high energy and beloved by the crowd. Every person was screaming it back to the band to end the night.

And when it was all over, I was sweaty, I couldn’t hear, and it was hard to speak. But it was absolutely worth it. Pop Evil has grown into a force to be reckoned with and it’s only a matter of time before they are performing arenas across the United States and forcing me to see them from the nosebleed sections. I know it will be worth it though and I’ll just be happy to see the band live again.

Last Man Standing
Eye Of The Tiger
Ways To Get High
Ghost Of Muskegen
Torn To Pieces
Sick Sense
Boss’ Daughter
Deal With The Devil
Monster You Made
If Only For Now
100 In A 55
Beautiful (just Leigh and Hayley)
Second Encore
Take It All

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