Celebrating their tenth year as a band, Michigan based Pop Evil played the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse stage at Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI. Having played area venues many times in the past, fans packed the bleachers in support of one of their favorite bands. After almost an hour and a half set, one thing was for sure. Pop Evil have a ton of widely known hits.
Bassist Matt DiRito got the night started with those famous opening bass notes in Ways To Get High and with a crash of the drums from Hayley Cramer, it was on. Colors Bleed, with its pummeling beat and rapidly spoken lyrics by front man Leigh Kakaty, kept the pace heavy as the first of six from their newest album, Waking Lions.
Pop Evil’s Onyx album from 2013 was responsible for several popular songs including Deal With The Devil and Torn To Pieces. However, positioned between the two, they took it way back to 2008 with Hero, a song from their early days that still holds up really well. They backed that up with Art of War, another new song with more fast-paced spoken lyrics. Last Man Standing, with its crunchy dual guitar attack from Davey Grahs and Nick Fuelling, segued into a portion of Survivor’s Eye of The Tiger.
Leigh asked how many were seeing Pop Evil for the first time and from my point of view, for a lot of people, this wasn’t their first show. He talked about the band celebrating their 10th year and asked everyone to tell five people about the band. Satisfied, he added, “Rock ‘n’ Roll is very much alive in Wisconsin.” Be Legendary, another song from Waking Lions not only had a beat that made you want to move, overall it was great lyrically as well. Especially the line, “Edge of glory, write your story, Seize the moment, no regrets.”
While Leigh was great as a front man, working the stage and often showing a wide range of emotions as he sang, he was also very humbled and appreciative by the reaction he was getting from the crowd. He gave everyone that didn’t know a little back story on the band. He joked that they grew up in a country called Michigan. He also challenged everyone, that if they helped the band to get bigger, he would build a bridge across Lake Michigan as his home was across the lake from Milwaukee. Of course, he said the bridge would only be open in the summer.
As the band continued, even stopping mid-set to take a photo with the crowd, and with so many albums to choose from, they played Silence & Scars, another from Onyx. Another cool moment in the set came at the beginning of Footsteps. About a minute and a half in, right before the music really kicked in at the end of the first chorus, Hayley was initially leaning on two of her cymbals. With the final two times Leigh sang, “Go higher, go higher,” (the part before the woohoooo’s) she put one arm in the air and then the other, then brought her sticks down in unison as the song exploded. Leigh even had the crowd sing the very last line by themselves. He commented there was no greater feeling than when your fans, “Excuse me, friends,” sing your songs.
Quite a few songs on Waking Lions appear to be about serious topics, including A Crime to Remember, and the power behind the line, “Are we divided, Are we united,” really makes you stop and think about what is going on in the world around us. Leigh gave a shout out to both The Hog in Milwaukee and WIIL Rock in the Southern WI/Northern IL listening area stating they are playing the new Rock ‘n’ Roll regime. In my opinion, with the state of the music business as it is, any station that plays new music is one you should be listening to. Leigh then asked for cell phone lights and lighters to be waved back and forth during “the oldest Pop Evil song,” 100 In A 55, which he said was written in Grand Haven, MI.
Leigh spoke to the crowd again, “If you still believe in Rock ‘n’ Roll music, let me hear you loud.” As the audience responded, he joked, “I can’t hear sh*t. I need to see your fists!” As the crowd punched their fists into the air, they played one last and the title track, from Waking Lions. Up to this point, all members of Pop Evil had been giving their all. Working the crowd and the stage, head-banging, hair flying, you name it. This band continues to give their fans a memorable night and their love of music shines brightly through the music that they make. However, for anyone that has seen Pop Evil over the last few years or has watched any live videos, they are all too familiar with Leigh’s desire to stand on the shoulders of fans in the crowd. Once I saw him jump down from the stage, I thought for sure there was no way he would even attempt this due to the positioning of the single level bleachers. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t do it anyway.
For the last song, Trenches, he was able to have several people support him enough that he could stand above and sing while in the left side of the crowd. With help from security to get back over the barricade, he jumped down and then proceeded to do the same thing on the right side of the crowd. Eventually he was down again and running through the middle T-shaped portion of the barricade towards the back and around the soundboard. Before I knew it, he had made his way up to a nearby balcony and finished the song with a drink of beer. Now that’s Rock and Roll.
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