I was very excited to make my second trip of the year to The Rave/Eagles Club in Milwaukee, WI! This time to cover Pop Evil; a band I have followed and covered on multiple occasions since 2008.
However, on this night the show is taking place in The Rave Hall, which is the second largest venue in the building. The Rave Hall capacity is 1,800.
Traffic was light, so I arrived a little early than normal. This gave me some time to get the lay of the land and a little room to get my camera gear ready for the show. One of the reasons I love this venue is the friendly staff and the way they go out of the way to accommodate. As I am preparing for the show, one of the bartenders offers to keep my camera bag behind the bar so I don’t have to haul it around for the next few hours. So that got my night off to a fantastic start.
As the early arrivers enter the building and head to the front for a great view the headliners, the first act of the night hits the stage. The band is “Avoid” out of Seattle, Washington. They are a metalcore/alternative band featuring Benny Scholl on vocals, Nick Olson & Luke Ryder on guitars, Chris Echols on bass, and Paul Jaton on drums.
The band opens their set with Gator Fest off the 2022 album, Cult Mentality. It is an immediate assault on the senses with pounding bass drum and snare, along with screaming lead riffs and screaming vocals. The chorus is a continuation of screaming lyrics, but with some nice harmonies going with the background vocals. We are off and running for the night!
Before the next song begins, Benny jumps off the stage and onto the barricade, telling the crowd that he has always wanted to crowd surf while singing a song. As the band breaks into Cowabunga, he leaps into the crowd and performs the entire first verse and chorus while being passed around the crowd. You can tell he is having the time of his life!
Avoid continues the scream attack for most of their set with songs like Blast Off, Whatever, and Can’t Take This Away from the Cult Mentality album. They also dip back their debut EP, The Burner to belt out Hostage At A Beach Party.
To close out the set, they also turn to The Burner to play Song About James. While tamer than the rest of the set has been, I wouldn’t call this a ballad. But with their “forget the rules” attitude, this song has a Justin Bieber meets Slipknot vibe that gets a nice pop from the crowd that has now filled the room to a little more than half capacity.
By the time the lights go down for the next act, the room is well over three quarters full and filling in quickly! The next band to hit the stage is “The Word Alive”. Also, a metalcore/alternative band, they come to us out of Phoenix, Arizona. The band formed in 2008 and have gone through several member changes through the years and produced 6 studio albums from 2010 to 2020. Featured members include Tyler Smith on lead vocals and Zack Hansen on guitar, keyboards, and programming. Joining them as touring musicians are Jose DelRio on guitar, keyboards, and programming, and Daniel Nelson on drums.
Just like the first band, The Word Alive hit the stage and got right in everyone’s face with 2012 from the 2010 album Deceiver. The lightning-fast guitar riffs interlock flawlessly with pounding bass and drum rhythm! The crowd was jumping up and down along with the band.
Not wasting any time, they jump right into Nocturnal Future. Smith belts out a long scream, while the rest of the band smashes out a fast beat. But here is where Smith really shows off his vocal capabilities as he seamlessly transitions into a more normal tone with incredible range. The whole time egging the crowd to jump up down. He even gives some attention to the photographers in the pit as he gets right in my lens for and extra-close photo!
The set continues bouncing back and forth with songs from their 2020 album Monomania and the 2016 release Dark Matter. The band criss-crossing the stage, never missing a beat, while Smith has command of the audience. While never missing a note, he has everyone jumping, dancing, or moshing. What a great lead into the final band of the night!
Pop Evil was formed in 2001 by vocalist Leigh Kakaty and his cousin Dave Grahs on guitar and backing vocals. Through the years, there has been a revolving door of band members, but the one thing that remained consistent was the quality of music the band has produced over the years. Along with Kakaty and Grahs, the current lineup includes, Nick Fuelling on lead guitar, Hayley Cramer on drums, and newest member; Joey Walser on bass. Pop Evil is based out of North Muskegon, Michigan.
As it nears time for Pop Evil’s set, the room is overflowing with people, which means it has to be close if not over the 1,800-person capacity. The crowd is flowing out into the hallways, which works as there are openings where you can see clearly into the room and still be able to enjoy the show!
The lights dim to a huge pop from the crowd. The stage is bathed in light blue lights as Dave and Nick step up on the risers with the opening riff to Paranoid off the Skeletons album. On the back risers are Joey and Hayley pounding out the rhythm. Joey doing some headbanging, while Haley’s hair is blowing in the wind machine and sticks flying everywhere. Leigh comes to center stage and instantly takes command of the crowd with arms waving and pointing while belting out precise vocals.
As Dave and Nick break into the open riffs of 2013 release, Deal With The Devil; Leigh thanks everyone for coming out and reminds them that this is the final show of the Skeletons tour which draws a loud round of applause. Being one of their bigger hits, many in the crowd are singing and dancing along.
For a good portion of the next several songs, there isn’t a lot of talk. It just down to business with several of the songs coming from the Skeletons album giving the crowd a good taste of the new music which everyone seem appreciative of. Those songs include Circles, Dead Reckoning, Who Will We Become, Skeletons, and Eye of the Storm. A couple of songs from previous albums mixed in for good measure, like Work from the Versatile album and Be Legendary from the self-titled album Pop Evil.
As we get later into the set, the band dives back into the hits. As the opening riff to Foot Steps rumbles through the speakers, the crowd goes absolutely crazy. As they get to the chorus, the music stops for effect. Leigh belts out the first few words of the chorus and then holds the microphone out to the crowd encouraging everyone to sing, and no one misses a beat! The bar has been raised, and this is where it will stay for the rest of the set!
Before the screaming and applause die out, the band eases into Survivor from the Versatile album. Leigh keeps the crowd singing along and has everyone’s arms in the air waving back and forth. Dave and Nick trade sides of the stage a couple of times, but Joey is still running back and forth, headbanging and egging the crowd on while Hayley is a blue on the drums.
After the mellow tone of the previous song, Nick breaks into the hardcore riff that opens the song, Waking Lions from the self-titled album, Pop Evil. Nick and Dave have traded sides of the stage again and are heading banging to the hardcore beat of the song. Leigh and Joey are front and center keeping the crowd jumping and singing along! As the song comes to a close Leigh once again thanks everyone for coming and says “goodnight”!.
As the crowd chants for the band to come back, the lights come back up as they re-enter the stage. It is time for a couple of ballads. Nick strums into the opening of Torn To Pieces from the Onyx album which brings the biggest pop of the night from the crowd. The whole band stays in place for the duration of the song except for Leigh who slowly walks back and forth and engages the crowd in a way that makes everyone feel like he is singing directly to them.
The band leaves the stage, leaving Leigh all alone. He tells everyone that every now and then, he likes to do some acapella, but he is going to need everyone’s help. We enter the sing-along portion of the show as he begins to sing 100 In A 55 from the 2008 release, Lipstick On The Mirror. No one needs help with this one as all 1,800 people sing along from beginning to end with no musical assistance.
Leigh introduces the band to the audience, then asks everyone to “give it up” for Avoid and The Word Alive. As Nick breaks into the all to familiar opening to Trenches from the Onyx album, Leigh invites all of the members from the opening bands to join them on stage. Immediately the stage turns to complete chaos with 14 people jumping around and microphones in at least half of their hands. When they get to the chorus, Benny from Avoid and Tyler from The Word Alive add an interesting twist to the song by singing the chorus with a metalcore scream. The crowd goes insane.
After the stage clears of the other bands. Leigh again thanks everyone for coming out and shows clear appreciation for the support that they have received on this tour. To close the show, the band goes back to the 2020 Versatile album and closes the show with Breathe Again. As the song comes to a close, the band comes to the front for a final bow as they get the longest round of applause of the night.
I have seen Pop Evil a lot over the years. While this show didn’t necessarily have all the hits I would like to have liked to have heard. I could never say, I was disappointed. This band has been doing this for a long time and knows what it takes to give a crowd their money’s worth and this night was no exception!
If Pop Evil makes it to your area on their next tour, I would highly recommend catching their show. You surely will not be disappointed.