A Pop Evil show is something I refuse to miss, even if that means a 90 minute trek on a wintery Friday night across state lines to Menomonie, Wisconsin. Not that I hadn’t found a way to Treasure Island to catch their opening set for Nickelback in July (I have the selfie with Leigh Kataky to prove it.) Their show at the Cabooze in February 2017 brings back memories of Leigh walking all around the bar counter during “Footsteps” and getting the crowd to kneel around him for a song. Pop Evil’s show in February 2018 was the first chance to hear many of the songs on their new album, including “Waking Lions.” Those small venue Minneapolis shows were slam dunks. But the decision to drive to Menomonie (and then to drive back after) to see Billboard’s #8 Mainstream Rock Artist of 2018 up close took more than a second to decide (maybe two) as Billboard’s #8 is cemented even higher on my list.
During the long drive we were able to score the extra ticket to the show that was completely sold out many weeks ago. Entering the concert area of the Stout Ale House before the 8pm show time, we were surprised to see an already full house and concert in motion. Noticing a female bass player with blue hair, I knew this was not the scheduled opener Burden of the Sky. No, we were told this was local band Filthy Sweet (what a kick ass name) which was added to the slate as a second opening act. They sounded great and I just hoped we weren’t too late to catch a few more songs. Sliding into a spot along the side-stage guard rail, it was clear that lacking the promised photo pass meant this would need to be my spot for the evening. The front-stage area was already jam-packed. A show of this magnitude is a rarity in a smaller town like Menomonie. I hope you don’t mind concert photos from the single perspective of my stage-left vantage point. I’ve heard everyone’s left side is their good side.
Filthy Sweet thrived in their chance to open for a national act. The young Eau Claire trio seemed undaunted in performing in front of over 600 fans. That was until the house lights came up and front man Chris McIntyre admitted he didn’t realize how many fans were there until he could now see. The long-haired, bearded McIntyre put on a passionate show and those around me said drummer Jackson Kleingartner is the real deal. I learned the before mentioned blue-haired bassist is Kayla Wrukus. She replaced original bass player Emma West in July. It appeared to me the youngster was fully up to speed on the bass lines but Emma’s supporting vocals may still be missed. Feeling bad I missed some of their show I made sure to say “Hi” to band afterwards and grab their CD, Honey Bucket. I’ve listened to the full CD a few times in the car already and recognized songs like “Can She” with its contagious “Oh-Ah-uh-Ah-uh-Ah.” To me that’s their defining song. Others I really liked are “Bare On Fire” where Chris sounds a bit like Eddie Vedder or “Times of Trouble”which reminds me of another Chris of The Black Crowes’ variety.
While waiting for stage turnover, let me tell you about the Stout Ale House should you dare to make a road trip. From the Twin Cities it is just 60 miles Easton 94 to Menomonie. It’s a combined sports bar, bowling alley, and banquet center located in the Shops Off Broadway Mall. If the main parking lot is full just park in another sizable lot around back. Concerts are held in the banquet center which is a carpeted room with 12 foot high ceilings. A room that you might hold your wedding reception in. Despite the low ceilings,they transform it into a viable concert space. I would highly recommend ordering VIP tickets for any shows here as the first 20 feet surrounding the stage is the gated off for VIPs.
Burden of the Sky (BOTS), an alt-rock/metal band from Bloomington, Illinois, took the stage with lead singer Scottie James wearing a sleeveless hoodie and flanked by guitarists Josh Appel (with his typical stocking cap) and Brad Shaw (who resembles a young Adam Sandler). They kicked off their set with “Kicking & Screaming” from their debut album Cinis Ad Cinis. Lead singer Scottie James was not in the band yet when that album was recorded. That debut album evoked some comparisons to Nickelback with their hard guitars and prior singer Brian Barry’s vocals. I didn’t hear that comparison listening tonight with the current lineup and new singer.
The next five songs played was new material already recorded for BOTS’s new album expected to be released in March or April of 2019. These tracks showcased the direction the band is heading with James’ higher vocals alternating with intense screams as key ingredients in their evolving sound. They also seem to be adding more synthesized sound to produce a more polished product. James said they have nine new songs written and six already recorded. “Sirens” and “The Puppeteer” have already been released so check them out and compare for yourself. The constant in BOTS continues to be the guitar-heavy sound provided by the duo of Appel and Shaw. Bassist Dustin Tritsch, keyboardist Mike Mahoney, and drummer Rick Street round out the band. They have a real energy in concert with plenty of smiles between each other and James often spinning an jumping onstage. His occasional crouches bring memories of Chester. Before they wrapped up with “The Puppeteer” James thanked the crowd for being part of th elast few shows of the year. Burden of the Sky is on the verge of taking the next step. Watch for that new album followed by a tour.
Setlist: Kicking & Screaming/Sirens/Martyrs/Phoenix/Catalyst/Wolves/Same Old Page/The Puppeteer.
When it was time for Pop Evil, my side-stage spot provided the unique experience of clearly hearing lead guitarist Nick Fuelling’s amp for the entire concert. I was in awe. From my isolated listen to the Fuelling’s playing, I’m telling you he is the guts of the band. While I love the rest of the band dearly, I would fear how they would perform without this guitar stud. On the far side of the stage Dave Grahs provides rhythm guitar and always cheerful spunk. There cannot be a cooler bassist than Matt DiRito with his mega-long flowing hair and full-tattooed upper body. Mixing in an occasional spin or bass drop with a smile just adds to his solid playing. Hayley Cramer can no longer be called the “new drummer” and is now a card-carrying member of Pop Evil. She is the image of an angel behind the twin-bass kit with her mid-length blond locks floating in the air. Watching her masterful drumming is entertainment by itself.
Their stage manager introduced Pop Evil and added,”Wisconsin! Are you ready to be legendary?” The band took the stage with Kataky arriving just as his mates launched into their classic hit “Boss’s Daughter.” The singer wore a sweater, khaki pants, and sneakers and his typical smile. He clearly loves what he does and that positivity is simply contagious. The next two songs were from their most recent album, the self-titled Pop Evil. Fans seemed especially familiar with”Colors Bleed.” Continuing to bounce between old and new, “Deal With the Devil” proved to still be one of the best known. From the new was “Art of War.” From the old, their huge hit “Torn To Pieces.” Who was not singing along to this? ” Last Man Standing” transitioned into a cover of “Eye of the Tiger.” Whether in “Rocky III,” at a middle school band concert, or a PopEvil concert, you have to love it.
“Ways to Get High” showcased the catchy bassline of DiRito, who Kataky dragged to the front of the stage to highlight his playing. This was a fan favorite and got folks moving. “Be Legendary” was what the stage manager had alluded to. After this, Kataky paused to say he’d like to play a song by one of his favorite bands from the 90’s, Collective Soul. He said seeing so many millennials in the crowd made him nervous they might not know “Shine.” But he was excited to see so many young people here enjoying rock music. With nearly all knowing the words to “Shine,” Kataky found he had nothing to worry about.
After “Monster You Made” got everyone singing with the band, Kataky asked everyone to remember back when they were kids and we did not have so many differences. He said he loves the Midwest because we are less judgmental, unless it comes down to the Bears, Packers, or his Lions (how about my Vikings?). “When We Were Young” was the song; one of his favorites on the new album. Two back-to-back hits from Up closed the main set. First, “Footsteps,” for which the temporary rolling bar stations did not allow a repeat of his walk around the Cabooze. My personal favorite, the energetic “Take It All,” seemed to also be the favorite of plenty more (hey, that’s mine) After those two heightened numbers, the band exited for a brief rest before their most certain encore.
Kataky returned to the stage alone saying the band gave him permission to sing a Christmas carol with us. Getting the crowd to use their phones to light up the room like a Christmas tree, we then sang SilentNight. The caroling was fitting, as they revised the name of this small batch of US concert dates, originally part of their Canadian Tour, to the Xmas Shows. Besides the holidays, Kataky said the band is celebrating their 10-year anniversary and their first hit, “100 In A 55.” They couldn’t conclude the show without playing Billboard’s #8 ( I know,crazy eights) Mainstream Rock Song of 2018, “Waking Lions” and the ultimate climax was the powerful “Trenches.”
What I love about Pop Evil is that despite their success,the Michigan-based rockers remains loyal to the Midwest and committed to playing small venues. Whether playing for thousands or a few hundred fans, Kataky’s constant smile and enthusiasm should be a lesson to all bands on how to handle themselves. The Mainstream Rock category sometimes takes criticism for being radio songs, over-produced, or made to fit a formula. While that may be true in some cases, why should any band not be appreciated for writing hit songs with strong voice,thoughtful lyrics, catchy melodies, strong guitar, and pumping rhythm.
With their expanding catalog of hit songs, Pop Evil has grown to the point of not having time to fit all of their popular songs into their concerts. Fortunately, we still had a 90 minute drive home and my Amazon Unlimited Music to listen to the hits and personal favorites that didn’t make the cut. All I know is it was worth the drive.
Setlist: Boss’s Daughter/Colors Bleed/Ex Machina/Deal With the Devil/Art of War/Torn To Pieces/Last Man Standing/Eye of the Tiger(Survivor cover)/Ways to Get High/Be Legendary/Shine (Collective Soul cover)/Monster You Made/When We Were Young/A Crime to Remember/Footsteps/Take It All
Encore: Silent Night (crowd sing-along)/100 In A 55/Waking Lions/Trenches. –