GIG REVIEW: Pop Evil, Badflower & Kid Felix Live at Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ
With temperatures on the rise and nothing but blue skies ahead, my three-hour drive to the Starland Ballroom in the commercial district of Sayreville, New Jersey was by far so much more enjoyable than recent trips to Niagara Falls. With a maximum capacity of 2300, the last count by security prior to Pop Evil taking the stages was close to 1850, in this multi-level venue complete with three full serve bars.
Filling in for Red Sun Rising, who unexpectedly pulled off the tour, was Philadelphia, PA natives (2011) Kid Felix. This quintet has been labeled as an Indie style rock band, with modern melodies over carefully orchestrated and layered instrumentals, with three albums to their credit. Comprised of Jake Falana on vocals, John Ambrutis on lead guitar along with Brett Hagen (rhythm guitar) who’s expertise shines brightly on their single “I Am The River” as well as John Szachewicz laying down soft yet commanding beats while accompanied by John Meyer on bass guitar. Szachewicz and Meyer unified both in bass and beat on their faster paced single ‘Class Action Satisfaction’, as if driven by an unforeseen force. Wrapping up their five song set with “Counting Sheep”, Falana let his dreads flow free as he totally got down and gave it his all.
Hitting the stage next was the hard driving American blues/rock sounds of the Los Angeles, California band Badflower, who’s album ‘Temper’ released in November 2016 was recorded in their garage. Quite the old school concept, if I say so myself! Formed in 2013 by both Josh Katz (vocals) and the lead guitarist Joey Morrow, delivered an exemplary performance – Katz with his powerful and intense range of vocals, while Morrow and bassist Alex Espiritu displayed pure aggression and awesome distortion-filled riffs while playing “Animal” (‘Temper’ album). And let’s not forget about the insane skin poundings of drummer Anthony Sonetti, who effortlessly kept the band in total sync. All through their nine song set, these boys from LA renewed my love and dedication for good old fashion American blues/rock, especially with their singles “Body Count” and “Heroin”. Pure genius!
After a quick step outside for a breath of cool fresh air, it didn’t take long for the stagehands to switch out equipment and stage props for the headliner act Pop Evil. Originating out of North Muckegon, Michigan and formed by vocalist Leigh Kakaty in 2001, this powerful ensemble of five highly energized the crowd tantalizing members began their journey through what seemed like a never ending eighteen song set list (much to the liking of all attending) with their opener “Trenches”, from the album ‘Onyx’, and that’s all it took for the crowd surge to test the metal railings separating fans from stage. Matt Dirito was in high spirits as he ran back and forth behind Kakaty, with his trademark hair constantly in motion as he played up to the photographers in the pit. Once Nick Fuelling led off with the first few bars of “Ways To Get High”, Hayley Cramer mercilessly slammed sticks to skin in a unique off-beat style, but nothing in comparison to their single “Boss’s Daughter”. This gal easily keeps her boys in check no doubt! Dave Grah’s rhythm guitar in both “100 in A 55” and the acoustic duet of “If Only For Now” with Kakaty, seemed the perfect balance between metal riffs and melodic harmonies. But wait, there’s more! I accidentally left out that Cramer and the boys also did a two-song encore, beginning with everyone’s favorite “Footsteps”, from the last disc ‘UP’ (released August 21, 2015) of which the mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan declared this release date as Pop Evil Day! Closing this glorious evening with “Take It All” (also from the ‘UP’ album), there wasn’t anyone in the venue who wasn’t jumping up and down, heads thrashing back and forth, and with fists punching high into the air.
Looking back a couple days, I simply cannot envision a better day weather-wise in mid-February, and to compliment Mother Nature’s exquisite blessing with these well-diversified acts, is like winning the lottery…TWICE! From soothing melodies to hard pounding bass guitars leading the way to old fashioned rhythm and blues to the ever-so-popular Pop Evil, this montage of uplifting musical mastery deserves a 4.8 out of 5 star rating, only because the crowd was difficult to maneuver through or else I’d give yet another 5 out 5 star!