Live Review: Pop Evil + The Fallen State @ Rebellion, Manchester on February 27th 2019

I stumble to the train at Chester station, my mind numb from three days of nonstop IOSH risk assessment training. It’s sent me mildly insane as I now see hazards and risks everywhere I look. Still, I get to the train and try to reset my brain ahead of tonight’s gig. Johann lets me know that it’s just one support and Pop Evil tonight...just two bands, an unusual billing these days I note. It’s a shame they’re not opening the doors earlier and giving a local band or two a slot, but maybe it speaks to the confidence in their respective projects.

Surprisingly, this is my first time at Rebellion since they’ve moved the bar and Stewart's right, it is a massive improvement. The re-jig of the bar being up at the back, together with some nifty new seating, allows for the bar queues to snake without affecting the moshpit. It also means that the whole experience of seeing a gig here feels pleasingly less claustrophobic, yet without losing any of the intimate atmosphere of the venue.

The Fallen State take to the stage with plenty of posturing and bravado. They’re unmistakably cut from the same cloth as Shinedown and Alter Bridge, but when they drift enjoyably into punk rock territory akin to Backyard Babies, such as in songs ‘You Want It’ and 'Lost Cause', I'm more than able to happily get along for the ride. To say their song-writing is generic would be unkind, but there is an element of predictability to both individual songs and the set as a whole that does mean they occasionally lose the attention of all but the diehard fans. Frontman Ben Stenning is enthusiastic, and they seem to have a good few fans already, but somethings not right at all with his vocal delivery. His snarling shouty vocals are passionate and engaging, but the clean singing is very flat. It sounds like someone who can’t pitch, and at this point I wonder if Ben is having trouble with the monitors – an explanation that bears true in light of his reappearance with Pop Evil later in the night. The real star of the show though is drummer Rich Walker, whose drumming is confident, dynamic and powerful.

Pop Evil keep us waiting…and waiting…and then waiting a bit more. Eventually, following a few false dawns with various Living Colour songs from the sound engineer, a big imposing hype guy strolls on stage and tries to gee everyone up into a frenzy. The crowd oblige, but we’re then met with a further wait. Neither Johann or I are that impressed to be honest. When they do make it on stage, the first song is weirdly thin and lacks that initial wow factor I was expecting. However, once the sound engineer works his magic and everything is balanced out, second song ‘Colors Bleed’ bursts from the stage with all the swagger and dirty metal brashness that is Pop Evil at their best. This band are the personification of eclectic, and Faith No More are clearly a massive influence on their work. Few can match the charisma of Mike Patton, but Pop Evil’s Leigh Kakaty is an energetic and commanding presence on stage. Their mid-tempo rock songs showcase the more soulful and gospel aspects of his voice, but it’s when they get their funk-on that they are excellent. If Andrew WK has the fun-party-metal market cornered, then the bouncy-funk-metal market is surely Pop Evil’s. You can certainly see the Living Colour influence worn proudly on their sleeves, and even the sound engineer is dancing hands in the air to the feisty ‘Art of War.

Main set complete, we’re then party to the most unique encore I’ve seen in a good while – a Q&A session with Kakaty. Seriously. He’s not shy in letting everyone know this curiosity is because his voice is buggered tonight. It’s pretty insightful stuff; we learn that everything in the UK is better apart from breakfast cereal, the UK is better than Australia as we don’t have ridiculously big spiders, and that Pop Evil really want to play Scotland and Ireland soon. Kakaty then sings an a capella song along to audience claps. This all seems a tad self-indulgent and, whilst I’m sure the hardcore fans love it, for the casual onlooker it threatens to sully the memory of a great performance. It’s a good example of the attitude and outlook of Pop Evil though – that they do what they believe in and do it with no apologies. A final full band encore does thankfully ensue though, and Ben from The Fallen State comes on to add his voice to the mix. It must’ve been the monitors messing with his pitching earlier, as he’s vocally excellent now, channelling the spirit of Chester Bennington. With this knowledge I’d definitely like to catch The Fallen State again to hear them at their best. As for Pop Evil, before the gig I’d had a vague recollection of seeing them on the main stage at Download Festival, but the fact this memory was woolly was testament to the fact they obviously made no great impression on me that day. Tonight, however, I couldn’t be further from that mindset, and as they close with the awesome ‘Waking Lions’ they firmly plant themselves at the forefront of my mind for future tours and releases.

Words by Matt Fraser
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki