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  • Diane DiMemmo

Pop Evil: Becoming Legendary at The Starland Ballroom

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Pop Evil is the consummate rock and roll band. Is that the fan in me making that statement? Yeah, sure that’s part of it. But five No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs Chart, soaring record sales, their stellar new self-titled album, Pop Evil, and hundreds of thousands of adoring fans prove it’s more than just MY opinion.

On Feb. 2, 2019, Pop Evil pounded out hit after hit from their extensive catalog to fans at the Starland Ballroom to give us a night we won’t ever forget. Opening for them was comedian Don Jamieson, Savage After Midnight, Kid Felix, and band competition winners Grounded 4 Life. Let me take you within the walls of this intimate New Jersey venue so you can realize what you missed that night. Ok, that was a low blow … but it’s true. And the fans that were there that night would most definitely agree.

Grounded 4 Life

Ladies and gentlemen … introducing Grounded 4 Life.

Let me just say that I get it. I totally get why this young band from Staten Island, NY were chosen as the winners of Pop Evil’s band contest. If you weren’t aware, Pop Evil launched a contest that invited local bands to submit a rendition of their latest single, “Be Legendary.” Winners got the chance to open the show in their corresponding venue/town.

NJ winners Grounded 4 Life consists of Jessica DeFelice (Lead Vocals), Matthew Parenti (Drums/Vocals), Brandon Maxwell (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Mike Vitellio (Rhythm Guitar), Barbara Vitellio (Keyboards/Vocals), and Kevin Schoenau (Bass Guitar). These friends came together because of their shared love of music but have a sound that shows the group is talented, dedicated, hard-working, and in it for the long haul.

You are first struck by Jessica’s powerful vocals and command of the stage. Her tone is clear, defined, and has an impressive range. She showed a maturity on stage as she conversed with crowd to rev them up and involve them in the show right from the beginning. Her rendition of Pat Benatar’s “Hell Is For Children” was spot on!

I loved Matthew’s energy and percussive techniques and I’m always impressed by drummers who sing well while playing. (It is a very hard thing to do.) Brandon, Mike, and Kevin had a great chemistry with their alternating and artfully blended guitar lines. Barbara rounded out the sound beautifully with the keyboard, giving the band an even richer sound. The harmonies of all four vocalists is a testament to their level of talent and puts them in a category above most bands who rely primarily on the lead singer.

Check out this bright, new band on YouTube and follow them on Instagram at @grounded_4_life.

Revival / Forfeit Love / Not Alone / Hell Is For Children (Pat Benatar cover) / Borderline

Kid Felix

NJ rockers Kid Felix took the stage next and wowed concertgoers with their enthralling blend of hard rock that at times was infused with bluesy, soulful vignettes. Formed in 2011, the group includes Jake Falana (vocals), John Ambrutis (lead guitar), Brett Hagen (guitar), John Szachewicz (drums), and Josh Mayer (bass). Kid Felix has been a part of SXSW 2016 and the 2017 Firefly Music Festival, and opened for many national acts such as Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Cold War Kids, Badflower, Three Days Grace, and Beware of Darkness. Their most recent EP Rivals spent weeks on iTunes top-10 selling EP chart.

The band’s sound has a dynamic, energetic foundation of solid instrumentals. The guitar and percussion elements are woven together masterfully, and the sound is soothing and exhilirating all at the same time. I found myself captivated by the layers within the music and when I looked at the crowd to see their reaction, I saw their faces transfixed on the band … and on frontman Jake Falana.

Falana’s voice – and his stage presence - is mesmerizing. I don’t much like to compare one musician’s vocals to another because they all have their own unique sound. But Falana’s singing gave me goosebumps and when I wondered why, I realized that that his voice reminded me of Chris Cornell’s. Not that they sound the same; but he has similar qualities of range, rawness, grit, and tone. He also connected with fans, making eye contact so it seemed as if he was singing to each person individually.

Prior to singing "Strongboy," Falana made a statement to fans saying, “Listen. We’re all going through something. That’s ok. Talk to somebody. Holler at us; we’ll talk to you.” His endearing qualities, along with the outstanding music backing him up, make this a band worth listening to and following.

To see Kid Felix in action that night check out this video. Follow them on Instagram at @kidfelix.

Caught Red Handed / Counting Sheep / Same Lies / Strongboy / Something Divine / Class Action / I Am The River

Savage After Midnight

Animated. Dynamic. Energetic. Prolific. Moving. All accurately describe the musical performance by Savage After Midnight at the Starland Ballroom that night. If you aren’t aware of who this group is, just go to one of their shows and you will become an instantaneous fan. Their sound is a combination of many musical elements that come together with energy, intensity, and excitement.

Memphis, TN natives Shi Eubank (lead vocals), Jeremiah Lipscomb (guitar), Landon Fox (Bass), James Thomas (Keyboards, Vocals), and Zack Pate (Percussion) are quite possibly one of the most passionate group of performers I’ve ever seen. The kick-ass vocal back and forth between Eubank and Thomas, in and of itself, is enough to pull you in and hold you; but then there is the heavy, chest pounding guitar and percussion that incessantly grabs you and takes you on a musical joy ride. If you’ve read my reviews before, you know I love bands that surprise me with their uniqueness. Savage After Midnight fits that bill 100% with melodic and screaming interludes between vocalists, modern electronic keyboard elements, heavy metal guitar lines, freight train percussion all within catchy, pop-infused songs. It’s a “brand” of music I haven’t heard before and I absolutely love it.

Want to see/hear what I mean? Go to and watch their video of “10 Feet Tall.” You’ll get goosebumps; I promise. Savage After Midnight is geared up for their debut EP release, “11:59” on RED Music/The Century Family on March 8th, 2019. I cannot wait to hear it!

Unleash / King / You Oughta Know (Alanis Morisette cover) / Overrated / Heartless / Like A Prayer(Madonna cover) / 10 Feet Tall

Don Jamieson

Including comedian Don Jamieson as part of the night’s lineup was ingenious. It’s a throwback to the past when bands often included comedians when on tour. Variety is the spice of life and it’s great that headliners like Pop Evil are mixing it up and giving fans a different kind of show experience.

Jamieson, co-host of VH1 Classic’s “That Metal Show” for 14 seasons, entertained the crowd with jokes and anecdotes about famous rockers like Tommy Lee, Alice Cooper, and Ted Nugent, just to name a few. Fans laughed hysterically throughout the set, and Jamieson fed off the energy seeming to enjoy himself just as much as we were.

Jamieson is an Emmy Award winner for work on HBO’s “Inside the NFL,” has three stand-up comedy albums that reached top 10 on Billboard Comedy Chart, and reached the Top 20 on iTunes Charts.

For upcoming shows, visit:

Pop Evil

“The Melodic and The Metallic”

As we waited for Pop Evil to come to the stage, I spoke with front-row, longtime fans Carol Hunt and Eric Johansson from Jamesburg, NJ. They couldn’t be more excited to see their favorite band and told me that they met at a Pop Evil concert ten years ago and have been together ever since. Joined by several family members (also front row center), the group spoke of their love for the new album and the positive effect the band has had on them, and the fanbase. I got the sense that Pop Evil fans are affected emotionally not only by their music, but by their lyrics and message as well.

Formed in 2001 in North Muskegon, Michigan, Pop Evil is comprised of Leigh Kakaty (lead vocals), Davey Grahs (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Matt DiRito (bass, backing vocals), Nick Fuelling (lead guitar, backing vocals), and Hayley Cramer (percussion). The band hijacked the stage starting the set with four of their most adrenaline-packed songs: “Boss’s Daughter,” “Colors Bleed,” “Ex Machina,” and “Deal With The Devil;” all heavily dripping with dynamic guitar solos, driving chords, and high-energy percussive riffs that made the crowd crazy.

One of things I absolutely love about Pop Evil is their duality. Their songs are the perfect combination of beautiful, large stadium power ballads and heavy, freight-train guitars and percussion. The message in their lyrics (most notably in “A Crime to Remember”) points to the divisions in our society, yet suggests unity. The combination of male and female bandmates is even further proof of the yin and yang components that make up this amazingly unique rock group. They are a perfect balance of the melodic and the metallic.

Kakaty’s vocal style is comprised of many different techniques, making each song in the group’s catalog something refreshing and new. He can belt lyrics to create a raw, down-to-earth sound (“Last Man Standing” and “Waking Lions”), rap and punch lyrics (“Colors Bleed”), or sing in gorgeous, melodic tones (“Rewind” and “Seattle Rain”). A signature quality of his singing is the way he punctuates songs in varying syncopations involving the crowd with his fist pumps, jumping, and dancing.

Kakaty often speaks during shows expressing his appreciation and gratitude for having a platform for Pop Evil’s music, and to those who come out to support them. Many artists will do this, but Kakaty is truly genuine and honest with his remarks. He tends to get a bit choked up when talking about the Starland Ballroom. “Thank you for spending the night with us, really. From four rocking guys and one kick-ass drummer girl, we thank you. This is our favorite venue.” He also shared an experience he had with a young fan who asked him why the band doesn’t ever play covers during their shows. He said with a chuckle, “I hate them.” But then added that the band’s New Year’s Resolution was to have even more fun at the live performances so they included a white-hot rendition of Live’s “I Alone” to the crowd’s approval.

As stated earlier, I love music that distinguishes itself from the masses. Unexpected key changes, off-beat and varying tempos, unique guitar lines that intertwine … all make for such a satisfying listening experience. The guitar trifecta that is Grahs, DiRito and Fuelling have perfected a signature Pop Evil sound that has those layers to it and is always giving us something new, something that hasn’t been done before. It’s addicting to listen to and the guys are amazing to watch on stage too. They engage the crowd with eye contact, playing to the edges of the stage so all fans feel like they are a part of the show. They also interact with each other on stage, playing guitar riffs side-by-side and jamming next to Cramer on the drums. It’s a group that really seems to love playing together.

Then there is Haley Cramer, master of all things percussive. She can drive a beat harder than any drummer I know and can also delicately rip through a cadence, making it sound artistic … but at lightning speed. In a recent interview with Soundcheck, Cramer addressed the inaccurate belief some have that you have to be huge and muscular to be a successful drummer. She stated, “It’s all about the technique, heart, soul, passion and hard work, and ultimately, dedication.” Her talents and love of what she does shines through in her performance; and in speaking with the crowd that night, I’m here to tell you that she has a huge fanbase.

In addition to these talented musicians, the icing on the cake is the band’s message. Their lyrics scream acceptance, love, change, positivity, ambition, and courage. Of the song “Waking Lions” Kakaty said, "This song was written as a mission statement to never let fear lead the way. We continue to see how our music helps make a positive impact in our fan's lives, which really is what it's all about." Later to Billboard he said, “We wanted to spread the message that change is needed, to stop hate, and to try and love one another.”

Becoming a “legendary” rock band means different things to different people. If you want a standard definition, it would be something like: “of or describing someone who is very famous and admired, usually because of an ability in a particular area.” If you want a more prolific description, it could be some of these lyrics to Pop Evil’s latest single “Be Legendary”:

Pull the trigger, ride the bull

And cut the cord wrapped around your neck

Hanging by threads

Hands bleeding

Edge of glory, write your story

Seize the moment, no regrets

Our name in stone, forever more

We want more, we want more, we want more

It’s our time to shoot the stars

We ain’t gonna stop till the world is ours

It’s landslide, rocks below

Ready to rise, ready to roll

Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go

Down in history

Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go


In listening to their music, attending their shows, and embracing their message, I believe that Pop Evil is doing just that … on their way to becoming legendary.

For upcoming tour dates that you absolutely cannot miss, go to: Follow the band on Instagram at @popevil and check out their video of “Waking Lions.”

Boss’s Daughter / Colors Bleed / Ex Machina / Deal With The Devil / Torn To Pieces / Last Man Standing / A Crime To Remember / Ways To Get High / Be Legendary / I Alone (Live cover) / Rewind / When We Were Young / Footsteps / Take It All / 100 in a 55 / Waking Lions / Trenches

Pop Evil, Don Jamieson, Savage After Midnight, Kid Felix, Grounded 4 Life


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