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November 13, 2016

Pop Evil support 3 Doors Down

Enormous in their native USA since the turn of the millennium, 3 Doors Down have a low public profile in the UK, perhaps befitting a band whose everyday anonymity is one of their virtues. Yet a near sell out at Hammersmith suggests that, under the radar, they have a big and loyal following here.

They were witnessing their return  for the first time in 4 years , in support of album ‘Us and the Night’, after a quiet period not least because of personnel changes. The downstairs of what my generation will always call the Hammy O was dominated by twenty-something fans including a surprisingly high contingent from mainland Europe, though I understand things were somewhat different in the balcony.

A value for money three band bill began with some homegrown  challengers  in The Fallen State. They had plenty of attitude with singer Ben Stenning confident enough to attempt the usual crowd ruses like diving the crowd down the middle, though the stage setup with band members thinly spread across the stage did not help.

 

Though musically basic, songs like ‘Hope In Revival’, ‘Great Unknown’ and ‘Burn It To The Ground’ had more melodic and catchy choruses and they certainly showed potential. It is never easy for a band to open in such circumstances with the stage set up all geared towards the headliner, but if just a tenth of those who caught their set were impressed enough to check them out at a club gig, better things beckon.

Pop Evil have been receiving rave reviews and working their way up the bill both in the US and the UK over the past few years and their presence made this an extremely strong double bill. They started slowly with the opening couple of songs a bit tuneless but the music picked up with ‘Boss’s Daughter’ with its catchy ‘Hell O Wheels’ refrain and a Hinder-esque sleazy edge to it.

An energetic, dynamic band included a newly recruited British woman on drums Hayley Creamer, but what really set them apart from a hundred other similar bands was singer Leigh Kakaty who was an outstanding frontman. He held the crowd spellbound as he pulled off all the participatory moves in the book, getting us to raise our hands to the likes of ‘Trenches’,  and even dramatically diving into the crowd and sitting us all down camp fire style before urging us to jump up and down.

 

There were moments of subtlety too as he donned an acoustic guitar to lead a cellphone light-waving singalong of ‘100 In A  55’ which was a great American anthem, while ‘Torn To Pieces’ was one of the anguished but very commercial ballads that bands of this ilk specialise in.

The big, old school Nickelback-like ‘Last Man Standing’ and ‘Footsteps’, with its ‘Go Higher’ chorus, got people bouncing and even if on pure musical grounds it fell slightly short, there was no doubt this high octane show was one of headlining material.

 

It also added to the pressure on 3 Doors Down who, whatever their other qualities, are not the most visually exciting act, though they had a well designed stage set with their iconic logo in different colours and an image of an American forest.

Coming on at 9:40pm on a Sunday night was not ideal, and ‘Still Alive’ was a very ordinary start. Unfortunately two of their more impressive recent straight ahead rockers in ‘It’s Not My Time’ and ‘Time Of My Life’ – Chet Roberts in his Mohican and Fallen State T-shirt giving them a crisper guitar edge than before – came before the gig really warmed up and one or two sound gremlins were working their way through.

The opening cut from their new album, ‘Broken’,  saw 3DD join contemporaries like Nickelback and Daughtry in selling out to a pop sound and yet its catchy choruses and rhythms actually brought the gig to life. On several occasions, huge cheers went up as Chris Henderson’s opening chords led into downbeat yet very melodic anthems such as ‘Its Not Me’ and ‘Away From The Sun’, although ‘Duck And Run’ from their debut was noticeably heavier and grungier.

 

Incidentally the guitarist had grown so much hair since I last saw 3DD that I spent the first half of the set under the illusion the band had three new members and not two. Baseball-capped singer Brad Arnold still looks like he has stepped straight off a hard shift at a Mississipi auto plant, but never misses a note.

However, perhaps mindful of the short set time, he seemed less garrulous than usual, omitting his usual dedication to the troops and surprisingly not even mentioning the recent passing of original guitarist Matt Roberts. He did finally break his silence to introduce a special return to the set of this tour of ‘Landing In London’, complete with the 3DD logo in a Union Jack backdrop.

 

In an inversion of standard gig practice most of the new material from ‘Us And The Night’ was saved for the second half of the set, beginning with a ballad very personal to Brad in ‘Pieces Of Me’, then  the salacious ‘In The Dark’ and the title track played back-to-back and showcasing their new, happier sound.

In contrast ‘The Better Life’ was heavy before one of the moments people had been waiting for in their breakthrough single ‘Kryptonite’, staple of a million American bar bands, and extended here with a Police-like rock reggae shuffle mid-song.

In the old days, its pop-punk choruses would have had us all pogoing, but I found myself reflecting at the sea of camera phones going up in front of me,  and that a gig seems to be part of a bigger social media event for modern fans who seem to want to capture the moment rather than live for it.

 

The encores began with Brad singing ’Here Without You’ in his heartfelt, southern-tinged fashion, the crowd singing along to every word as befits a multimillion seller and waving those damned phones,   before the next two songs encapsulated their career style shift over the years.

The new ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, with a rather disturbingly jaunty Caribbean-style  groove was followed by ‘Loser’ from their early days when post-grunge was an accurate description of them, both lyrically and musically. All could unite however on the stirring, fist punching chorus of set closer ‘When I’m Gone’, ending a set just short of an hour and a half in which they rattled through an impressively industrious 19 songs .

While they lacked the flair of Pop Evil, the blue collar heroes of 3 Doors Down produced a reliable show with an ever growing catalogue of good songs. It had been an excellent if contrasting double bill.

Review by Andy Nathan

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