Review - Black Map, Palaye Royale & Pop Evil @ the Great American Music Hall (2/27/18)

Black Map (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Pop Evil, Black Map and Palaye Royale brought what felt like a mini rock festival to the Great American Music Hall last night. The night started with a series of small ‘VIP’ experiences that each band offered to their die-hard fans about an hour before the doors opened to the venue. For Black Map, about 8 fans were whisked back stage by the band's drummer, Chris Robyn. And down to a dressing room in the basement of the Great American where we met-up with Ben Flanagan (vocals) and Mark Engles (guitar) who introduced themselves and then started chatting with each of us. For those of you familiar with the Great American, the other two bands had set-up camp in different parts of the venue — Palaye Royale might have been in the upper level, whereas Pop Evil carved out some space on the main floor; or vice versa.

I can’t stress enough how cool these experiences are! If you’re a fan, and if you can afford it, the VIP experience may even exceed the full concert later in the night. I’ll date myself by saying this, but when I was a kid growing up in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, there was no f*@king way you’d get to hang out with your favorite band and get a private acoustic concert before or after the show unless you were part of the record label or maybe if you were associated with the local rock radio station. Besides that, the best you could generally do, was to become a groupie, and stand around a van or tour bus hoping to catch a glimpse or snag an autograph as the band members were whisked between the venue and the safe haven of their vehicle. Times have definitely changed! Not only does social media give fans more access to their favorite artists, but more artists (like these three) are creating new experiences for their fans. And while revenue from music sales have been declining for years, these opportunities give bands an extra revenue stream, while creating relationships with fans who will most likely go on to be outspoken evangelists for their music. I'll digress, but if you're reading this outside of the Bay Area and this tour is coming to your town, I'd highly recommend the VIP experience! Tour dates can be found here.

So as part of Black Map's VIP experience, Chris, Ben and Mark chatted it up with the small group of fans... answering questions about how they got together, life on the road, the recording of their new EP, Trace the Path (iTunes), and some of their musical influences in between each song of a 3-song acoustic set. Their set included "Run Rabbit Run", a cover by the band Failure "Stuck on You" (also one of their influences), and their new single from the Trace the Path EP, "Let Me Out", which I've included below. Some of the Q&A we've already covered in earlier interviews with both Mark & Ben. In addition to the set, each of the fans walked away with a signed mini-poster, beer cozy, and replica back stage pass. And even though Ben joked that these events gave him the chance to warm-up his voice, the band sounded great and it was a thrill for the 8 of us sharing the experience.

The acoustic set lasted about 30 minutes before we all headed back up to the ground floor and headed back outside to wait for the venue doors to officially open at 7pm. And at 8pm sharp, the triple bill kicked off with indie YouTube fashion-rock sensation, Palaye Royale, who had a small, but vocal and dedicated crowd show up early for their 40 minute set. These guys — still in their early 20’s — were impressive. They reminded me a bit of the Black Crowes mixed with the Rolling Stones! I was vaguely familiar with the band -- only in name -- prior to the show, but they were impressive, seemed tight, and definitely had the most passionate fans of the night.
Palaye Royale's Remington Leith (Photo: Kevin Keating)
Next up was our hometown favorite, Black Map, who also had a tight 40-minute set with a varied setlist of songs across their two albums and two EPs. Adam Yas, who added vocals on their most recent EP, also joined them onstage to sing backing vocals on "Let Me Out" and "I'm Just the Driver", but compared to Palaye Royale, and soon to discover about Pop Evil's set, Black Map's light show had little to be desired. Palaye Royale had a huge light prop of the word 'PALAYE' lit behind the band in addition to spotlights that bathed the 5-members of the band in decent light. The 3-piece Black Map, were a little more spread out on stage, and weren't able to leverage the lighting arrangement that had been set-up for their predecessors. The one benefit however, was that considering Black Map hails from the Bay Area, it was nice to see the band attract the largest crowd of the night for their show.
Mark Engles, Adam Yas, Chris Robyn (Photo: Kevin Keating)
By the time Pop Evil hit the stage after 10pm, the crowd that had assembled for Palaye Royale and Black Map had started to dwindle a bit, and a few of the people in the upper deck of the Great American had wandered down to the floor, clearly, waiting through the opening two bands before making it down to catch the headliner's performance. But I'll be honest, Pop Evil didn't do much for me. By far, they had the most impressive stage set-up of the night -- it seemed clear that the lighting rig was configured for their stage arrangement -- and in addition to the light show, they added triggered smoke canisters across the front of the stage, that created multiple vertical columns of fog during several of their songs. The band 'looked' like a rock band, but they just didn't resonate with me. But that's the beauty of music -- there's something for everyone! The other thing about Pop Evil that impressed me was their merch table. Pop Evil had set-up along nearly half of the Great American Music Hall's downstairs right-side wall. I don't think I've ever seen a merch table as big -- and only managed by one person -- with as much to buy as I did from Pop Evil. Of course they had the normal t-shirts and sweatshirts, but they also offered autographed pictures, guitar picks, special $200 canvases that included a meet-and-greet with the lead singer who would then write your choice of song lyrics on the personalized art canvas for you, and a host of other pieces of swag. Talk about additional revenue streams!! More power to them as they augment their music sales with the touring merch and VIP experiences!

Anyway, overall, all the bands were solid performers in their own right. Although personally, it feels like the bill was a bit of a mis-match with the performers. I'm guessing that it was either because of this mis-match, or maybe it was the lack of promotion of the bill itself, or just the plain simple fact that it was a Tuesday night, the Great American was only about a third full... I was surprised to say the least. Especially considering the YouTube popularity of Palaye Royale (over 2M views!), and Black Map's popularity on modern rock radio (top 20 single), it was just surprising to see how this show wasn't sold out. But then again, it was lucky for those of us in attendance to get such a relatively private show.

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Black Map Setlist Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA, USA 2018

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