With the losses of Lynn Strait (Snot) and Dave Williams (Drowning Pool) there remains few frontmen in metal that have what it takes to be great. What they had was personality and passion, and could not only connect with the crowd, but also be part of it.
TapRoot's Stephen Richards is one of the (unfortunately) small group that remains.
Seeing TapRoot for the third time (and the second in a month), I am sold on the band, and their frontman. In a set that was about an hour and 15 minutes, Richards crowd surfed twice, moshed in the pit in front of the stage, started a pit on the balcony upstairs, jumped off of said balcony onto the crowd, helped fans up on-stage so they could dive off, and played guitar for a song. Now I would say that that is a pretty amazing.
Oh yeah, and he also belted out all of TapRoot's best tunes to perfection.
Not to neglect the rest of the band, Mike DeWolf (guitar), Phil Lipscomb (bass) and Jarrod Montague (drums) recreated the studio sound amazingly live. And, they seem to get as much of a kick out of Richards' antics as the crowd did.
The setlist included tracks from both of their albums, 2000's “Gift” and the brand new “Welcome“, as well as a soundtrack song (“Day by Day” from Dracula 2000) and a little snippet of Disturbed's “Down With The Sickness“. Highlights were “Again & Again“, “I“, “Mirror's Reflection“, “Poem“, “Myself” and “Dreams“(the aforementioned track with Richards on guitar).
Opening for the Ann Arbor quartet was two of their Atlantic label-mates – Pulse Ultra and Project 86.
Pulse Ultra started the night with a decent set off of their lone release, “Headspace“. A few intense fans up on the balcony really enjoyed the set, but for the most part, it was an ambivalent crowd. The most enjoyable aspect of their performance was watching bassist Jeff Feldman prance around, stare into space, and just look totally loony. Musically, the highlight was seeing TapRoot's Richards join Zo Vizza on vocals for the set-ending “Big Brother“.
Project 86 confuses me. They appear to be a punk or hardcore band trapped in the metal genre. Politically inclined and socially aware, they kick and scream their beliefs in their nu-metal/metalcore songs. While they were promoting their new release “Truthless Heroes“, the highlights were all songs off of their last album “Drawing Black Lines” (“One Armed Man” and “Me Against Me“).
Regardless, both bands were just placeholders until TapRoot took to the stage. An opening band is usually needed to warm up the crowd for the headliner but, this time at least, it didn't matter, Richards was able to do that himself within seconds of taking to the stage.