Live Review: Cage The Elephant @ O2 Academy, Birmingham
Cage the Elephant delivered the performance of a lifetime at their first show back in the Midlands in almost 3 years: a set packed with energy, hits and plenty of outfit changes. Words by Kent Stavenuiter. Photography by Josh Nesden (@joshnesden).
The act was set to tour the UK in June 2019 in support of their Grammy award winning 5th studio album Social Cues, released earlier that year. Instead, tragedy struck in the form of an 'on stage accident' in which guitarist Nick Bockrath severely fractured his leg, and the small run of shows were cancelled. However, they won back UK fans by scheduling an even bigger tour, and the 8 month long wait meant that anticipation had reached boiling point.
Opening with the chaotic Broken Boy, the band's frontman Matt Shultz leapt back and forth across the stage in a manner reminiscent of Mick Jagger, all the while maintaining an outstanding vocal performance. A performer renowned for his interesting outfit choices, he appeared unrecognisable in a checked trench coat and black hood pulled over his head - unusual, but 10 notches down from the red latex bodysuit he sports on the Social Cues album artwork.
The band hastily transitioned into a number of tracks taken from their 2016 release, Tell Me I'm Pretty, with Cry Baby, a haunting rendition of Too Late To Say Goodbye and Cold Cold Cold - all received with equal enthusiasm from audience members. The performance was vastly intensified by the passion displayed on stage; just two songs in Shultz was atop a stage amp, flinging himself 10 feet in the air while his brother - rhythm guitarist Brad Shultz - belted every word into the crowd, despite not having a mic of his own.
Sandwiched between songs, Shultz took time to preach the importance of the 'universal construct' of love - a theme that has been at the forefront of his writing for some years now. Before strumming the iconic intro to Ready to Let Go (the lead single from their latest album), he broadcasted how drastically different a place he found himself in compared to when constructing the song: 'We had a really tough few years. We lost a lot of friends'. He also battled a painful divorce and channeled these emotions beautifully into his art, delivering one of Cage The Elephant's strongest singles to date – a track both catchy and unique as well as having great lyrical depth. Shortly after, more songs taken from the new record were showcased, including the live debut of Black Madonna. Fans old and new were seen to be singing along, arms raised firmly in the air.
'Just two songs in Shultz was atop a stage amp, flinging himself 10 feet in the air while his brother - rhythm guitarist Brad Shultz - belted every word into the crowd, despite not having a mic of his own'.
A real highlight of the night took place during the honest ballad Trouble. With an intro packed with 'ooh’s', the audience really made it their own. The volume radiating from the stalls almost matched the levels on stage, proving it to be a song that resonated with a great number of people.
As the set progressed, the hyper-active frontman discarded layers of clothing, transforming into new characters. For a large portion of the show he settled for a yellow short-sleeved shirt and tie with beige trousers – a look almost identical to the Office US character, Dwight Shrute. The resemblance truly struck when Shultz reached into his bum bag to put on a pair of imitation glasses. Although amusing, this didn’t distract from the compelling vocal performance of the fan-favourite track Telescope, taken from 2013 album Melophobia; this is the release that is arguably responsible for catapulting the band into world-wide success. The track’s chanting bridge section saw the singer get lost in his own words as if revisiting past trauma, delivering the lines sat down - almost curled up - as he sang: ‘I’m alone, Can’t you see? Can’t you see?’. A truly intimate moment, shared with 3,000 people.
'For a large portion of the show he settled for a yellow short-sleeved shirt and tie with beige trousers – a look almost identical to the Office US character, Dwight Shrute'.
Fans weren’t given a chance to process what was happening as the band went straight into the raucous single House Of Glass - an experiment for the band which paid off remarkably. The musicianship of the group really came to light as the fast-paced track reached climax with an impressive instrumental section led by guitarist Nick Bockrath, who somehow managed to make his six-string sound like someone playing lightning-fast scales up and down a synth. The room was left bouncing for the short but intense two and a half minutes. As the instrumentation abruptly cut out, Shultz lay on the floor, locked eyes with a front row fan and kept repeating the final line (something he enjoyed playing with throughout the evening). He only surrendered when his bandmates moved on to Come A Little Closer without him, perhaps the only way of finishing the show without hitting the curfew. The band then powered through Shake Me Down and Teeth, which saw a topless Shultz more energetic than ever, despite being 18 songs deep.
A breather was finally offered in the form of a stripped back encore dedicated to people who have ‘lost love, been lost in love but not lost by love’ – a fitting introduction to a song titled Love’s The Only Way. Following the ballad was the well-known acoustic single, Cigarette Daydreams, which acted as a real singalong number. The track is elevated by a recurring piano line and string arrangement which translated well live.
Ending the night with a bang, the band dived further into their back catalogue and pulled out heavier tracks Back Against The Wall and Sabretooth Tiger, which ringed out the last bit of energy from the crowd. Shultz really gave it his all during these tracks, climbing into the audience and suspending himself stood up, supported from his feet. As the track dropped after a long pause, he was engulfed before eventually resurfacing on the other side of the stage with a cheeky grin.
In just one night, Cage The Elephant proved to be a band with heaps of talent and outstanding performance skills. Energy levels in the room soared right from the initial drum hit and were unbelievably maintained for the entirety of the mammoth 22 song set. Kudos to them, they know how to leave an impression.