Cage The Elephant are undeniably one of the hottest bands in America – maybe the hottest. The Nashville-based (but Bowling Green-born) septet was a success right out of the box, and has only gotten bigger, more powerful, and more sheer rock & roll since its 2008 hit “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” hit the airwaves. Now, following a string of festival dates, the GRAMMY®-winning band made its ACL debut in support of its acclaimed fifth album Social Cues, and it was a show we were lucky to live stream around the world.
The band took the stage with piles of clothes, hats and masks scattered about, singer Matt Shultz in one of his signature homemade outfits, with blue tights and elbow length rubber gloves, sunglasses and t-shirt. He moved slowly to a beach chair placed on the stage, but once the musicians jumped into the new wave-heavy “Broken Boy,” he leaped up and stalked the stage. The energy level ratched up another notch with the garage rocking “Cry Baby,” the rock getting rockier, a toothbrush making an appearance and Shultz demonstrating an inability to stand still (or keep the same hat on for more than a minute at a time) in the classic Iggy Pop manner. He donned a mask for the crunching “Spiderhead,” then a yellow fisherman’s outfit and another mask (on top of the one he was currently wearing) for the power “ballad” “Too Late to Say Goodbye.” Still in his yellow outfit, Shultz went maskless for “Cold, Cold, Cold,” which sounded like a long-lost Nuggets cut, before taking his case directly to the people by joining the audience in their seats. He added tinfoil to his ensemble for “Ready to Let Go,” a midtempo song that served as a breath-catcher, and gave Shultz time to find a facemask to sing through. The band leapt directly into “Social Cues” before pausing just long enough for Shultz to note, “I lost my toothbrush. What if I want to brush my teeth?”
Smoke emerged from the stage and the lights went crazy for “Tokyo Smoke,” another new wavey tune from Social Cues that featured Shultz in tight white pants and a straw gardening hat. He pulled a lycra body suit on, giving the crowd time to cheer wildly for the opening riff of the radio hit “Mess Around.” Cage took on a folk rock air for “Trouble,” another crowd-pleaser with which the audience sang along. “Skin and Bones” also let the energy simmer for a few minutes, with Shultz concentrating on his singing and movement. Then a familiar slide guitar riff introduced the band’s breakthrough “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked,” with the thrilled crowd once again treated to the snakehipped Shultz’s presence among them. Cage went back to the garage for the rocking “It’s Just Forever,” which ended in a flurry of improvisation, before entering dream territory for the psychedelic “Telescope.” After a brief Shultz sojourn atop a stool, the band ripped into the pounding “House of Glass,” with the singer entwining himself in the stool’s legs during the tune’s climax.
As the show headed towards its end, it became a cavalcade of hits. Following a monologue in which Shultz thanked the crowd for the energy it was giving the band, Cage offered up the massive radio hit “Come a Little Closer,” once again earning singalong from the crowd. “My cup runneth over…with love,” Shultz enthused, before the arpeggio that opens “Shake Me Down” drove the audience wild. A volcanic performance followed, as befitting one of Cage’s signature songs. Then it was on to the anthemic folk rocker “Cigarette Daydreams,” another radio and fan favorite. That served as a palette cleanser for the full-on rock attack of “Teeth.” “Are you into the beat?” the song rhetorically asks, and it was clear that the audience certainly was, given the titanic roar that followed the song’s climax. Though most of the band quit the sage, Shultz didn’t make it off, instead stopping to choose a new outfit, then donning a guitar. Joined by keyboardist Matthan Minster and guitarist Nick Bockrath, Shultz continued the show with the tender and sad “Goodbye.” He ended the show with the even more lovely “Love’s the Only Way.” The audience cheered loudly as the members filed offstage. It was a remarkable show, unlike anything we’ve had before, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year on your local PBS station.