You probably remember Cage The Elephant in the late 00’s with their signature hit ‘Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked’, which paved the groundwork for the pseudo- new wave American Arctic Monkeys/The Black Keys lovechild. Despite, two consecutively successful albums with a cluster of memorable hits, their third album ‘Melophobia’ seemed to deviate from their trusted formula, venturing in unexplored directions and left many fans feeling polarised. With a juxtaposed stylistic shift I think in time one learns to love, the album somewhat put the band’s projection in question, but most recently, their 2016 album ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’ marks a solid return to their signature sound and in one listen, establishes Cage the Elephant as more than just another garage rock band: they’re a band destined for headlining festivals.
Described to me by a friend rather boldly as ‘a modern-day Nirvana’ (both in style and arguably image), Cage the Elephant’s spectrum of song writing is colourful to say the least. On the whole, one could imagine indie kids headbanging in a baby mosh pit to the majority of their tunes, but for me it’s the subtler, slower ballads that cut deep, and signifies the group’s diverse style which borrows too from The Pixies and The Beach Boys tremendously.
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The band open on ‘Cry Baby’ with lead singer Matt Shultz bursting onto the stage in a chaotic yet admirable fashion, amongst devilish red spotlights which devour the stage. The introductory track of the new album drones in and immediately the crowd are electric, jumping up and down in sync to the tune and chanting the chorus like football hooligans. Sourcing material from all four of their albums, the band play ‘In One Ear’ second, rallying the venue into a ruckus of guitar solos and mosh pits. Arguably, the band’s second biggest hit to make it to radio, the song could probably be heard across all of Brixton as the fans follow Shultz along in his angst-y commentary on the music scene when they were starting out.
Commenting that the band originally started here in London before Hackney became cool, the band tear into ‘Spiderhead’, the album-opener from ‘Melophobia’ – a catchy, jangly, and crunchy track driven in the chorus by Shultz’s wolf-like harmonies. Lifted from the band’s second album ‘Thank You, Happy Birthday’, ‘Aberdeen’s familiar chords soon come crashing in much to the crowd’s pleasure – a slow-building, yet infectiously written track muddled over with distorted vocals and wobbly guitar licks.
Playing further material from their latest LP, the red lights return as ‘Too Late To Say Goodbye’ croons along to its rapturous chorus with its eerie bassline and ominous lyrics. Regardless of the song’s somewhat apocalyptic vibes, it’s definitively one of the standout moments of the new album and sounds even more impressive live, highlighting both the brilliant lyricism of Shultz coupled with the cleverly interlocked melodies archetypal of Cage the Elephant. Next is ‘Cold Cold Cold’ which begins with a beachy, sombre riff, building up layer by layer before the repetitive, yet anthemic chorus which echoes around all walls of the venue – definitely a fan favourite from the new record.
Referencing their hipster-Hackney presence earlier on, Shultz comments further that the band started out in London 2 years before they got remotely big, playing to rooms full of maximum ‘2 people’ and now look at them, selling out Brixton Academy with no pressure whatsoever. As the angelic lullabying riff of ‘Trouble’ begins, accompanied by Shultz haunting, yet beautiful harmonious howls, the crowd begin swaying perfectly in time to the ballad. As the bittersweet chorus approaches, there is a heightened charisma about the band: perhaps because of the near perfection of ‘Trouble’ – one of their greatest songs in a long while – or maybe rather the band’s versitility in being able to captivate the crowd with a slow burner such as this, or create conversely the most manic of scenes with the biblical cult favourite ‘Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked’.
Next up is the iconic lead single of the album ‘Mess Around’ produced by Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys, and a leaf straight out of their book undoubtedly. Warmly received by the crowd as one of the band’s new biggest hits and performed with the swaggering confidence of an eclectic artist, Shultz owns the stage like he was born on it. As the rampage of the crowd settles down, the singer says, ‘You write these songs and you don’t know where they’re gonna go, and one day you look and see all you beautiful people singing the words and it means so much to you, and it means so much and that’s special, so thank you’. Humbly spoken and truly meant, the band rip into one of their oldest track ‘Back Against the Wall’ which everyone sings along amongst their barbaric dancing, ending with a surreal, head-melting solo. Following that is ‘Come A Little Closer’ an old Elephant gem, which the crowd sing out as if the tune was ingrained in them from day one – as it was.
The band briefly leave the stage before the highly-demanded encore in which included a special acoustic solo performance of tear-jerker ‘Right Before My Eyes’ exclusively for this gig, the blissful ‘Cigarette Daydreams’ (which encourages the most enthusiastic singalong of the night). The eagerly-awaited ‘Shake Me Down’ is the penultimate song of the night with the poetic sentiment ‘I’ll keep my eyes fixed on the sun’ ringing as hopeful as ever for the Brixton crowd. Briefly exiting the stage and returning topless and ever more ecstatic, Matt Shultz, thanks the crowd for tonight before they shred through the ferocious rock ‘n’ roll number ‘Teeth’, signifying the end of their UK tour, but with an international tour to follow, this elephant is nowhere near caged just yet.