Cage The Elephant | O2 Forum Kentish Town | 11 February 2016
There must be moments when Matt Shultz’s roadie wishes he worked for someone less energetic. Someone who’s not always moving, his microphone cable entangling the monitors. Someone who’s not always dropping into the photo pit, his microphone cable reaching snapping point. Someone who’s not always leaping into the crowd, his microphone cable entwining with a writhing mass of body parts.
But there must be moments when Matt Shultz’s roadie knows that the more he has to unravel that microphone cable, the better the show: Cage The Elephant’s thrilling live performance is fuelled by their mercurial frontman. Whether he’s doing scissor kicks off the mic stand, jumping on guitarist Nick Bockrath’s back mid-solo, rolling around on the ground, or high-stepping it, Bowie style, across the stage, it’s impossible to look away. There’s a hint of danger, the promise of the unexpected to everything he does but — with the possible exception of his offstage excursions — Shultz is clearly in complete control, never letting his theatrics distract from the band’s songs.
Tonight it’s a heady mix of swampy blues rock grooves showcasing all four of their studio albums. Although ‘Cry Baby’, the first track from the brand new Dan Auerbach-produced ‘Tell Me I’m Pretty’, kicks off the setlist, its stoned-out bliss is immediately followed by the take-no-shit swagger of ‘In One Ear’ from their self-titled 2008 debut. The fuzzed-out fun in the sun of psychedelic ‘60s throwback ‘Spiderhead’ and the jangly ‘Take It Or Leave It’ represent ‘Melophobia’, before the distorted garage rock of ‘Aberdeen’ showcase 2011’s ‘Thank You Happy Birthday’.
And so it continues for close on two hours as Shultz, his rhythm guitarist brother Brad, drummer Jared Champion, bass player Daniel Tichenor, Bockrath, and multi-instrumentalist Matthan Minster sweat and swing their way through 20 songs that represent their decade-long ascension from Kentucky anonymity to saviours of rock.
Mileposts along the way tonight are set highlights ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ (the best of Beck and The White Stripes), ‘Shake Me Down’ (loud-quiet/beautiful-violent), relentlessly groovy ‘It’s Just Forever’, cinematic ‘Cigarette Daydreams’, and confrontation meets inspiration ‘Punchin’ Bag’. By the time they reach the finale, a ragged ‘Sabertooth Tiger’, Shultz (now sans shirt and jacket) launches himself into the crowd once more. This time, though, he scrambles onto their shoulders, clambers up a fire escape, and quite literally dives back into their arms. Never mind the symbolism, this is the stuff of rock ‘n roll dreams come true — for artist and fan alike.