South America's Kentucky has offered us a fair share of successes, bourbon, and Mohammad Ali, to name two. Joining the list is the unique rock band Cage the Elephant, who actually can’t be labelled too simply. Their latest release, Grammy-nominated Social Cues, came out last year, followed by a monster North American co-headline tour with the effortlessly cool Beck. It’s now time for the UK and Europe to welcome them for their 2020 tour, kicking off in Leeds on February 16th.
Before the band, the lads had the usual day jobs, but couldn’t fight nor resist the strong urge to write at any given moment. Cage the Elephant was formed in 2006 with a simple desire to play at house parties. There are many humorous theories about how the name came about, and the beauty is we’ll probably never know. Now with them up and running, they played at South by Southwest festival and were snapped up by a label. They were on their path to success and asked to support Queens of the Stoneage, starting exactly as they meant to go on.
An interesting little part of this story was them signing to UK based Relentless, with the major contributing factor being that they could keep creative control. It offered a promising move to London that lasted two years, and their first self-titled album was produced. It was hard graft to tiny audiences, and you could say a little deflating, until a gig with Screaming Tea Party finally got the party started for Cage. The ambitious lot’s spell in England turned out to be a key move as, beyond doubt, it made them appealing to the folk back home.
Their debut album intrigued people and certainly was that little bit different; some critics didn’t know what to make of it, but saying that, a great deal liked its southern vibes, spunkiness, and the way it managed to hit you in the face. Recorded in ten days, it has punchy rhythms, and a punk blues sound, but on the whole, it is a good old dose of rock. Single Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked has grown to be a true anthem and a commercially popular track known around the world.
2011 was ‘their’ year, and things went behemoth for them, all stemming from their January release of record Thank You, Happy Birthday. This had a much heavier, manic feel, which made for many positive reviews. The songs are crashing and clanging, but at times have sweet melodies too. Their confidence was soaring, and alongside major festivals, they supported the Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl, being the absolute legend he is and loving himself a guest spot, stood in for drummer Jared Champion in Salt Lake City when he suffered a ruptured appendix: a bitter-sweet moment.
Funnily enough, Cage discovered the Pixies in London, and they have influenced them ever since. However, for the next release of Melophobia in 2013, they wanted to distance themselves from other influences to feel immersed in their creativity. It was this reflective mood that made for a darker, more mature record. Sounding mellow, it was polished and pleasing. Spiderhead has an extremely catchy chorus, and It’s Just Forever captured a psychedelic sound with a lush guest spot from Alison Mosshart. This was also the year when lead guitarist Lincoln Parish amicably left the band. Everyone was in shock that he would do such a thing when the band was in the throws of great success, but Parish’s heart lay in producing.
Two years later, Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced Tell Me I’m Pretty, and had a clear influence on the record; for example, the sensual single Too Late to Say Goodbye offers deep bass from Daniel Tichenor and a bluesy melody. All of the songs had a more classic feel but was still unmistakably them. On the whole, it was well-received, but some thought it was quite safe, and the risk element that they are famed for wasn’t quite there. What it did was prove the confidence of the band and showed how far the band had come, with nobody able to deny the song-writing talent of lead singer Matt Shultz.
So, it seemed all roads led to Social Cues, their gritty 2019 hit: a personal look at the dreams of youth, how the reality sometimes isn't quite the fairy tale that has been yearned for. Goodbye is a standout track. It almost has a distorted sound, with dramatic strings and a choppy feel. Beck features on the track Night Running, and this led to him being a perfect match for a co-tour. The Night Running Tour visited 30 amphitheatres across North America, delighting music fans. For each performance, Spoon and Wild Belle opened, creating a night full of blood sweat and tears, all for the art.
Refusing to be defined by genre, these boys have massively contributed to keeping the spirit of rock alive when you could say it has been on the decline. Matt, Jared and Daniel will be joined by Brad Shultz, Nick Bockrath and Matthan Minster as they swing by Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London to perform throughout February. So what can you expect? It’s high-energy, it’s raucous, and it will provide rock glitz and glamour. Fans will lap it up and be in their element, but even if you haven’t seen them before and are curious, it is wildly vivacious, and never a dull moment; go and experience this wickedly accomplished band.
Article By Beverley Knight