In an epic one-two sucker punch that left fans teetering between insanity and ecstasy, Cage the Elephant and Portugal. The Man left the Shrine Auditorium a heaping pile of rubble in the wake of their concert Tuesday night. Between the kinetic force of Cage the Elephant’s frontman Matt Shultz and the body-warping, bluesy-psychedelia of Portugal’s rock medley’s, the night was a surreal clash between two of indie’s giants that seemed to wind on for an eternity.
The night began with the enigmatic Portugal seducing the crowd with their atmospheric narratives. Simultaneously otherworldly and defiantly rooted in the materialistic, self-reliance of the world around them, the Alaskan-born outfit stuck to their guns by giving fans a rapturous play through of all the hits, including a few Beatles and Rolling Stones snippets in between. The latter was given a nod with a brief cover of “Gimme Shelter,” which appeared in the middle of “Atomic Man,” as wall-of-sound guitars burned fuzzily against a lilting piano. From the tingling harmonies of “Modern Jesus,” to the cynical wit and buzzing brass swells of “Creep in a T-Shirt,” Portugal made their case that rock was still alive and well to an entire auditorium of screams.
By the time Cage the Elephant finally took the stage, the now raving crowd might’ve felt itself ready for the inferno of energy that is Shultz and his wild boys–but nothing could ever truly prepare you for the 32-year-old’s adrenaline pumping antics. Throughout the band’s monstrous eighteen song set, Shultz leapt, ran, flailed, kicked, and screamed his way like a glorious madman through every virulent hit and personal favorite fans might have within their expansive discography. Never a band to make you feel like their just going through the motions, Schultz’s over-the-top hysteria never feels staged or insincere. Instead, the blonde-haired raspy vocalist appears to be just a happy lunatic, one who has the wild-eyed charisma to coerce even the most inanimate and shy of crowds into a thrashing rabble. At one point he even dived into the crowd and, standing upheld by the fans hands and their collective elation, roared out his lines as the Shrine’s stage lights lit-up the confines of the venue.
Dashing through each song with ever-increasing levels of mania, Shultz’s true gift is being able to do all the crazy things he does onstage while still having enough breath to belt out the chorus lines of his band’s rock anthems. Whether it’s on the singed blues rumblings of “Mess Around,” or the propulsive crashes of percussion and glowing guitar licks in “Come a Little Closer,” it doesn’t matter if he’s screaming his throat out into the night or dishing out the rabid spitfire of some his song’s quick lyricisms, Shultz maintains his even croon amidst every jump and sprint. But beyond the evident passions that Cage the Elephant always brings to the table, there’s also the matter of their songwriting, which dually offers up not only easy-to-sing-along anthems, but also deeply poignant storytelling. Abrasive rockers that they are, Shultz and company never cease to quietly affect audiences with their softer tracks, from the buoyant dreaminess of “Trouble,” to the groovy electrics that narrate “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.”
Returning for a three song encore, the highlight of which was a blurry, inflamed play through of “Shake Me Down,” Shultz reignited the crowd’s enthusiasm with nothing but his gravelly howls and the song’s strummed medley. Oozing with the characteristically quiet, tentative optimism that pulses throughout all their songs, Cage the Elephant strolled through the song’s opening strums before diving head first into the wild clamor of electric riffs and stunning percussiveness that empty themselves into its climax. “Even on a cloudy day,” Shultz hummed through the eruption, before bellowing it’s final refrain, in all his defiance and gushing hopefulness, as we yelled back: “I keep my eyes fixed on the sun.”
Words: Steven Ward
Photography: Danielle Gornbein