Bowling Green, Ky., natives Cage the Elephant performed the 10 songs from their forthcoming third album, Melophobia, in Nashville on Saturday to an intimate crowd of fans, friends, family members and press. The alt-rockers may still rep Kentucky, but half of the band lives in Music City, and it's at the Soundcheck rehearsal and rental facilities in Nashville where Cage has been honing their new material in preparation for a string of dates opening for English arena-prog trio Muse. The Muse/Cage tour will hit local enormo-dome Bridgestone Arena on Sept. 6.
Cage the Elephant recently debuted the track "Come a Little Closer" and announced that Melophobia would be released Oct. 8 via RCA Records. "Closer" displays the sort of idiosyncratic approach to mainstream rock that has become Cage the Elephant's calling card and propelled them to international, charting success — the songs themselves are simple and straightforward enough as far as pop/rock composition is concerned, but they're full of quirky instrumental diversions and frontman Matt Shultz's live-wire delivery. In front of a crowd of roughly two or three dozen — some of the audience members were winners of a radio contest hosted by 102.9 the Buzz — on Saturday evening, Shultz & Co. tore through Melophobia front to back, doing their best to prove that they can deliver their new material with arena-level energy.
Clad in a beret and a particularly '90s-esque, oversized slacker-chic ensemble, Shultz dove headfirst into tunes with arachnocentric names like "Spider Head" and "Black Widow." Shultz bounced around like he was spring-loaded, convulsing and gyrating between each line, skipping out in front of his monitors to croon selected lines in the faces of audience members. During "It's Just Forever" — a tune that employed sly, surfy guitar and bass riffs — he ran amuck, climbing onto road cases and kicking over his mic stand as the band lurched through stops and starts. Cage heavily utilized the talents of an auxiliary man — a sixth member who played keyboard, third guitar and tambourine and doubled many of Shultz's barked vocals.
Three of the set's 10 songs featured a three-piece horn section, whom at one point Shultz referred to as "the real heroes of today." On "Hypocrite," they provided intermittent, occasionally dissonant blasts as Shultz crooned in a high falsetto. The brass of "Black Widow" was much more conventionally tuneful, providing supporting swells. The aforementioned "Come a Little Closer" — with its walking bass line and slinky, beckoning half-time chorus — is likely the most earworm-y number of the set, but "Cigarette Day Dreams" is what you might call the album's Prius-commercial song: It's melodious and sweetly pleasant, Shultz taking a break from his fourth-grader-on-a-sugar-binge antics to croon earnestly. But it was back to Cage the Elephant's frenzied, kitchen-sink blowout on set-closer "Teeth," Shultz prancing maniacally around the rehearsal space as the band provided wild accents before slipping into a blues-riffing boogie.
Cage the Elephant plays an interesting role in the world of popular rock 'n' roll. They're accessible enough to have garnered a large following, particularly in the U.K. But the group seems to innately buck against the "mainstream" label, stirring weird, Stone Roses-like flourishes into their alt-rock numbers. The term "melophobia" of course refers to a fear of music. Cage seems, perhaps, like they fear being too normal, and so they bolster their material with dissonant horn blasts, or wild stage antics, or effects-laden guitar parts, or weird accents and tempo shifts. If nothing else, their new material certainly serves as a worthy vessel for their finely tuned and high-energy live show, and that's what they'll be betting on as they venture into their eight arena dates with Muse.
"Take It or Leave It"
"It's Just Forever"
"Come a Little Closer
"Cigarette Day Dreams"