Earlier this year when The Night Running Tour was announced, a co-headlining venture between Beck and Cage The Elephant, several music lovers that I know were intrigued by the lineup. On the other side of the coin though, there were those who were left on the fence saying, “That’s an odd pairing.”
To quote Cage The Elephant, those haters “Can kiss the back of my hand.” While almost being an odd couple in some way, the co-headliners turned The Night Running Tour into one of the more unique, experimental and just all-around fun tours of the summer.
Sadly, the pairing isn’t making its way to Nashville – which is a shame since Cage has made Music City its second home, after forming in Bowling Green, Kentucky. With the tour missing the Volunteer State, I made a plan to visit family, coincidentally at the same time the alternative rockers would be in Houston.
Did I get knocked for choosing a concert over spending time with my family? You bet! Was it worth it? Totally! And for the record, I’d do it again, in a heartbeat without a second’s hesitation.
Let’s take it back about 14 years, and I’ll explain why this show was a “have to be there” one for me. When I was junior in high school in 2005, Beck released is ninth studio album “Guero,” which went on to become his highest charting album to date.
For me, it was an influential album, one that displayed just how creative of an artist that Beck could be. In my mind, it was a defining album, breaking the rules and displaying that an artist didn’t have to be confined to a certain genre.
I must have worn that album out, as it was the soundtrack to my senior year of high school. I’m pretty sure to this day that all of my friends and parents loathe the opening beats of “Girl,” as that track was my jam off the album, as I rushed to hit repeat what felt like several hundred times.
Now let’s fast forward five more years, to my junior year in college. One of the local radio stations, 94.5 The Buzz, in Houston was putting on its annual festival, known as BuzzFest.
The yearly festival would have music going on all day, either on the main stage or a side stage. As a music fan, I wanted to make the most of my ticket, go and check out all the bands, after all, I spent my hard earned money in order to make it to the show.
Well, my brother and I showed up early to the concert, just wanting to check out some of the smaller bands on the bill. One of those groups playing in the middle of the afternoon at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion was Cage The Elephant.
At the time, the band was riding the waves from its first studio album, a self-titled that was released in 2008. Leading the way for the band was its breakthrough hit “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” which went on to reach No. 3 on the alternative rock charts in the U.S., while also making it to No. 8 in the mainstream rock chart.
I don’t remember how long that Cage had time to play that day, all I know as that I was captivated. I mean, they had it all. They had the look and poise of rock stars early on in their career.
To cap it off, there was a superstar leading the band. Whether it’s fair or not, a band’s front man can make or break or band. Thankfully for Cage The Elephant, they have Matt Shultz one of the most intriguing, bizarre and energetic singers in rock today.
No offense to Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine, but Shultz is the one that has the moves like The Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger – well at least more than Levine.
When it comes to Shultz, the guy might as well be the spawn of two legendary rockers. Not to drone on about the singer, but he certainly possesses style and grace that Jagger has on stage, combined with the sheer raw energy that resembles Iggy Pop.
Nine years after I first saw the band, Cage’s legend continues to grow. Rather than just the one album, the group has now added four other full-length in its resume, including “Social Cues,” which was released this past April.
In fact, the bulk of Cage The Elephant’s Sunday night performance at the Woodlands Pavilion focused on showcasing the newer songs, and that’s not a knock at all. Heading into the show, I questioned just how much time that they would devote to the fresh tracks – which turned out to be almost a third of their performance.
As the band has increased its stature over time, the same can be said for its stage production. During this run, the band uses plenty of pryo, lasers and CO2 during the set, which just adds to the fun.
While Shultz is well known for his onstage performance, his brother and Cage guitarist, Brad Shultz, was plenty lively on Sunday night. During the group’s first song, “Broken Boy,” Brad hopped the barricade, heading into the crowd, standing on chairs, while playing to fans.
As far as the overall performance, Cage pretty much had the crowd in the palm of its hands. At time, it was almost deafening during the sing along, as the audience was loud, passionate and enjoying the set.
In some ways, Sunday night’s performance also felt personal for Cage The Elephant, almost raw-like, leaving the members vulnerable. There was a moment during “Trouble,” a slower song, where the Shultz brothers paired together, belting out the chorus, showcasing the brotherly love. Later on in the night, Brad was able to land a kiss on Matt, before scurrying away on stage.
As far as Matt himself, Sunday felt as if he was getting to reveal his vulnerability, all without saying a word. A lot of Cage’s newest record, including lead single “Ready To Let Go,” which centers around Matt’s 2018 divorce to his wife. The whole album expresses a whole range of emotions from that time period.
On Sunday night, Matt opened the performance draped from head to toe in black, covering up his face with a mask, which he capped off the outfit with a pair of blue Balenciaga. By the night’s end, that outfit came undone, and at the end of the performance, he was draped in a skin-toned leotard, his underwear, barefoot and left exposed, almost symbolic – or maybe I’m reaching and it’s just Matt being Matt.
To cap off the night in the band’s finale “Teeth,” Matt made is way to the back of the Pavilion, climbing up a light pole, making his way toward the spotlights, as the rest of the group exited the stage. While fans loved the unexpected pole climb, security on the other hand didn’t quite enjoy it, guarding off fans from leaving the area.
It was obvious that that a lot of the crowd was solely in attendance for Cage The Elephant, leaving the question, why Beck was slotted to close out the night? With all due to respect to Beck, but the two are at two different stages of their careers.
While Cage is still on its rise, Beck has already established himself as a force in music, kind of plateauing. That’s not a criticism, as the singer is continually expanding his catalog, but it didn’t seem on Sunday night like some of the crowd, particularly the younger audience, had caught on to the newer stuff.
On top of that, the two different performances were polar opposites of each other. After a high energy set from Cage The Elephant, Beck seemed a little more even-keeled, despite having plenty of enthusiasm. But, after Cage, realistically there was no way that Beck could have maintained that energy level, unless he had jumped out into the crowd a few times – which sadly didn’t happen.
The fans who did stay seemed to enjoy the short set that he did have. Due to Cage playing a little longer than what was originally scheduled, Beck was forced to back up his set by about 10 minutes.
After Cage played for nearly 75 minutes, the headliner only performed about an hour on Sunday night. While short, Beck made sure to incorporate a chock full of his hits and fan favorites.
In fact, he led off the night with his biggest hit “Loser.” As the lights turned off, the hero made his appearance on stage in spaghetti-western style, as the guitar twanged. That was fitting which as throughout the night, Beck kept saying that he was getting to play “deep in the heart of Texas.”
The focus for Beck on Sunday, was getting the fans up and dancing. With a slew of hits including, “Up All Night,” “Girl” and “Wow” he had a large portion of fans on its feet.
While putting on a fun performance, Beck’s stage made for a cool setup. The singer had two large mirrored platforms that he would stand on, which was backed by a large screen, which flashed videos throughout the night. That screen, mixed with a few lasers and mirrored reflections, definitely made for some pretty cool light moments throughout the nights.
As Beck returned for an encore, he introduced the rest of his backing band, who each got their chance to perform a snipped of songs. Included in that melody was, “Miss You” by The Rolling Stones; “What A Fool Believes,” by the Doobie Brothers; “When Doves Cry,” by Prince; “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang and “In the Air Tonight,” by Phil Collins.
While that mix of short covers was fun, it kind of felt like Beck was just filling time. The singer then closed out the night with “Night Running,” a song that was recorded with Cage The Elephant is on the band’s latest release.
For the majority of this tour, Matt and Beck had been performing the song together, but Cage’s front man wasn’t there for the opening. Instead, Beck performed the song with Natalie Bergman, lead singer of opening act Wild Belle.
It seemed like Bergman was forced into that spot last second. While singing, her part of the duet was muddy and hard to hear.
Following that performance, Beck closed the night with a rehash of “Up All Night,” that incorporated bouncing balls, making their way all across the pavilion. It was a fun way to close out a fun night.
Before Cage The Elephant and Beck performed, Wild Belle and Austin natives Spoon each got some stage time.
Wild Belle, put on a fun, but short, but solid set. With the crowd still trickling in, it was hard to gage the audience’s reaction. However, those up front seemed to enjoy the set.
Spoon had a better reaction from the crowd, as they engaged the audience, as lead singer Britt Daniel, mentioned several Houston venues that he and his band had played throughout the years. He also posed questions to those up front.
On Friday, Spoon released “Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon,” a slew of their greatest hits. At one point, Daniel asked the crowd, “How crazy is that?” Coming from somebody who grew up listening to the band, it is indeed crazy that the greatest hits day has come for Spoon.
While sadly not coming to Tennessee, the closest The Night Running Tour will be heading is when it stops in Birmingham, Alabama on Aug. 27. Tickets for that show can be purchased here: https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/20005648EC44A356