I’m always grateful to the o2 Academy in Leeds for selling dire pub co beer. On a gig on a Sunday before work on Monday for a weak willed and insanely excited soul, that’s a lifesaver.
Fortunately we missed the worst of Storm Denniss and queued just in biting winds so we could catch storm Matt Schultz and his merry men from Cage The Elephant blow the roof off from inside the hall.
As we were queuing longer than hoped (not helped by silly selfish children delaying things by chancing their arm bringing in vodka in water bottles) we missed all but about 2 songs of the openers, but we were in good time to catch SWMRS. I’ve not seen this band much but they were a serious revelation. The SWMRS guys are from Oakland near San Francisco (there’s a great cheap Cambodian Restaurant in Oakland I can recommend) and the drummer is the son of Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day).
To describe the band to be like Green Day is lazy, a bit of a cheap shot and largely inadequate. However, there is a rather chirpy clean American punk style going on; a bit like the Ramones after having had their mud washed off on a spin wash. I thought it was a nice mix of fresh and clean American pop punk, but with added maturity.
Even better, SWMRS offered a banging but deferential set to get the audience going. The only slightly wrong foot to my ears was a stray version of the Supergrass classic, Alright. It played well but it rather felt like it had been stolen. Then of course, I did see it played live when it was first released back in the day.
Overall, I’d be more than happy to catch the band again and particularly when Max Becker brother of lead vocalist Cole returns to the SWMRS fold after recovering from a horrendous car crash before Christmas.
It was also good that SWMRS did the “anyone get caught groping will be ejected” speech and it felt genuine rather than just be said for the kudos. Sadly it seems to be a necessary reminder for some warped individuals. The lad who decided to feel up my missus’ bum at the Primal Scream gig there before Christmas had looked suitably embarrassed when someone who is old enough to be his mother added a few choice words to his vocabulary. I was surprised he left the venue and still retained his gonads to be honest.
We were a little late for Cage the Elephant to start; I assume by the inordinate excitement the roadies lavished towards some of the wires by the drum kit, the electrics were proving a little tricky.
It was well worth the wait as I hardly have words for the Cage The Elephant’s performance. Cage The Elephant offer a masterclass on how to entertain, provoke and challenge all at the same time.
After the band’s arrival, Matt Schultz might have appeared a little rambling on stage, but he didn’t put a foot wrong in terms of lyrics or sequence of song. With such a exhaustive performance where Schultz throws himself around the stage, it was impossible to fault the man.
During the evening, Schultz certainly launched into a few heartfelt personal comments. The album Social Cues shares raw lyrics inspired by the death of a couple of friends through drugs, a cousin and splitting from his wife.
Schultz quite rightly implored us not to be ashamed when things aren’t going right, to ask for help, and for everyone to talk and look after those around you. Too true brother, it’s a tricky, complex and confusing world we live in. Sadly the guy bellowing “Get On With It” while jogging to an imagined beat was just plain insensitive.
The Cage The Elephant performance took on these themes with perhaps half a dozen tracks from the last album, but they were interspersed with the more flamboyant and singalong tunes of yore.
In 90 minutes, we really had a best of Cage The Elephant and the new songs melded in well to the set overall. It takes a while for new tunes to bed in, but now these Social Cues songs are sprouting flowers, and I hope quite a few become set standards.
The only slight hiccup came with the end of the concert, where it felt a little chaotic. The set had included tracks like Cry Baby, Too Late To Say Goodbye, Cold Cold Cold, Mess Around and the lads in the audience tore their throats apart trying to catch the high notes in Trouble. Towards the end was my personal favourite Cigarette Daydream which was another strain on the vocal chords, and a spirited version of Teeth to close. After building the crowd into a total frenzy that saw Schultz emerge from the mosh, held aloft by his ankles, with the impending venue curfew, there was no time for the obligatory chant and stomp for “one more song”.
This meant an exhausted and rather sweaty and breathless Schultz performed a hastily organised but reflective solo on two songs (including Social Cues closer Goodbye) that were charged with raw emotion. I appreciated the heartfelt gesture which added true tragedy to the set, but it came through without pause which lost a touch of the impact.
Overall, Cage The Elephant are in my view, the greatest live rock band in the world right now with Schultz’ Iggy cum Jagger performance while the Elephants produce ever charging onwards tunes. With the addition of SWMRS and a set I really warmed to, I might be proved wrong but I suspect with the possible exception of one gig, this will be my stand out live show of 2020. The contender to this crown? Oh that would be Cage The Elephant in July.