One for the Road – Spring Fling (Cage the Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Foals and Bear Hands)

CTE - Johnson CIty - Stage Crowd - 1

Cage the Elephant – Johnston City, Tennessee – March 20, 2016

Every legitimate rock and roll music fan that claims that there just aren’t enough arena level concerts worth the price of admission to attend these days needs to immediately stop reading this article and instead head over to Cage the Elephant’s website.

There you’ll find the remaining dates of their Spring Fling tour that has the band currently trekking across the country with Silversun Pickups, Foals and Bear Hands joining the fray.

Spring Fling 2016 is primarily playing to second and third tier cities versus the larger market stops in an effort to bring rock music to venues and towns that rarely serve as stops on tours such as these.

The tour’s approach is reminiscent of the late 1970’s when you’d see mainstream rock acts such as Kiss, Ted Nugent and Aerosmith take to stages in locales such as Sioux City, Iowa, Grand Rapids, Michigan and other working class American cities full of angst ridden teenage boys willing to wait in line for two days in arena parking lots for just the opportunity of potentially scoring a pair of tickets to a show.

Those lucky enough to be in attendance this past Sunday at the Freedom Hall Civic Center were treated to five hours of mind blowing, awe inspiring and flat out jaw dropping rock music, the likes of which rarely finds its way to conservative southeast mountain town outposts such as Johnson City, Tennessee.

Often times arena level headlining acts such as Cage the Elephant will play it safe and bring on tour with them either obscure opening acts that are more of a curiosity than a legitimate opening act or bands that simply aren’t capable of matching the intensity of their own performance.  This type of game plan tends to create a condition that would likely see the concert goer leaving the venue only thinking about and discussing the main act’s time on stage.

Credit Cage the Elephant for bucking that trend as by including post-punk outfit Bear Hands, U.K. stalwarts Foals and mainstream rockers Silversun Pickups, who all bring a high level of live performance to the table.  In doing so they’ve created a rock and roll whirling dervish of an environment that not only begs but requires each act to step up their game under the lighted stage in order to just not appear out of place.

First up on the evening were Brooklyn based and often times improperly labeled indie-rock quartet Bear Hands.  The band, who are currently out supporting their soon to be released third studio effort You’ll Pay for This, spent little time in getting the crowd going with their blend of melodic and rhythmically driven prog-synth soundscapes.

Their brief but electrically charged seven-song set list focused mostly on tracks from the band’s sophomore release 2014’s Distraction.  Choosing to open with “Peacekeeper” was a fine choice as it’s a powerful rocker that not only set the tone for their own set but one that helped set the tone for the entire evening.

Bear Hands delivered a tight performance that the crowd connected with, however, their music and live presentation still gave the impression that it may still be capable of generating more of an impact at the club level versus being broad enough in power and scope to fill a lager arena.

Next to take to the Freedom Hall Civic Center’s stage were Great Britain’s Foals.  The band has been around ten years and despite their popularity across the pond, their critically praised studio recordings as well as their reputation as being a live performance dynamo, Foals surprisingly still have yet to find a large measure of success here in the United States.

Based on the performance Foals dropped on the audience this evening the only question in regards to their not elevating to a higher plain of popularity in this country that comes to mind is, how is this even possible?

Foals’ music is engineered for arenas.  It’s broad, dynamic and anthemic. If that weren’t enough the band’s energy, musical amplitude as well as the instant bond Foals is able to establish with any audience makes the band a live force to be reckoned with.

Based on my conversations with other in attendance and the fact that when Foals first took to the stage there was somewhat of an air of uncertainty hovering over the crowd, it would seem to me the vast majority of my fellow concert goers really weren’t all to familiar with the band.

Any skepticism regarding Foals was immediately washed away by the time the band had even finished playing their opening song “Snake Oil” off of last year’s What Went Down.  The band’s sheer musical fury almost instantaneously won over the entirety of the crowd.  Foals delivered an eight song bombast of a set that wouldn’t have seemed out of place had they been playing the likes of Coachella or Glastonbury.

After a short set change southern California alternative rockers Silversun Pickups took to the stage.  Silversun Pickups probably stays the closest to a mainstream sound than any of the other performers touring on Spring Fling.

Considering the blunt instrument that is Foals having played in front of them it seemed as though there may have been a possibility of a slight down turn in energy for any band that were presented with the task of playing behind them.

Silversun Pickups proved this theory to be a bit misguided as their eleven-song set not only keep the crowd mesmerized, it actually provided an unexpected and welcomed balance between the ferocity of the bands that played before them and the tour’s headliner, Cage the Elephant, that were to follow.

Often times it’s the music alone that has to serve as the conduit between a performer and the audience in a live fire environment and rightfully so.

However, lead singer Brian Aubert’s frequent musings with the crowd and the playful interaction he shared with bassist Nikki Monninger throughout the evening came off as both heart felt and genuine, while also providing several moments of levity that helped make the concert feel that much more intimate.

Musically speaking Silversun Pickups delivered more amplified and seemingly up-tempo versions of some of their radio friendly hits including “The Royal We”, “The Pit”, “Panic Switch” and set closer “Lazy Eye” that had the crowd singing a long and head bobbing all the way through.

Truth be told the crowd belonged to Cage the Elephant long before they ever took to the Freedom Hall Civic Center’s stage.   From the instant lead singer Matthew Shultz revealed himself to the crowd to the very last chords of set closer “Teeth”, Cage the Elephant all but had the entire audience wrapped around their fingers.

Cage the Elephant’s live shows are a shot of adrenaline and musical turbulence that literally forces the audience to engage with.   There was little time for a dull moment or even a short pause to catch one’s breath as the band initially blistered through a 15-song set list including crowd favorites such as “In One Ear”, “Aberdeen”, “Aint’ No Rest for the Wicked”, “Mess Around” and of course the live monster that is “Come a Little Closer”.

Unlike Silversun Pickups that connected with the audience via some lively banter at times Cage the Elephant barely spoke to the crowd, instead letting the gravity of their musical performance speak for itself.

Not only did Shultz take to the audience for some late show crowd surfing, several times lead guitarist Nick Bockrath joined in on the fun by jumping into the crowd to mix it up with some fans.  At one point as Bockrath attempted to make his way from the venue floor back up to the stage he flung his guitar up into the stands into the arms on an unsuspecting fan.

This act could have easily had disastrous results but fortunately the lucky individual that had Bockrath’s instrument tossed their way was able to catch it and hand it back down to the guitar player without incident.

Cage the Elephant finished off five hours of superlative rock n roll music performed by all four bands on the evening with a three-song ncore of “Cigarette Dreams”, “Shake Me Down” and “Teeth”.

There are no words that can be written that already haven’t been published concerning Cage the Elephant in terms of just how remarkable, physically and mentally exhausting and just plain exhilarating their live shows are.

Instead of my attempting to continue to regurgitate similar sentiments I’m simply going to provide you with this bit of simple advice, go see Cage the Elephant live as soon as you possibly can.   It would literally be one of the only acts as a human you could still perform without the possibility of the one thing none of us wants to experience, regret.


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