Cage the Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Foals, & Bear Hands Electrify XL Center Hartford, CT 3-30-16

Cage the Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Foals, & Bear Hands Electrify XL Center Hartford, CT 3-30-16

In the ten years since the band’s formation, Cage the Elephant has made quite a name for themselves in the Indie Alt Rock scene. Hailing from Bowling Green, Kentucky, these guys went from obscurity to instant fame after the release of their 2008 eponymous debut album and the subsequent hit single, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” A song that not only peaked at #3 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and #8 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, the track also found itself kicking off the Gearbox Software video game, Borderlands, and the pilot episode of the 2016 show, Lucifer.

Since then, Vocalist Matt Shultz, his rhythm guitarist brother, Brad, Bassist Daniel Tichenor, and Drummer Jared Champion have evolved in their musical inclinations, going from a Classic Rock/Funk/Blues sound with their debut record, to 2011’s Thank You Happy Birthday with its harder, more Punk/Grunge sound, to 2013’s Melophobia, a magnanimous effort that came about from Matt’s complete segregation from all other musical influences while writing, resulting in a superb, uninfluenced album, completely and wholly Cage the Elephant’s sound, along with a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Music album in 2015. Their most recent record, Tell Me I’m Pretty, was released in December of 2015 and produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.

Known for their punchy, high-octane stage performances, Cage the Elephant kicked off their Spring Fling Rock AF Tour with Alt Rockers Silversun Pickups, the UK  Indie Rock band Foals, and Indie Post-Punk group Bear Hands on March 11th in Fresno, California. Their stop at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Wednesday, March 30th, was memorable not only for the music, but for what the one lucky fan took home that night.

The evening kicked off as Bear Hands took the stage. Although originally from Brooklyn, Bear Hands made their mark in Connecticut’s Hardcore Punk scene back in 2006. Members Dylan Rau (vocals, guitar), Val Loper (bass), Ted Feldman (guitar), and TJ Orscher (drums) came out on stage at the dot of seven o’clock. Although not physically animated onstage, the band filled the venue with their polished, high intensity Rock, with Rau’s staccato sing-speech during the band’s frantic hit single “Giants,” bringing to mind Twenty-One Pilots’ Tyler Joseph. They started out with the synth heavy “Peacekeeper” and went straight into “Bone Digger.” They continued with both “Marathon Man” and the Weezer-like “2AM,” two songs from their upcoming album, You’ll Pay For This. Next was the Folksy “What A Drag” and the fantastically written “Agora,” a surreal song with an identity crisis that jumps all over the spectrum. This is Bear Hands’ second tour with Cage the Elephant. Look for their newest album, You’ll Pay For This, due to hit shelves on April 15, 2016.

Next up was the English Indie band Foals. Lead Vocalist/Guitarist Yannis Philippakis swaggered onto the stage, kicking water bottles and cups of beer out of his way. The floor was bathed in orange and blue light as Philippakis took up his guitar and belted out the opening lyrics to “Snake Oil” from the band’s most recent album, What Went Down, released in August of 2015. To his right, the tall, lanky rhythm guitarist, Jimmy Smith, paced the stage, his fingers dancing over the strings with the tinkling opening chords of “Olympic Airwaves.” When the ’80s synth beat of “My Number” started, the crowd went wild, as Philippakis strutted and nodded along to the beat. Everything slowed down as the vocalist threw his guitar behind his back and, to the sounds of Edwin Congreave’s synthesizer, sang the high, unhurried notes of “Give It All.” The crowd quieted their roar, pulling out cell phones and lighters to wave along to the measured, relaxed track.

Foreshadowing the last show of the tour taking place in Rhode Island two days later on April 1, Foals then played “Providence,” a moving song that turned into a crowd-clapping favorite as the vocalist hopped out into the audience, strumming his guitar as fans carried him along the musical wave over their heads. Drummer Jack Bevan busted in with his highly energetic kit work, kicking the song up another notch while Smith kept the track light and tight. The lighters came back out for the haunting, lilting “Spanish Sahara,” but gave over to a cheering, screaming crowd for another new song, “Mountain at My Gates,” a track that makes full use of Walter Gervers’ thumping bass. Philippakis showed off his vocal range with “Inhaler,” a crowd favorite that was voted Best Track in 2013 at the NME Awards.

The set closed with the title track to the 2015 album as the vocalist once more abandoned his guitar, laid down on the stage and crooned, “I buried my heart in a hole in the ground/With the lights and the roses and the cowards downtown… Behind him, his hair whipping, Bevan slammed the drums to a beat kept rock-steady by Gervers. As they left the stage, the band thanked the crowd, bowing and waving to the people before them. Be sure to check out What Went Down as it was voted Best Album of 2016 at the NME Awards.

The mood immediately changed when Alt Rock band Silversun Pickups come out onto the stage. The slight vocalist/guitarist, Brian Aubert, who sometimes seems surprised to find himself onstage in front of this huge crowd, greeted fans humbly right from the beginning of the band’s set. As he strummed the first chords to “Cradle (Better Nature),” his androgynous voice pleaded that “Someone long gone/Said to stay calm/Keep your head on…” On her first tour since parting for maternity leave in 2012, the gorgeous Nikki Monninger let loose both her thunderous bass skills and sexy, husky voice for “Well Thought Out Twinkles,” a lively, melodic track that led into “The Royal We.” Next was the dreamy, electrically charged “Nightlight,” a song from the band’s newest 2015 album, Better Nature, that builds to a climactic anthem that blends the voices of both Monninger and Aubert. With hurricane force, Drummer Chris Guanlao threw himself into every song, his hair whipping around his head as he pounded his purple kit for another new track, “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance),” one that was sung in Monninger’s alluring contralto.

In between songs, Aubert would alternately wrap his arms around himself and flick guitar picks into the crowd. When the Techno beat of “The Pit” fired up, Joe Lester was able to showcase his talent for the keys and samples while Monninger’s bass thrummed. As Aubert announced with a cheeky grin, “Shit’s about to get real, everybody. So hold hands and make out with someone,” the venue speakers buzzed with heavy feedback and the heavy-lidded “Friendly Fires” started, the vocalist flipping his hands through the air like butterflies. The band continued the set with “Latchkey Kids,” “Panic Switch,” and “Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)” before finally giving the fans what they wanted and closing their stage time out with “Lazy Eye,” the band’s first hit single. Be sure to check out their most recent album, Better Nature, released September of 2015.

When Bowling Green’s darlings finally hit the stage at 10:15 PM, the crowd erupted in raucous, hyperactive screaming. Vocalist Matt Shultz, a virtual firecracker onstage, immediately dove into “Cry Baby” from the band’s most recent album, Tell Me I’m Pretty, as his brother Brad hunched over his rhythm guitar. Matt raced from one side of the stage to the other, his shoulder-length hair whipping around his face as he crooned and screamed into the mic, never letting up for the entire one hundred minute set. When the stoic Daniel Tichenor started strumming the opening bass chords to the band’s #1 single, “In One Ear,” the entire venue roared. Next up was “Spiderhead” and the ’70s roller rink throwback, “Take It or Leave It,” from 2013’s Melophobia. The whining strains of “Aberdeen” led into the first three new songs of the night, the loaded “Too Late to Say Goodbye,” the twangy, pleading “Cold Cold Cold,” and the dreamy “Trouble.”

A small smile played across Matt’s face when he saw the crowd’s reaction to the next song, their most popular by far, “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked,” and they responded in kind by singing along to every word. The guys hooted across the stage in between songs, with touring keyboardist Matthan Minster chuckling into the mic, “This is how me and Matty talk to each other.” The cheating anthem “Mess Around” got the crowd singing once again, while Jared Champion finally got to show off his powerhouse drumming for “Punchin’ Bag.” The autobiographical “Telescope” had the crowd waving their lighters once again, yet there was no holding them back as the strains of “Back Against the Wall” poured from the speakers.

The buzzing, hyperkinetic “It’s Just Forever” got Brad to hop off the side of the stage and plow his way through the crowd, where he knelt down in the middle of the floor and played to the screaming excitement of the people around him. When he got back onstage, though, he realized his guitar did not work. Rather than just handing it off to a roadie for a replacement, Brad threw it out into the crowd, and although the band’s manager tried to get it back, Brad insisted the fan keep it, making every other person in XL Center squirm with jealousy. The last song of the set was the #1 single from Melophobia, “Come A Little Closer.” Without a word, the band members left the stage.

They came back a minute later carrying bottles of beer and water for an encore of fan favorite, “Cigarette Daydreams,” the lonely ditty “Shake Me Down” and a song Matt explained was about L-O-V-E, the screeching, screaming “Teeth,” as he cried, “Are you into the beat?/I can feel it in my teeth…” Matt left the crowd in a sweaty glory, his face glowing with heat and excitement. The rest of the band members waved and thanked their fans, and as the crowd filed off the floor and into the streets of Hartford, no one would forget the night they saw Brad Shultz give away his show guitar.

In enough words, the combined lineup of Cage the Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Foals, and Bear Hands was nothing less than spectacular. Each band provided a distinctive sound and style that not only engaged the audience but kept them wanting more. While the 15-city arena tour is now over, there will be more chances to see each band with shows lined up individually for them through late July. With that said, do not miss a chance to see each of them, it will be a concert event that will leave a lasting impression.

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Tracy Allen
[email protected]

Hiding out in the lonely Quiet Corner in Northeastern Connecticut, Tracy Allen has been an avid horror movie and music fan since she was a young girl. Growing up in the '80s, Tracy has lived through many a change in musical stylings and movie trends, and uses that history to come up with as many colorful, well-rounded reviews as possible.

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