It’s 11AM on Saturday morning outside of the Freedom Hall Civic Center in Johnson City, Tennessee, the gray clouds hang low over the arena, as a slim number of people, gather around. An instant friendship began between the few people in line as they bonded over the music, a new community established. The bands on the bill of the hot spring tour “Spring Fling” were able to create this community by sharing the music they carefully crafted to unite people with rock ’n’ roll.
As a teenager, I struggle to find music that is worth listening to, something that actually tells a story. It’s hard for me to get excited when my classmates won’t stop talking about G-Eazy or Kanye West, and often times it makes me feel like I don’t fit in. I know music is a personal thing, but whenever I try to bring up the music I like, with a more rock ’n’ roll sound, people just seem to blow me off.
The lyrics and style of music written by these rockers, Cage the Elephant, Foals, Bear Hands, and the Silversun Pickups, created a meaningful niche, a place where I can relate and fit in.
In a recent conversation I had with Steve Van Zandt, a classic rock outcast, and savior of rock ’n’ roll, he too recognizes there are fewer bands willing to attempt to carry the torch that is rock ’n’ roll.
Alongside Cage was the Brooklyn based band Bear Hands, British-Alt Rockers Foals, and the Silversun Pickups.
Bear Hands did not disappoint the crowd with their alternative sound playing songs off of their album Distraction. They started off their set with “Peacekeeper” which caught the crowd’s attention with its innovative alternative sound. Then, they played their new single “2AM” which is on their new album, You’ll Pay for This, which will be released on April 15th.
Next up on the Spring Fling stage were the British Alt rockers, Foals. The band began their nine song set which was pleasing but ramped up to a rocking set that got louder as it went on, and ended with “Mountain at My Gates,” “Inhaler,” and “What Went Down” from their albums What Went Down and Holy Fire. During the last song, lead singer Yannis Phillppakis jumped into the crowd energetically chanting the lyrics to “What Went Down.” Members of Cage the Elephant joined the crowd to watch Foals and support their long time friends. Foals are signed up to co-headline Reading and Leeds Festival in the UK later this year.
As the night went on, the music got louder. However, when Silversun Pickups hit the stage, they delivered a familiar set sounding great but less passionate than the other bands. Bassist, Nikki Moninger , brought not only her sparkle dress and shoes, but added some spunk to the routine set as Brian Aubert, the lead singer, presented a distant stage persona. They played a forty-five minute set with some of their hits “Circadian Rhythm,” “Nightlight,” from their album Better Nature and “Lazy Eye” off the album released in 2006 called Carnavas.
The Bowling Green rockers, Cage the Elephant, kept their eternal passion on fire, lighting the Johnson City Stage, performing their 4th consecutive show, looking fresh and rested.
There aren’t many artists sticking to the roots of rock ’n’ roll anymore, but Cage the Elephant has been working their butts off to get noticed. Four records into their career, Tell Me I’m Pretty was released in late 2015, and now people can’t get enough of them. The band’s goal for record number four was to be able to fill the gap of today’s society of rock music and they have done just that.
The band only played six new songs from their latest album including “Cry Baby,” “Mess Around,” and “Cold Cold Cold.” The rest of the setlist was stacked with songs like “In One Ear,” “Take it or Leave it,” and “Come a Little Closer.” Then, the encore consisted of a heartfelt duo with Matt and Brad of “Cigarette Daydreams,” “Shake Me Down,” and ended with “Teeth” where Matt Shultz leaped into the crowd for the first time that night. The crowd, at the Spring Fling tour, hung on every note, a contrast to the fans they had to work hard to win over when they opened for Metallica in San Francisco.
Throughout the set lead singer Matt Shultz, leaped around the stage dancing dance moves, no one has danced before. Like a young Bruce Springsteen or even James Brown, two legends that work hard to sell you on their songs. Matt Shultz’s performance gives off a relentless pursuit of passion and connection. Recently, I saw Bruce Springsteen on the River Tour, and the dedication to make his audience connect with his lyrics reminded me of a Cage show. For the entire hour and thirty minute set, Matt worked the crowd, as he made eye contact with everyone, as he belted out the lyrics, selling his story. Older brother and guitarist Brad Shultz watched Matt like a hawk as he screamed every lyric and encouraged the crowd to get out of their seats. Even if you weren’t a fan of the guys from Bowling Green, you left with an adrenaline rush coursing through your body.
The guys have come a long way from playing gigs at dingy bars like Tidball’s and the Basement East and their hard work has paid off. This summer, Cage the Elephant is setting off on a nationwide tour with Portugal the Man and I plan to be there to get my soul filled with the spirit of rock ’n’ roll.
The world needs Cage the Elephant and rock n’ roll. And Steve Van Zandt can rest easy because Cage The Elephant is keeping rock n’ roll alive.
Cage the Elephant
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Review and Photos by Kate Teegardin | @teegardinphotos