Cage The Elephant’s Bend Concert Helps Cement the Band’s Rock Legend Legacy

The crowd was shaking down during Oregon’s Neon Pill Tour stop.

Shultz brothers Brad (left) and Matt perform during Cage The Elephant's Bend stop on the "Neon Pill Tour." (Lee R. Larson)

Covered in sweat and tearing across the stage like his life depended on the audience’s screams, Cage The Elephant frontman Matt Shultz radiated a stage presence not unlike the legendary rockers that preceded him, such as Robert Plant and Mick Jagger, when the Neon Pill tour came to Bend’s Hayden Holmes Amphitheater on June 24.

The Neon Pill Tour marks the release of Cage The Elephant’s first album in five years. After Shultz entered a state of psychosis from a medication side effect, and even faced jail time, it was surprising to see such a swift recovery as well as a new release and tour.

Across their 90-minute set, they managed to play all the fan favorites you would expect. Hits like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Cigarette Daydreams,” and “Trouble” had the audience singing every word alongside Shultz’s unwavering voice.

While it’s easy to fixate on Shultz’s entertaining frontman antics, his bandmates were just as impressive. The band’s casual bravado perfectly complemented Shultz’s wild energy. Devoid of any noticeable mistakes, the five musicians were tight and confident. In fact, when playing from their back catalog, it almost felt like listening to the original recordings.

Synth, bass, and kick drum were all brought up in the mix, making all the tracks blend together more seamlessly. Still, what notes the instrumentalists were playing seemed to be exactly the same as the official releases. Some fans prefer to hear their favorite artists live just like they sound on the recording, but plenty others find it more thrilling when musicians take chances, make mistakes, and create new experiences with their songs in the process.

Any time lead guitarist Nick Bockrath would mix up a solo or rhythm guitarist Brad Shultz would use an unusual effect on his guitar, it would make the songs all the more exciting. It’s a shame there wasn’t more of that. The elder Shultz brother’s performance stood out among the band, as he was never afraid to move around the stage and interact with the crowd. Perhaps stage presence is an inherited trait.

They also played a few songs off their latest release, Neon Pill. While the story of recovery on the album is certainly an impressive one, the record itself made for a disappointing listen when first released in May. Uninspired cheesy lyrics, a lack of catchy melodies, and an absence of the musical indignity that made Cage The Elephant so prevalent in the first place leads to most tracks feeling boring compared to their past release.

Fortunately, the six-piece managed to bring the songs to a far more listenable state live. While their hits have all been refined and likely sound the same every time they’re played, the band gave themselves more wiggle room with their latest tracks. Songs like “Good Time” were delivered with feeling and power. “Rainbow” was a particular Neon Pill standout. A combination of smoke and clever lighting created two large, hueful streams on the stage, accenting and elevating the song.

While a best hits show was definitely a good choice to appease most of the crowd, it was a bit disappointing to not see more obscure tracks represented. Some of the lesser-known tracks off Social Cues and Neon Pill were featured, but the band delved into their back catalog only for the hits. This meant that electrifying songs from years past, such as “Back Stabbin’ Betty,” “Sell Yourself” and “Teeth,” were regrettably absent. Maybe if the group were more willing to change and augment songs, their heavier tunes could work their way into the set.

Even after nearly two decades together, Cage The Elephant has yet to lose their spunk. The crowd took in every note the band played. They didn’t let the moment go, like another song title says, “In One Ear” and out the other.

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