The year was 2009 - I was a 4th grader in a Kentucky small town. School had just let out, and I made my way to my bus seat where one of my friends had already claimed the window spot. Almost immediately upon sitting down, he offered me one of his earbuds, which I accepted as usual. I waited until a guitar with a stout twang broke the silence, soon followed by my surfacing youthful stigma towards country music. “Is this about to be a country song?” I thought, but when the vocalist was introduced, my thoughts switched to “Is he trying to rap to rock n roll music?” as I attempted to break down the song. I'd never heard anything like this, but I was fairly ignorant to music at the time and little did I know I was listening to “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by a group of Kentucky natives by the name of Cage the Elephant.
From this day forward, I officially considered myself a fan of Cage the Elephant, and I soon realized Cage was quickly making a name for themselves in years to come. At one point, I recall friends talking about how they went to see Cage the Elephant at a small, local venue and even had the chance to converse with the band. Only a few years later, those same friends were struggling to find tickets to Cage’s first headlining show at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. Cage always seemed to be relevant throughout my youth - almost everyone I knew claimed Cage the Elephant as their favorite band, and over everything, Cage the Elephant showed all of us that you can still make it somewhere in life even if you’re from a small town in Kentucky.
Up until recently, it was hard to explain why Cage proved to be so relevant throughout our generation’s pre-teen and teenage years, but think about it this way – Cage the Elephant, the self-titled, elementary record was released while we were in elementary school, so a great place to start for both of us.
As we found our paths throughout the weird years of middle school, Thank You, Happy Birthday was Cage’s way of experimenting and finding which path their sound would take. Then with a stronger sense of maturity, Melophobia fit right into the high school years, like the bursts of energy comparable to “Spiderhead,” or the depressing teenage phases we could try relating to “Cigarette Daydreams,” all while Tell Me I’m Pretty kept the fire burning. There are countless ways musicians can grow, but what truly made Cage the Elephant so relevant to us was how Cage grew identically alongside our generation, supporting us with music at every eerie stage of our teenage years.
Now four years since their collaboration with Dan Auerbach, Cage the Elephant officially presented their most recent adaptation Social Cues. The album Social Cues leans slightly towards a somber tone based on the personal struggles of lead vocalist Matt Shultz, but it’s not hard to tell Cage has evolved. Songs like “Tokyo Smoke” and “Ready to Let Go” carry similarities from Melophobia with moderately paced tempos and the fuzzy riffs that have stuck around since their debut record, but with a little more synth for a modern touch. Cage is known for including a few immaculate slow songs to contrast their alternative sound – with Social Cues we have “Love’s the Only Way,” which has a rather relaxing feel, and “Goodbye,” a piece-of-art tear-jerker. What stands out, in my opinion, are “Dance Dance” and the title track “Social Cues” as they do carry a similar tone found throughout the album, but they also share surf rock characteristics similar to music by The Growlers that’ll make you want to groove.
The best part is that Cage the Elephant may have pioneered our generation’s musical tastes, but Cage’s music can surely be appreciated by anyone with love for alternative rock. The crowd at Ruoff Music Center was a perfect example as the venue was split almost 50/50 between a younger and older crowd and even entire families. Cage would also be sharing the stage with two established artists who’ve been around since the 90s: Spoon and Beck, the official headliner. On the other hand, a modern up and coming group by the name Wild Belle brought the calm of the storm with their inviting psychedelic pop/reggae music as thousands of people eased into the night, preparing for the heavy lineup soon to follow.
Spoon was up next, and the turnout was already decent. For a group who just released a greatest hits album too, they knew exactly which songs to throw on the setlist, "Do You" and "The Underdog" both standing out. Spoon seemed rather calm compared to the other performers, but on the bright side, I didn't see them miss a single note. Overall, what I liked best about Spoon's performance was how similar they sounded compared to their recordings.
The sun was just beginning to set as I found myself in the pit, feet away from a staircase leading to a bass drum with “CAGE THE ELEPHANT” printed on the front. From the desolate stage appears guitarist Nick Bockrath from the left side, supported with crutches due to a previous injury on their European tour, while Brad Shultz makes his way to a monitor to the right, motioning the crowd to stand up as the introducing hum from “Broken Boy” floods the audience. Suddenly a man in a tan suit, orange gloves, and a hard-hat enclosed in stockings rushes the stage. He soon removes the headwear to present himself as the unmasked Matt Shultz, and from there the show grew chaotically. Brad made his way into the crowd, later asking Matt to join him, but Matt resorted to dashing across the stage and dancing throughout “Cry Baby” instead. Cage found a way to balance playing every one of their hits and still throw in a few new singles for an overall perfect setlist.
Parents could be seen singing along while their kids recorded the performance from their phone, and if this didn’t already bring everyone at Ruoff together, the set was concluded by Matt rushing to the venue’s lawn to crowd surf and eventually be lifted onto the roof of a pavilion overlooking the entire venue.
“God is love; love is real!” Matt announces to the masses before disappearing into the twilight.
Ruoff's stage was deserted once again, and the crowd was jam-packed. The stage lights were pretty bright, given it was nighttime at this point, but when the clock hit 9:45 P.M. Ruoff Music Center became darker than the night sky. Suddenly, a large orange diamond appeared on the far back screen, looming over a majestic silhouetted figure playing an acoustic guitar. This silhouette was the shadow of Beck, and he was leading us head-first into his smash hit "Loser." The crowd roared louder than I've ever heard before as Beck ran through songs like "Debra" and even his newer release "Saw Lightning." Beck kept a unique on-stage personality that was so entertaining to watch even through the hits, and as if the show couldn't get any better, Beck brought Matt Shultz back out on stage to perform their shared single "Night Running" for an official show ender.