LIVE REVIEW: Cage The Elephant @ Alexandra Palace, London (22/02/2020)

Credit: Neil Krug

Date: February 22nd 2020
Venue: Alexandra Palace, London
Support: SWMRS / Post Animal


Last year saw the release of ‘Social Cues’, the fifth album from alternative rock megastars, Cage The Elephant. What 2019 was also meant to see was the much-anticipated return of the Kentucky sextet to the UK.

Unfortunately, guitarist Nick Bockrath broke his leg while falling during a performance at Pinkpop in the Netherlands in June, which lead to major surgery and the subsequent cancelling of all remaining dates, including a show at intimate London club, Heaven.

To rectify this mishap, the band have finally returned, eight months later, with an expanded tour, culminating tonight at the much, much larger Alexandra Palace.

Opening the show are psychedelic power-prog genre benders Post Animal [8], who do their utmost to simultaneously warm up and win over a vast, albeit mostly unfamiliar, audience. The Chicago natives blend classic prog with a modern approach to indie rock, with a sound that falls somewhere between both Yes and The Strokes.

With lengthy songs comes a smaller setlist. The group offer up four cuts, two from 2018’s masterful, ‘When I Think Of You In A Castle’, and the remainder used to showcase some highlights from their brand new release, ‘Forward Motion Godyssey’.

While the nuances of some of the more technical and precise aspects of their material may be lost in the giant hall, their energetic performance is commendable. As the wildcards of tonight’s line-up, they deliver a markedly self-assured opening set.

Fitting the bill a little more snugly are California pop-punks SWMRS [9], minus guitarist/vocalist Max Becker – the brother of enigmatic frontman, Cole.

Even with the noted absence of a primary member, the band are on top form. Running through a slew of singles from both ‘Drive North’ and last year’s critically acclaimed ‘Berkley’s On Fire’, the group command both the massive stage and crowd with major confidence. One could easily be forgiven for thinking that this their show.

It seems evident that a large portion of attendees, mainly those closer to the stage, are well versed in the material. A faithful cover of ‘Alright’ by Supergrass gets all involved. It’s a smart move, offering the uninitiated a chance to get in on the fun by utilising an immensely popular hit to their advantage.

This is followed by arguably two of the group’s biggest singles to date, ‘April In Houston’ and ‘Figuring It Out’, the latter of which acts a perfect closer, complete with anthemic chanting powerful enough to practically shake the palace walls.

The return of Cage The Elephant [8] to the UK has been greatly anticipated and long overdue in the eyes of their legions of fans. Ripping straight into ‘Broken Boy’, the band cleverly offer the opening tracks from their three latest albums as the first cuts of their set, with both ‘Cry Baby’ and ‘Spiderhead’ following suit.

Frontman Matt Shultz storms the stage, sporting a salmon suit-jacket over a black hoodie with sunglasses. His eccentric mannerisms are on full display this evening, complete with intriguing dance moves and several handstands.

The band barrel through hit after hit, often offering little to no respite between. Their speed and energy is more akin to punk than anything else. Although much of the material is melodic and multi-faceted, there’s no denying the underlying angst-riddled attitude infused into their performance. Hard-hitters like ‘It’s Just Forever’ and ‘House Of Glass’ cause some considerate carnage with mosh pits sprouting up in several directions. No matter the more melodious leanings of their later material, rest assured the group can still sound as chaotic as their name suggests.

Unfortunately, the break-neck pace comes at somewhat of a cost: the sound. As distinctive and impassioned as Shultz‘s vocals can be, they simply aren’t strong enough to carry through a venue of this size. Especially with his frantic and constant movement, the vocals are sometimes buried under the enormous sound of the five accompanying members. It’s a small sacrifice for the sheer energy on display.

However, what curiously contradicts the raw performance is the impressive light show. Being signed to major label RCA clearly has its perks, as the quality of laser-lighting rivals the likes of Enter Shikari in terms of sheer scale. The juxtaposition of the high-end stage production with such energetic retro-rock is a bewildering, endearing, and rewarding spectacle to behold.

It all comes to a head with their encore, dusting off long-time fan favourites ‘Back Against The Wall’ and ‘Sabretooth Tiger’ for an utterly chaotic finale. Red confetti rains down in thick plumes while Shultz screams hysterically to “Run away from the beast”. When tracing the Kentucky group’s humble origins from NME upstarts to one of the biggest modern rock bands, it’s comforting to note that not an ounce of integrity or passion has been sacrificed in the name of success. If the elephant is caged, it’s just barely.