Raised in a mystical Christian commune and confined to Gospel music, Cage The Elephant’s five young members grew up uninformed about even the most basic indie punk bands. When singer Matt Shultz’s parents finally found out he had a Green Day cassette, they destroyed it, finding the rebellious trio offensive. But Matt and his pals soon broke free of their parents’ tight grip and prevailed, discovering the invigorating joy of the Ramones, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Butthole Surfers, Pixies, Mudhoney, and Nirvana. They learned to play hard and eventually got to open for Queens Of The Stone Age, a prestigious beginning, indeed.
Growing up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, 45-minutes north of Nashville, Cage The Elephant’s big break came when major label, Jive Records, signed them. By sending them off to England for a year to promote a promising self-titled debut, the quixotic quintet quickly realized they’d also missed out on several outstanding new wave and ska bands that never got a fair chance in America, such as Gang Of Four, English Beat, and The Jam.
Fronted by the wily Matt Shultz, Cage The Elephant includes his brother, guitarist Brad Shultz, and long-time pals Lincoln Parish (guitar), Daniel Tichenor (bass), and Jared Champion (drums). Together, they concoct a potpourri of stylistically diversified rock, representing musical “food” groups from Cake to Phish to Red Hot Chili Peppers and beyond.
Painting a grim picture of hard time white-boy blues, Matt ain’t no “phony in disguise / tryin’ to make the radio.” Up front, his Dylan-influenced raps dig deep into the heart of each song’s matter. He’s “talkin’ shit” on rousing ‘60s-psych powered anthem, “In One Ear,” criticizing our compromised culture with the soaring engine-driven rampage, “Tiny Little Robots,” and summoning R&B great, “James Brown,” for a full-on rocker indubitably usurping Johnny Rotten’s underclass lyrical drawl. The funky reserved-to-explosive Chili Peppers-spiked corruption underlying the snappy choral charge of “Lotus” leads to the soothing guitar groove and addictive half-rapped refrain summoning Cage The Elephant’s most accessible number, “Back Against The Wall.” When those two funky wafts recede, it’s the smell of death that consumes anguished paean, “Drones In The Valley,” where buzzy six-string riffs unintentionally cop to Billy Squier’s metal-pop ditty, “Everybody Wants You.”
Making use of the fairly spacious Zumiez Stage at Bamboozle, Cage The Elephant motivated the appreciative audience to join in. Matt jumps into the crowd, mic in hand, to get the party started during a booming hardcore opener (presumably a new tune). He then lets out another loudly yelped rip-snorting punk-inspired discharge, working his mojo, prancing ‘cross the stage, nodding his head, eyes closed, mouth gaping, and dropping to his knees pleading for vindication as perspiration drips off his reddish tanned face. Lincoln’s Appalachian Blues riffs introduce “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” where Matt’s anxiety-charged rap lays it all on the line. A banged-up slam-dunk version of “In One Ear” got fans clapping along freely, without the band having to urge them on. On top of that, fresh cut, “Sabre Tooth Tiger,” contained a catchy “run away” chorus that rode above the scrambling guitar furor and rumbling bass clusters.