NEW YORK, NY— There’s nothing more rewarding than a day of nice weather in New York City. That is, unless it’s topped off with a night filled with incredible music provided by a solid lineup of the alternative and indie genres’ most sought-after acts. After a day of wandering aimlessly through Columbus Circle, Central Park and scarfing down a pistachio cupcake from the famous Magnolia Bakery on Columbus Avenue, my boyfriend and I moseyed over to Terminal 5 to enjoy the few final blocks of fresh air. Since Manchester Orchestra just celebrated the release of their newest album, Simple Math, the night before, I had an inkling the sold-out show was bound to be a night of epic proportions.
Lights were dimmed and the night began at 7:30 p.m. sharp, with O’Brother taking the stage to a surprisingly solid reception. The five-piece kicked off their set with two tracks from their upcoming album, the songs “Machine pt. 1” and “Machine pt. 2,” which created a wall of sound that engulfed the audience.
It was easy to get lost in their performance, with lead singer Tanner Merritt putting so much emotion into it and his bandmates enthusiastically playing their gritty yet melodious orchestrations. It would even be easy to assume they were possessed by their own performance; the band stayed musically spot-on and never lost focus, despite the audience clapping out of time several times throughout their four-song set.
The crew closed up with “Ascension,” when Manchester Orchestra lead singer Andy Hull got hold of a mic and helped out with harmonies. This track was more subdued compared to the rest of their set, including their closer, “Lay Down,” but with the vocals intertwined with lush instrumentals, trickled with intricate guitar melodies, I was entranced and officially won over by O’Brother. And apparently so was the crowd—several audience members raised their glasses in respect as the band took their bows, waved and exited the stage.
With stagehands and instrument techs shuffling on and off the stage, concertgoers seemed to flood into Terminal 5. The madness was about to begin, and that madness’ name is Cage The Elephant. These Kentuckians have gained a reputation for putting on an incredibly high-energy show. However, despite critics comparing lead singer Matt Shultz’s performance to that of a Tasmanian devil or Baptist preacher, I was still unprepared for the event I was about to experience. As soon as Shultz, rhythm guitarist Brad Shultz, lead guitarist Lincoln Parish, bassist Daniel Tichenor and drummer Jared Champion played their first note, they had the audience in the palms of their hands. Schultz spent the entirety of the band’s hour-long set bopping and spastically grooving across the stage, yelping to their tracks that combine punk, pop, dance and garage rock. He was the epitome of the rock persona, literally feeding off of the audience’s energy and continuously jumping into the crowd and swimming on top of their heads with ease.
And although I’m not typically one to make religious metaphors, a magical moment happened during one of Schultz’s many determined leaps into the crowd. With the help of two audience members supporting his feet and legs, the lead singer managed to stand upright, simulating Christ walking on water. This alone shows the connection the band makes during their performances, and how the crowd follows right along with great eagerness.
Fans seemed to react more, scream louder and dance wilder with each song. However, it was towards the end of the set when Cage The Elephant performed their two radio hits “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” from their 2008, self-titled album, and “Shake Me Down” from their newest work, Thank You Happy Birthday, that the audience literally erupted. The band also performed eccentric and musically untouchable versions of “Flow,” “Always Something,” “Aberdeen,” “Japanese Buffalo,” “Around My Head” and others, in a continual stream of erratic awesomeness. The only sentences leading man Schultz managed to utter to the audience was before their whimsical, lullaby-styled track “Rubber Ball” when he philosophically said, “I had a dream about a pirate, Shaquille O’Neal and Lady Gaga… that’s all I can say.” Indeed.
Following the rip-roaring chaos of Cage The Elephant was the incredibly focused and musically poised Manchester Orchestra, with a setlist overflowing with intricate versions of new tracks from Simple Math (2011), and some fan favorites.
The band opened up with “Virgin” from Simple Math, but before the audience could digest the live version of the Georgia quartet’s new work, the band broke right into “Shake It Out,” one of their wider-known hits. Hull took his time to test fan loyalty by sprinkling in bits of the new album, including the country-pop inspired “Pale Black Eye,” “April Fool” and, of course, “Simple Math.”
Although Cage The Elephant raised the bar unbelievably high in terms of performance value, it’s impossible to compare the two acts. While Cage was scattered, blunt and raw, Manchester carried a similar passion, yet had more serene moments and found musical precision to be more of a priority. However, the bands segments of banter did help bring the act to the next level, as they finished their set off with tracks including “Colly Strings,” their other massive hit, “I’ve Got Friends” and “Everything To Nothing.”
As the night came to an end, and the already-dwindling crowd shrunk to nothing, I was eager to get out into the fresh, cool air to regain my equilibrium. All acts brought their A-game on what they have become known and loved for. Whether it was a set filled with emotionally heavy compositions, an insane, party-like performance or rocking yet spot-on interpretations of studio recordings. Needless to say, this 12-hour day in the city was a success.