Occasionally bands talk about something called “a London audience” as something to be singled out, a strange and unpredictable thing that scarcely compares with an audience from anywhere else. They sometimes bemoan how difficult it can be, especially for new bands starting out, to win over a smattering of sceptical half-drunks whose arms fold at every effort by the band to engage.
Young guns Cage The Elephant, on a flyaway from their home town of Louisville, Kentucky, were this week playing a series of small London club gigs to introduce themselves and their brand of raucous, honest old school rock before heading off round the country. Having just played a Queens Of The Stone Age support tour on the other side of the pond, they were experiencing what must have been something of a come-down and seeing for themselves just how hard a London audience can be.
There’s something of the style and poise of a young Mick Jagger about frontman Matt Schultz, whose pouts, whoops and leaps spark off a twin assault from guitarists Lincoln Parish and the singer’s elder brother Brad Schultz. Midway through the set, sweeping his long mane back from his eyes, Matt mumbles something about being rather wasted before running across the room, leaping onto the merchandise table, jumping down and then indulging in room-owning antics at the red formica bar at the back, out of sight of most of the audience.
As a couple of snappers snap away at the spectacle, meanwhile on stage there’s only one guitarist left. The other, dressed entirely in red – either in support of Burma’s monks or in honour of Jack White, at a guess – has decided to play in the audience and the drummer is switching from funk to punk and back again. Cage The Elephant are enjoying themselves, whether arms are folded at them or not. As Matt runs at the audience and the beginnings of a moshpit try to get going, the set comes to a close, a guitar amp’s dials and nobs are twiddled for maximum screaming feedback and the band take their leave.
Short of handing out free money to the audience, Cage The Elephant did everything right to make their onlookers join their army. The sound was perfect, the venue atmospheric, the histrionics a feast for any rock fan’s eye. So the smattering of applause and immobile bodies that greeted them were scant reward for their efforts. But they can put it down to that strange phenomenon “a London audience” and move on and up. Nights like this are filed under ‘character building’, and this young outfit will come out of it stronger.