Not only did the five-piece from Bowling Green, Kentucky base themselves in London, they actually released their eponymous debut album in 2008 a year before doing so in their home country. But now things have changed big time: second album Thank You, Happy Birthday went in at Number 2 on the Billboard charts last month, while over here we await the official release next month.
Meantime, Cage The Elephant are giving us a taste of the new material where they make it count the most: a small-venue gig. Known for their high-energy, raucous live performances led by charismatic front man Matt Shultz, they did not disappoint in a punchy, 45-minute show which left the crowd wanting more.
The new album is more abrasive and muscular than the first, moving away from their original southern-rock-tinged sound. Opener 2024 is played fast and furious, while the Pixies-style Aberdeen ends up in a screech of guitars and vocal howls. Japanese Buffalo is a slow rock ‘n’ roller involved in a head-on collision with a grunge juggernaut, and Sell Yourself continues their flirtation with rap rock à la Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The audience greets hit songs from the first album – the funky In One Ear and bluesy Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked – like old friends, singing along to the choruses. The current single Shake Me Down, a surprisingly sombre song about a middle-aged man dreaming of youthful memories before dying in his sleep, adds more tonal variety.
Indy Kidz shows the band at its most aggressively anarchic, stirring up the mosh pit no end, and Saber Tooth Tiger, as its name suggests, is equally sharp edged, with its punky descending guitar chords. The encore is a surprise: Cage come back on stage to perform just one song, a cover of My Arms Don’t Bend That Way, Damn It! by London band Let’s Wrestle, who are, according to Shultz, “one of our favourite bands”.
The band kicks off in top gear and stays at full throttle for the whole set, scarcely pausing for breath let alone chat between songs. Wearing a Sonic Youth T-shirt, the tousled-haired, half-delirious Shultz is pumped up from the start, and does his first of many stage dives even before the chorus of the opening song. Still singing while crowd surfing, he evidently likes to get up close and personal with the fans. Once Cage The Elephant become a fully fledged arena band, as they surely will, this intimacy will be lost – the price of success.