- by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date: Label:
Beck and Cage The Elephant’s Night Running tour came rolling through Tampa last Thursday night. And when we say rolling that’s the correct terminology. With nine semi-trailers and countless tour buses carting stage sets, pyrotechnics, and performers around the country, the tour is really more like a mini-festival on wheels. With opening acts by Spoon and Sunflower Bean, five hours of nearly non-stop music on a muggy Florida night is more than anyone could wish for.
New York’s Sunflower Bean kicked things off with a half-dozen song set. Bookended by hard rocking songs from their changed direction EP King of the Dudes, it was quickly clear that lead singer Julia Cumming and her band match up well with their new approach. In between, the band did allow for playing a couple of indie-pop hits from their earlier incarnation, namely ‘Twentytwo’ and the hooky ‘Easier Said’. For their 6:00pm dinner time set, the powerfully voiced Cumming was even able to get about 30 people pogoing at her command for closer ‘Come For Me’.
Next up were Texas art-rockers Spoon. One of this writer’s favorite live bands and kicking around since the early days of alt-rock, Britt Daniel and his crew know how to put on a show (albeit I’ve not seen them in this big of an arena). For the uninitiated, Daniel was decked out in all white wearing an Ege Bamyasi t-shirt succinctly pointing to the origin of their name and sound. Recently having released a greatest hits album, the band played many of their no-miss songs. They opened with a rhythmic take on ‘Do I Have To Talk You Into It’, with co-founding member Jim Eno setting the pace on drums. Keyboardist Alex Fischel clearly earned his day’s wages keeping a swirl of sound always in play. Crowd favorites ‘The Underdog’ and a vampy ‘Inside Out’ were supplemented with fierce takes on ‘Don’t Ya Evah’ and a closing ‘Rent I Pay’. Daniel even managed to engage the crowd with some of his local dive bar knowledge and somehow squeeze in a John Lennon cover of ‘Isolation’.
Whether you like Cage The Elephant’s move to a bigger rock sound, their retro-rock past, neither or both, there is no question that Matt Shultz is one of the scene’s most dynamic performers. The band’s nearly 20 song set spanned the group’s catalog and became the backdrop for a steamy striptease inspired showcase for Shultz. The band has been a bit injury-prone of late as brother Brad had to pull out of the tour due to back issues and lead guitarist Daniel Tichenor has been relegated to a back of the stage seated position after breaking nearly everything one can break in a leg a few months back. This leaves Shultz to do all the entertaining and that’s not a problem.
Shultz started the show in a heat stroke inviting costume that was some type of bizarro and mildly villainous looking Japanese beekeeper get-up. Pushing things a few degrees further, Shultz pranced around to ‘Broken Boy’ surrounded by flames. In weather that clearly does not call for layers, Shultz began to shed them - removing, adding, and removing again – things such as capes, sleeping masks, fishnet sleeves, Spanx, and whatever else he dreamed up. From their retro era, songs like the Kinks-y ‘Cry Baby’ and more psychedelic ‘Cold Cold Cold’ worked well. The band hit its groove with ‘Ready To Let Go’ which induced large parts of the crowd into gyrating go-go dancers. ‘Telescope’ and a wall-shaking ‘House Of Glass’ were other highlights. At one point Shultz disappeared in a puff of stage fog to reemerge in a flesh colored body suit and by the time of denture-rattling set closer ‘Teeth’, Shultz had on nothing but bright red running shorts. Shultz also spent a fair amount of time in the crowd including a lingering post-set visit at the back of the amphitheater.
The last time we caught Beck, it was a relatively low-key affair at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees Festival. But as Beck often changes up his sound from album to album, this night it was all about the energy – no doubt pushed a bit by Cage The Elephant’s buzzsaw performance. Opening with a crowd energizing and jangly take on ‘Loser’, the hits kept rolling over a solid 90 minute set. ‘Mixed Bizness’ segued into a solo snippet of ‘Debra’, while a further solo spot on ‘Lost Cause’ was the night’s only introspective moment. The rest of the set list was custom designed to keep the party rolling well into the night. The seemingly throw-away ‘Wow’ worked particularly well in a wide-screen groove and ‘Gamma Ray’ stood out with hard-edged and chunky rhythms. Not surprisingly, older songs like ‘Devil’s Haircut’ and ‘New Pollution’ have been battle tested and are custom made for keeping everyone out of their seats. Beck seemed fully comfortable as emcee of the party and didn’t disappoint with an extended encore of Elvis Costello and Rolling Stones cover songs (the next night The Night Running tour ended up crosstown from the Stones themselves), and brought the touring entourage aboard to close things out by revisiting ‘Where It’s At’. No doubt the now ended 20 city or so tour was quite a logistical investment but it was a great package of entertainment for the indie-minded fan that isn’t able to commit to a multi-day festival. Hopefully, others take notice and put together some more of these caravan type tours.
All photos: Christa Joyner Moody