Manchester Orchestra, Cage the Elephant
May 29, 2011
Better than: doing it by the numbers.
Manchester Orchestra and Cage the Elephant are described as "co-headliners" on their current cross-country tour. Normally, that tag doesn't always make sense. There's always one act that outdraws the other. And let's face it: Only one band gets to play the last set of the night.
On Sunday night, though, the tag worked.
Manchester Orchestra played first, kicking off their set with "Virgin" from their recently released third album, Simple Math. The song set the pattern for the band's performance -- an epic sound with little physical movement beyond varying degrees of head-bobbing (on stage or in the audience), with passionate vocals delivered by front man Andy Hull.
The crowd lapped it up. Indeed, this was a heavy Manchester Orchestra crowd -- to the point of almost spiritual devotion. The band's fans had come to this show to be more than merely entertained; they were there to connect physically with someone whose songs seem to speak at a deeper level to them. Given that, as Hull noted through the his mic to the crowd during his band's performance, the band has "played every room" in the Gilley's Complex on South Lamar, maybe the impressive fan base in North Texas too made sense.
Clearly, this is a band that's earned its fans -- and one that knows what its fans want, too. The band's epic rock set was highlights by songs like the thudding "Pride." But the room truly lit up with "I've Got Friends." And, from the new album, the title track and "Pale Black Eye" (dedicated to Jason Kidd) were very well received. Indeed, Hull took time to give a shout out to the Mavs and Dirk Nowitzki in particular, noting it was time for "Dirk to get a ring."
The set ended after 70 sweaty minutes.
When Cage the Elephant came up to follow with their performance, the change in the feel of the music and performance could not have been more startling. Matt Shultz chews up every inch of stage real estate and then some. Running from stage left to stage right, he was like a young Steven Tyler, albeit with less glimmer. The guy is just an electrifying performer.
But, at least at the beginning of their set, the sound of the band seemed a little thin when compared with Manchester Orchestra. Cage the Elephant mines a sound rooted in the garage sounds of the '60s. They play their songs fast and short, and it took a song or two to for the crowd to recalibrate.
By third song "Aberdeen" (from the new album Thank You Happy Birthday), though, the audience was won over by the energy of the songs and performers, and stayed largely in the pocket for the rest of the evening. In fact, the band seemed just a little dazed by both the size and enthusiasm of the crowd.
Before kicking in to the fifth song "Lotus," guitarist Brad Shultz remarked for the first time of the evening that it was the biggest crowd they'd ever played to.
Halfway through the set, Matt took his first leap into a crowd that was only too happy to catch him and pass him around. Later in the set, after finishing the band's strongest one-two punch of their major hit "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked" and current single "Shake Me Down," he took another dive into the crowd. This time, he somehow emerged standing upright on the shoulders and hands of the crowd, and pointed thanks to fans throughout the room.
Combined with the earlier appreciative comments, it struck as a genuine moment of triumph in the life of this band. Upon completing his thanks, he threw himself backwards to be passed back to the stage.
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The set ended after another 70 minutes with "Sabertooth Tiger." But the crowd (which had thinned just a bit in the back), wanted an encore and the band complied with a cover of Pavement's "False Skorpion."
And, when it ended, the band walked off spent and satisfied. It was a fulfilling night for audience and musicians alike. So much fort "co-headliner" being a contradictory term.
Personal Bias: One thing I never understand at this level of performance is the need to tune up guitars after every song. Manchester Orchestra was guilty of this after every song, and it's a momentum killer. Dude, just have someone pass you another guitar if you're that anal about it!
Random Note: If you look at the simple math of metrics that indicate a band's popularity (Twitter followers, iTunes sales data, etc.), Cage the Elephant is far more popular than Manchester Orchestra. But based on the passion of the fans, not necessarily so in North Texas.