O'Brother was well into their set when I finally managed to get into Terminal 5, a common destination this week for shows (Foals, Rise Against). I'd missed the first three songs due to a rather similar scenario the last time I was trying to see the band open for Manchester Orchestra in NYC. They were just laying into the epic thrust of "Ascension" when I reconvened with friends, and they sounded huge. Andy Hull joined to sing the heart-wrenching "stayyy" hook, and it added a proper layer. The band politely thanked the crowd after the song, and then lurched into the thick prowl of "Lay Down", a comparatively post-metal, pounding number that offered some of the heaviest moments the crowd would be hit with all night. It was likely jarring, and really awesome.
I knew nothing of Cage the Elephant besides the fact they got some radio play, so it was a comforting notion when a member of O'Brother described their new album to me as akin to Pixies and Nirvana. Much of the band's set here confirmed those comparisons ("Aberdeen" seemed like straight worship of the former at first), but especially the latter–frontman Matthew Shultz (who I share a surname with, strangely) looked like a cross between Iggy Pop and a long-haired John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire, and flailed and stormed across the stage, often screaming his head off and diving into the crowd over the barrier at numerous points ("2024", the punky "Japanese Buffalo") in Cobain-ian fits. (Hull would later describe them to the crowd as "Refused meets cocaine.") The crowd was friggin' ballistic in response–hands up, jumping up and down nearly the whole set. It looked like a TV spot for Verizon or something. They were pretty workmanlike, tearing through their first eight or nine songs without a pause. I think I was more into the performance than the music itself, but the latter wasn't bad–a little too consistently bearing the mark of its influences, maybe. But "Indy Kidz" had an interestingly esoteric, '80s noise-hardcore bend about it (I think the delivery of and the line itself, "I've got these pictures," just reminded me an awful lot of Pissed Jeans' "Scrapbooking"), and they definitely kept my attention through to the end when Shultz tackled his brother/rhythm guitarist Brad, who himself dove into the crowd with his guitar, came back on stage and chucked it into the drumkit.
Set list (rough, obviously) (8:15-9:16):
- In One Ear
- Tiny Little Robots
- Around My Head
- Japanese Buffalo
- Back Against the Wall
- Indy Kidz
- Shake Me Down [?]
- Rubber Ball
It was a mild pleasantry when Manchester Orchestra took the stage three minutes before they were scheduled, though the impact of set opener "Virgin" felt diminished since it didn't open with the haunting children's choir that introduces it on their new album, Simple Math. You'd think it'd be a simple programming effort on keyboardist/drummer/vocalist Chris Freeman's part (a less-than-erudite comparison, but if you've seen Underoath live, Chris Dudley does it with the choir in "It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door"). Still, it was a pulsing, driven, and darker way to open things, with Freeman and guitarist/vocalist Robert McDowell helping frontman Hull howl the hook.
From there, it was a jam session. The band played what they want, when they wanted to, changing their rough, mental blueprint of a set list as they went along. It gave their set a refreshing feel of spontaneity. At certain points, a noticeably slimmed-down Hull would promise one song to the crowd, and immediately bust into a different one.
Fans of every stripe (the early cult following; those who got on board with the radio "success" of "I've Got Friends" and "Shake It Out") couldn't really complain–the band played just as many tracks (4) off the five-year-old I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child as they did their newly released, critically acclaimed effort. Granted, "Sleeper 1972" felt a little phoned-in; the subject matter is clearly something Hull is well past, as he sang it with an inherently more carefree flair, void of the chilling emotion that makes it such a standout on record. The rest came from the monolithic Mean Everything to Nothing, and you couldn't register many complaints with how they performed any of those tracks–though I miss the noisy, Jeff Mangum flair that opens "The Only One", largely stripped down these days to a minimal, slow-picked momentum until a late explosion.
The band was great. The audience was sort of awful, but there was one tall, shaggy-haired fellow who managed to crowd-surf to the barricade, hop from the rail to the stage, sprint through the band and dive off said stage. Hull laughed and called him an asshole, but it was an admittedly impressive move: not like this was a Lower East Side hardcore show or something, but it was nice to bring a little bit of that vibe uptown.
All the while, Hull was candid and earnest, cracking jokes, thanking the crowd and reflecting on his band's growth from the 250-cap Mercury Lounge to the multi-level, 3,000 place they were currently in (even though the band's impression of what one would guess would be flamboyant homosexuals seemed vaguely awkward for all parties involved).
Surprisingly, the band played no encore, nor their signature closer, "Where Have You Been?". The encore break probably was best represented by the break between an epic take on "The River" (complete with Hull cribbing lyrics from Willie Nelson and the Mountain Goats toward its finish) and "Colly Strings", multiple requests for which Hull said he couldn't ignore. In retrospect, "Where Have You Been?" (always a live highlight) had gotten predictable in recent NY performances: jam it out with Built to Spill's hallmarks, cull the refrain from Kevin Devine's "You'll Only End Up Joining Them", call it a day–closing with The Hit was actually a fresh approach for them.
Set list (9:42-11:03):
- Shake It Out
- Pale Black Eye
- My Friend Marcus
- I Can Barely Breathe
- Now That You're Home
- Sleeper 1972
- Everything to Nothing
- Simple Math
- The Only One
- The River [w/ bits of Willie Nelson's "The Party's Over" and the Mountain Goats' "No Children"]
- Colly Strings
- I've Got Friends