Cage The Elephant kicked the door in opening for Muse at Salt Lake’s EnergySolutions Arena on September 19. I have to say, if one ever wanted to start a rock show off right, Cage The Elephant is the band to choose.
Elephant’s sound is eclectic, but it’s relentlessly high-energy and it never let up for the entirety of their performance. Too often openers, who are meant to warm the crowd up, fail at the one job they’re given. Not these guys. They’re a power slide into rock and roll—pure, unadulterated rock and roll.
Matt Shultz, the frontman for Cage The Elephant, is an animal on stage. He actually moves like Jagger, rather than just sing about it like others in the Top 40 might do. As he removed layer after layer of clothing, ending up sauntering across the stage, shirtless and shoeless—incapable of receiving service anywhere—it was like watching the ghost of Iggy-Pop-that-was dance across the stage. Shultz, along with the entire band, has channeled the powers of the rock legends that came before them and that influence is obvious in everything they do.
And when Shultz climbed up onto the security rail and took a dive into the audience—on two separate occasions—he landed on a wave of fans swept up in the momentum of their guitar riffs and unyielding percussion. Shultz was exalted, not just surfing across the crowd, but standing on top the sea of hands and walking across them like a rock and roll Jesus—never doubting in whatever higher rhythmic power he channels. It was that power which carried over into Muse’s performance.
I suppose, now, that I had always listened to Muse wrong. To be totally upfront, I had never really given myself the opportunity to indulge in their sound before this concert. I was aware of them, I’d heard them on the radio, and I knew that had a sizeable fanbase. Even with owning two of their albums, outside of a few casual listens and a particularly engaging exotic dance routine, I really hadn’t allowed myself to be too familiar with them.
I understand them now. It was never their fault, but always mine, a product of my own ignorance. Before this concert, I didn’t understand how big their sound was. It’s epic and sweeping and fills are entire arena stage. Almost every song they played could have been a finale, a closer on a show filled with music that was bigger than they, or any of us, were or would hope to be.
They played exactly what the crowd wanted to hear. And even with my radio-listener paradigm, I was familiar with all but one of the songs from their setlist. And that’s, of course, including Matthew Bellamy’s Jimi Hendrix-style rendition of the National Anthem, which strangely caused a swelling of American pride that I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
Now I wonder how I can listen to them without it being at full volume, rattling furniture and sternums. I haven’t yet tried it, because I haven’t wanted to lose that gargantuan sound I experienced. After listening to it in that venue, plugging in my headphones for a studio version just seems watered down. So, while I understand what their music is now, I haven’t yet figured out how to listen to it.
And I can’t quite shake the feeling that while this is the kind of rock we need, it’s not the rock we deserve. The unbridled art of rock has become a science of self-awareness that’s practiced at self-perpetuating.
The hour-and-a-half leading up to the concert was a nightmare for me trying to navigate the complex systems of hallways of the EnergySolutions Arena talking to ignorant staff and security, trying to piece together just who exactly I needed to talk to in order to get my photographer where she needed to be. And she—along with the rest of the press—was only allowed to photograph for a strictly controlled amount of time, then had to surrender her camera for the remainder of the show so that she didn’t take any unlawful photos.
I’m left wondering just how and when that’s what rock music became and whose fault it is. This is rock and roll, there is no doubt about that and it’s more than obvious to anyone watching. But where’re the riots and the give-‘em-hell attitudes? Where is that reckless abandon and the fighting of the establishment? Rock and roll is a business of cool now, and it’s sad to see. And saddest of all is that we, if not ignorant of it, are complacent.
If this is rock music, and this is what it’s come to, then this is a world that desperately needs that real rock attitude more than ever before. Echoing the sentiments of Muse themselves, “the time has come to make things right, you and I must fight for our rights—you and I must fight to survive.”