TWO WEEKS LATER AND I’M STILL REELING FROM “THE NIGHT RUNNING TOUR” DARIEN LAKE WAS HIT WITH QUITE POSSIBLY THE GREATEST Alt Rock TRIO THIS YEAR
BUFFALO, NY- I remember how ecstatic I was when it was first announced that Beck and Cage the Elephant, two of the biggest names in alternative music, would be hitting the road together for a two-month tour across North America. My joy was only heightened when I saw that Spoon, a personal favorite of mine, would be acting as direct support for the entire run. It was a match made in indie/alternative music heaven and I’d be damned if I was going to miss out on an opportunity to witness history.
Anyone who knows me will tell you just how much of a soft spot I have for the terrific indie outfit of Spoon. With each album they churn out, it never seems like the dudes from Austin, TX can do wrong. Since the early ’90s, Spoon has constantly morphed and changed up their sound while still maintaining the essence of being a band’s band. This “indie” band has churned out a number of hit singles and albums, including their 2014 masterpiece They Want My Soul, a personal favorite of mine. Led by the tall and ever-so cool Britt Daniel, Austin’s finest hit the stage after Brooklyn’s Sunflower Bean got the crowd warmed up.
There was an impressive showing early on for Spoon. Having seen them twice before, the first being in 2014 and the other back in 2017, I already had an idea as to which delectable tune they’d open with. As I predicted, they started off with the familiar and perfect introduction song to any set, “Rent I Pay”. With Jim Eno starting things off with his smooth control of a pocket (snare), Britt came in shortly after with that familiar guitar line that can easily pump anyone up. One of Spoon’s most popular and more recognizable tracks off of They Want My Soul, “Rent I Pay” is only the topping on what can only be described as a rich and indulgent discography.
From there, Britt and the boys gave Buffalo a first take of a live rendition of their latest single, “No Bullet Spent”. Released back in late July, this new track is on Spoon’s best-of collection Everything Hits At Once: The Best Of Spoon, but I can hope that there’s more new music where “No Bullet Spent” came from.
Spoon’s setlist practically mirrored Everything Hits at Once: Best of Spoon LP, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear some deep cuts from past works sprinkled in there as well. “My Mathematical Mind” was an especially good choice on Spoon’s part considering just how much of an underrated song it is. Although I wished they could have played a few cuts from Transference, there’s really no competing with hearing “Do You”, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”, and “The Underdog” on a bigger and more reverberating stage.
Perhaps the most surprising part of Spoon’s set was their ending with “Johnathon Fisk”. A deep cut from 2002’s Kill the Moonlight that put Spoon on the indie radar outside of Austin, no song better encapsulates Spoon’s overall aesthetic: fast guitar lines, swinging drums, with an almost garage rock feel. Definitely the best direct support act I’ve seen open for a headliner. Even though I am a little bias, Spoon just continues to make headway with their music with no signs of slowing down proving that age is clearly just a number.
With Cage the Elephant coming up next, the surrounding lawn and seated areas immediately became swarmed with hundreds of fans. Now, having heard that these dudes from Kentucky were notorious for an absolutely explosive and face-melting set, I prepped myself for the same. In hindsight, “explosive” is a gross understatement.
Cage the Elephant’s performance at Darien Lake was biblical. Coming off the release of their fifth studio album, Social Cues, Cage has definitely taken a left turn with their image. Much like the name of the single “Ready to Let Go” from Social Cues, Cage really has let go of whatever perceptions fans may have envisioned for them in terms of aesthetic. I mean, the album art speaks for itself.
Clad in what could only be described as a red gimp suit with a cowboy hat as the cherry on top, frontman Matt Schultz has definitely embraced the wild and weird. This could not have been better exemplified than with Shultz’s outrageous outfit and stage persona during their set last Tuesday. With each member of Cage coming out on stage gradually, Shultz was the last to make his way out as he did a sort of interpretive dance around stage as the booming synths built up in the background.
Decked out in blue lace panties over patterned leggings with a fishnet shawl, knee pads, and a white mask, Shultz jolted to the microphone and lept in the air as flames erupted in the background to their opening of “Broken Boy”. The opening track off of Social Cues, “Broken Boy” was an absolute ripper of an introduction as Shultz thrust and hurled himself around the stage with his brother, Brad Shultz, stomping and shredding with the other gents of Cage.
Trying to follow Matt with my camera was almost like watching a hummingbird flutter rapidly from flower to flower as Matt was so sporadic and energetic. It was almost like watching Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger, and Angus Young morphed into one as Shultz mirrored their mannerisms to a T.
During “Cold Cold Cold”, the interaction between the crowd and the band during this song was great. Brad Shultz jumped down from the stage to stand on the monitors and shred inches away from some fans dancing against the barricade, while Matt ripped his mask off and made his way down to the GA floor. From there, Shultz ran and sang his way to the soundboard, high-fiving fans along the way.
Along with the crowd interaction displayed by most of Cage’s members, their stage production was also to die for as well. With a giant square-like light rig that was fixed over the entire stage with pyrotechnics to boot, the production was as energetic as their live show.
After a couple more killer song choices that included “Trouble”, “Tokyo Smoke”, and, “Skin and Bones”, Matt once again returned to the crowd. As he hopped down to the GA floor, Matt took his time as he seemed to sing to each member of the front row, making direct eye contact. After leaping over the barricade, Shultz continued to make his way through the audience until he got to the handicapped section off to the side of stage right. Holding the hand of a particular woman who was bound to a wheelchair and singing to her until the end of “Skin and Bones”. Someone informed Matt that it was the woman’s birthday, and Matt immediately told the entire amphitheater to chant along with him as they wished her a very happy birthday. Honestly, I doubt anyone could have asked for a more picture-perfect moment between fan and star.
The display of earnest appreciation that Cage shows towards their fans is what every band should strive for when it comes to the relationship between musical act(s) and their admirers. Although most would have probably guessed that moment would have been the definitive moment of Cage’s set, the best for me was a tie between “Cigarette Daydreams” live and Matt Shultz’s crowd surfing all the way to the back of the lawn amphitheater.
During the pre-chorus of “Cigarette Daydreams”, smoke appeared like clouds when it shot out from behind the band and engulfed Matt so you could only see the top of his head, making it seem like he was rising slowly into the heavens above. It was textbook visualization and stage presence that needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.
After “Cigarette Daydreams” came “Teeth”, Cage’s last song of the night, which saw Matt running back into the crowd for a third time and crowd surfing his way to the back of the lawn section. Even after the rest of the band had stopped playing and Beck’s crew was beginning to set up the stage, Matt was still riding high on the heads and hands of hundreds of fans. Finally making his way to the back of the venue, Matt climbed atop a bar stand and with one last fist pump and bowed to the audience, climbed over the fence and disappeared into the night. With his departure signaling the official end of their set, Cage the Elephant had raised the bar that Spoon had placed quite high before them to almost incomprehensible heights.
With one headliner down and one more to go, Beck, the maestro of multiple genres, was set to take the stage. Definitely one of the most interesting and influential artists from the past two decades, Beck’s musical repertoire has proven that he is truly a Jack of all trades in terms of his musical prowess. Albums like Morning Phase, which got the singer-songwriter his 7th grammy and was named “Best Album of the Year” in 2015, saw Beck go back to his folk-rock roots. His most recent work, Colors, finally saw Beck transition to the pop side of the music spectrum. “Up All Night” from 2017’s Colors is a bonafide crossover and mainstream hit.
After the stage had been set and the lights went out, Beck’s backing band took the stage as the main attraction became visible up high on a towering platform. To my surprise and it seemed like many in the audience as well, Beck started things off with the recognizable stoner jam that shot him into the limelight early on in his career, “Loser”.
Starting the show off with your greatest hit of all time is definitely a bold move, but it paid off considering it got every able-body out of their seats and dancing along. Beck’s live rendition was also surprisingly heavy as it was filled with reverberating snare, meaty bass, and ripping guitar solos that were sprinkled throughout. As Beck continued to shred way up high, the screen behind him shot an aerial view down onto him which was a creative visual piece that I thoroughly enjoyed.
From this killer opening, Beck got ripped into a more recent hit, “Up All Night”. A quintessential pop song that is guaranteed to get your feet moving. Beck came down from his tower to dance around the stage, accompanied with a giant LED screen behind him that displayed trippy visuals and colored lasers that shot out from each corner of the stage.
“Girl”, from Guero, brought an upbeat, swinging vibe to the amphitheater that has become one of his sonic trademarks. One of my favorite LPs from Beck, Midnite Vultures, made an appearance in the form of “Mixed Bizness”. An album that is part jazz, funk, and indie rock all mixed into one, Beck’s creativity is free to run rampant on tracks like “Debra”. Segwaying past these deep cuts, Beck dove back into some more recognizable material such as “The Golden Age” and “Blue Moon” in succession. The shifting genres made for a satisfying cocktail as the audience was able to dance, cheer, and chill all in one night as Beck, giving every kind of fan a little bit of everything they could want.
Finishing out his set before his encore with the heavier shredder of “E-Pro”, Beck had the crowd going nuts and waiting for his return back to the forefront. About 5 minutes later, Beck returned with Spoon’s Britt Daniel to cover Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”. The sudden surprise of Beck and Britt followed by a poppier cover of “Pump It Up” was only matched by Cage the Elephant coming back out for the remaining three-song encore. Whether it was Beck and Matt Shultz’s duet of “Night Running” coming together or reprising “Where It’s At”, no one in Buffalo could have asked for a better end to the night. The chemistry, showmanship, and production displayed by all three acts was the exact definition of what makes live music…..live music.