LIVE Review: Cage the Elephant 5/8/11 Rams Head Live! in Baltimore, MD

Cage the Elephant ticket stubHaving been a fan of this band ever since I first heard the stone cold classic “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” in 2009, it’s been quite cool to see them grow as a band.  I saw them last year at the Recher Theater in February and then again in October opening for Stone Temple Pilots in Pittsburgh.   Both shows were quite fun and I was very much looking forward to this show at Rams Head Live…especially since my heroes Clutch have some awesome live videos recorded there.

First of all, Rams Head Live is my new favorite live venue. Just a really cool, open, multilevel atmosphere that must be a blast for bands to perform in.  Especially a band like Cage the Elephant with such an in-your-face front man.  I really didn’t know what I was in for, though.   As much as I expected a good show, what I saw and heard was a band becoming true seasoned pros right before our eyes. The most obvious difference was guitarist Lincoln Parish’s stage presence. Not that he wasn’t just fine before, but man he’s lost whatever shred of shyness he may have had and was working the crowd along with the rest of the band.

Cage the Elephant Matt Schultz Brad Schultz Lincoln Parish Daniel Tichenor Jared ChampionAs a band, they’re just plain tight and full of life.   From opener “In One Ear” through the entire set, the performance was right on the nuggets and a lot of fun.   Matt Schultz was his usual ball of unbridled energy…moving, dancing, flailing, diving and singing his way through the night in constant motion.   The band, quite frankly, is becoming a finely tuned machine.   Drummer Jared Champion and bassist Daniel Tichenor are fast becoming one of my favorite rhythm sections with just the right combination of power and touch.   Then there’s guitarists Lincoln Parish and Brad Schultz…who are fast becoming one of my favorite guitar tandems.   The chemistry between them and their attention to detail with guitar tones is just incredible.

Cage the Elephant Rams Head Live May 8 2011They covered all the bases with their hits so far, playing “In One Ear,” “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Back Against the Wall,” and “Shake Me Down,” but what I love the most about seeing these guys live is that the fans aren’t just about the hits.   It felt like everyone knew every word to every song, creating a real sense of togetherness, and it just feels so good to scream “Cuz you’re a robot!” at the top of your lungs during the chorus of “Tiny Little Robots.”

To hear the crowd singing along to every word of “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “Shake Me Down” in particular (and to feel that energy) was just incredible.

Cage the Elephant Rams Head Live May 8 2011The band may hate me for drawing this comparison, but the visual that comes to mind is the band practice on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with everyone just dancing and playing and having a great time doing it…albeit with more attitude.   Dance like no one’s watching.  It just happens that those who are watching and listening are loving every minute of it.  I just don’t think there’s any band having more fun with music than Cage the Elephant.   And it shows.   If they come to your town or anywhere near, don’t miss them!

Ultimately the best thing about the show was that there were songs like “Judas” and “Back Stabbin’ Betty” that I would have just loved to hear but weren’t on the night’s set list.   Why is that good?   Because just two albums in, they have so many good songs that at the end of the night it just didn’t matter.

Cage The Elephant Goes Wicked Platinum!

Cage the Elephant has received the platinum award for 1 million digital downloads of “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked!”

Congratulations guys!  This was the song that originally made me a fan and will probably always be my fave.  A stone cold classic.

Take a moment from your busy schedule and turn it up LOUD …


Cage the Elephant – Thank You Happy Birthday

2011 Relentless Records

As I’m writing this, the headphones are on, volume is way up and I have chills.   This is about the 20th time I’ve listened through to Thank You Happy Birthday, and I can’t stop.

I have to admit that when I put the disc on for the first time, lead track “Always Something” caught me completely by surprise and kept me off guard for the entire album that first time around.  I love albums like this…the ones that you have to listen to a second time (and more) to really appreciate, and that reveal new hidden treasures in the mix with every listen.   Said lead track quickly became a favorite whatwith the fun and daring attitude…oh yeah, and Daniel Tichenor’s bass lines bouncing the song over the top.

From song to song, everyone has a chance to shine.  You really must listen to this disc on headphones…the variety of textures and brilliance of the mix will blow you away and you will leave with  a real appreciation of guitarists Brad Shultz and  Lincoln Parish and their experimentation with (read: COMMAND of) guitar tones.  Their chemistry is something special.

Hooks for miles and surprises around nearly every corner, this in my opinion is one of the all-time great sophomore efforts for any band.   “Aberdeen” was the first song that clicked with me immediately with a chorus I can’t get out of my head, followed by “Right Before My Eyes” and “Around My Head.”   “Shake Me Down” is in there, too with its delightfully unorthodox approach.

There’s no attempt to rehash their debut and all of the experimentation sounds like a band genuinely in love with making music.   That’s why an abrasive song like “Sell Yourself” (the arrangement is a dimepiece) or the driving foreboding of  “Indy Kidz” can sit comfortably in the same space as something as immediately hooky as the aforementioned “Right Before My Eyes.”   Matt Shultz’s mini-monologue on “Indy Kidz” is just priceless (“…I gotta go down to the schoolhouse and get some shoes and get the right haircut.”) and his lyrical intelligence is once again on full display.

The album is really a clinic on guitar tones, arrangement, textures and sheer creativity.   Kickin’ drummer Jared Champion takes on every twist and turn in the music and makes sure that every song is loaded with groove to go with the power…check out “Sell Yourself” for a great example of this.   Champion is one of my favorite drummers, bar none, and he and Tichenor are just a dynamite rhythm section.

Cage the Elephant as a band is a brilliant pastiche of the best elements of rock from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s…and they’re miles above the self-loathing and/or self-importance of most of their modern contemporaries whatwith having more talent, creativity and guts than 99% of the newer bands of the past decade.

Forget emo, nu metal, alt punk, or whatever the flavor of the month is…Cage the Elephant is making timeless music that defies categorization (other than it’s ROCK) and will outlast 99% of the new stuff that’s out there now. There’s more heart, conviction, creativity and variety on this disc than most bands have in their entire catalogues…and it just plain works.  I can honestly see listening to this disc 20 years from now and still loving it.  If music keeps you young, CTE is my fountain of youth. lol  But enough about my age.

I have to include Cage the Elephant in with my favorite bands like Clutch, The Tea Party, Hot Head Show and Swell as the perfect antidote for the ear poison of much of today’s mainstream music.   And the masses are appearing to be ready for CTE, as Thank You Happy Birthday debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts.   Congratulations guys…now I’m going to have to find excuses to keep writing about you in the Sonic Abyss since you’re now some of the best music people HAVE heard!  Hmmm…maybe CTE will be the first entry in the Abysmal Hall of Fame.

Yeah, I know…I’m just raving on and on about these guys, but to have 5 people this individually talented and with this kind of synergy just does not happen very often, friends.   Jump on now and enjoy the ride.  Hopefully it will be a long one.

Rating:  5 out of 5


10 Most Truly Abysmal Bassists

While drummers are the gasoline for any band, it’s the bassist who manages the smooth melodic transitions from 1st gear to 2nd to 3rd to reverse and so on.  Bassists can stand out through sheer power, insane rhythmic sense, melodic creativity or sometimes a mix of the three.  In no particular order, these are the unheralded bassists who consistently command my attention in every song they touch.

1. Dan Maines (Clutch) – An absolute rock solid monster of groove with chops for days, he teams with drummer Jean-Paul Gaster to create what I believe is not only the most underrated but THE best rhythm section in rock.

2. Stuart Chatwood (The Tea Party) – Somewhat overshadowed at times by his bandmates Jeff Martin and Jeff Burrows, his bass work is loaded with creativity, melody and tasteful licks. Chats’ multi-instrumental talent only adds to my respect of his playing. Had the pleasure of meeting him and the two Jeffs back in ’95…very cool and gracious people.

3. Scott Reeder (Kyuss) – The only barefoot bass player I’ve ever seen (Tipitina’s in New Orleans on the Sky Valley tour), Reeder did some wonderful stuff with Kyuss and made full use of the creative freedom he had within the framework of their very jam-oriented sound.

4. Kib (4 Mag Nitrous) – Now I’m admittedly partial because I know the guy, but he just flat out rocks. Alternately powerful and melodic, he’s the kind of bass player you want laying the foundation for songs and has great live stage presence.

5. Lemmy (Motorhead) – Pure power. It can be argued that he’s no Geddy Lee, but the truth is the man pioneered an influential sound that started with his distorted/overdriven buzzsaw bass.  Influential across 3 generations.  He ain’t no slouch on the instrument, either.

6.  Vaughn Stokes (Hot Head Show) – From my fave new band this year and my fave album of the year, Stokes carries HHS’s songs with deft fretwork and an uncanny penchant for consistently interesting melody lines.  The perfect foil for Jordan Copeland’s twisted guitar riffs and one of the most fun bassists you’ll ever hear.

7. Muzz Skillings (Living Colour) – All of the attention in Living Colour’s heyday was focused on guitarist Vernon Reid and vocalist Corey Glover, while Skillings put his stamp all over Living Colour’s Vivid and Time’s Up CD’s

8.  John Nowlin (Barkmarket) – Chops and a penchant for hummable melodies amidst a wave of atonal guitar dischord in the labyrinthic quagmire that is a Barkmarket song, Nowlin provided the power and rock-solid foundation for said power trio along with Abysmal drummer Rock Savage.  Just a total blast to listen to.

9.  Liam Wilson (The Dillinger Escape Plan) – This guy has an even more difficult job than John Nowlin of Barkmarket, whatwith The DEP’s confounding song anti-structures and drifting in and out of actual melody.  Not an easy listen by any stretch of the imagination, but without a doubt a worthwhile listen for chops, craft and skill.

10.  Frank Bello (Anthrax) – From probably the most under-appreciated band of the Big 4 (Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth being the other 3), Bello won me over years ago with his ridiculously energetic performance on the “Oidivnikufesin” live video.   One of the few bassists of this genre who’s sound cuts through the mix, he has chops and an amazing ability to be a showman without losing the groove.

11.  Daniel Tichenor (Cage the Elephant) – Dude has chops and, like other Abysmal bassists, a melodic sense that complements every song.  One of the things I love about this young band is their obvious musical intelligence with regard to all things classic rock from Dylan to Hendrix to Zeppelin.   Tichenor’s bass work on “In One Ear” has a nice little homage to Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” (either intentionally or unintentionally) and is a nice example of his knack for finding just the right bass lines for CTE’s songs.  Onstage he almost plays the straight man with all this madness going on around him.  Cool beyond his years.

Honorable Mention: Robert DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), Dave Ellefson (Megadeth)

10 Most Truly Abysmal Band Names

And here it is!!!   This is the long-awaited list of the Top 10 Most Truly Abysmal Band Names…band names that are cool, funny, clever, crazy or whatever, as long as they’re memorable but not a household name.

Take a look, have a laugh and click on the links…you just might find your new favorite band!

woo1. Tricky Woo – Because I don’t know what the hell it means…and it makes me laugh!  Thanks to my bro Paul Ledoux for introducing me to this band.

mudhoney2. Mudhoney – Just gotta love a grunge band name taken from a Russ Meyer film.  It actually is a good descriptive for the gooey, sludgey sounds the band still makes to this day.  Great call, Darren.

neds3. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – The name just makes me smile.  I don’t even know exactly why…it just sounds cool.  Thanks for the suggestion, Greggo!

frost4. Celtic Frost – One of my all-time favorite band names…just really cool with a real mystique about it.

MC5. MC 900 Ft Jesus – Originally a team with DJ Zero (now out of the music biz since 1995), I’ve always thought this was the most OTT rap name ever.  The name was taken from a sermon in which Oral Roberts claimed that he had received a vision of a 900 foot tall Jesus, who commanded him to build a hospital on the campus of Oral Roberts University.

cage6. Cage the Elephant – Because it’s unique…and SO open to interpretation.  I  hope they’re around for a long time.

gruntruck7. Gruntruck – I remember seeing these guys open for Circus of Power (another cool name) at the Varsity Theatre in Baton Rouge, LA back in ’95 (calling Paul Ledoux!).   Just a cool sounding name that also describes their sound quite well.  This inclusion dedicated to lead vocalist/guitarist Ben McMillan, who died from diabetes on January 26, 2008.

bark8. Barkmarket – Another one that I love because it makes me crack a smile. Totally fun band name and quite the radical sound to go with it.

skinny9. Skinny Puppy – There really is nothing more to say.  I mean really…   Thanks Darren for reminding me of one of my fave band names from my college days.

wfn10. World Famous Nobodies – Maybe I’m biased ‘cuz it’s the band I’m in, but when my bro Paul Ledoux came up with this name I thought it was the coolest name I ever heard. And it never fails to make me crack a smile to this day.

wellhungarians11. The Well Hungarians – I know nothing about this band except that they’re a country band…and I don’t care.  I just can’t stop laughing.  As you’re reading this, I’m probably still laughing.  It’s your fault, Greggo!

Honorable Mention: Melvins, That Petrol Emotion, Curve, Swell, Amorphis, Clutch, Toadies, Atomic Bitchwax, Killer Dwarfs, Kyuss, Revolting Cocks, Liquid Jelly Monkey Love, Mercyful Fate, Monster Magnet, Strapping Young Lad, Morphine, Trouble, Obituary (THE perfect death-metal band name), Machines of Loving Grace, Spot, Ween, Zen Engine, Ancient Chinese Penis, Prong, Missing Persons, Camper Van Beethoven, Circus of Power, Butthole Surfers, Green Jello, Afghan Whigs, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, Jodie Foster’s Army, Meat Puppets, Jimmy’s Chicken Shack, Winona Riders, Big Audio Dynamite, Chumbawamba, Snot, Dead Kennedys, Lard, 1000 Homo DJ’s, Pig Face.

Special thanks to Greg “Greggo” Liebrand and Darren “Darro” Cochran for some truly Abysmal recommendations.