Words by Eric Gasa
The first cut from Cage The Elephant’s Unpeeled reminisces like a long, lost outtake from The Yardbirds. The opener, “Cry Baby” struts and shrugs like a late 70s rock & roll affair. A playful bongo punctuates while guitars scorch the song; the crowd cheers excitedly at the sound. The live album, recorded in a number of select cities from Los Angeles, Knoxville, and Washington DC find the band in a stripped-down yet revitalized state.
It’s a welcome return to form for Cage The Elephant, a band that made their first big break with their rough, off-the-cuff style of 90s punk and slacker rock.
Though the songs on Unpeeled are live covers and renditions of original songs, they each sound new and fresh to the ear. Note for note they match the originals, but singer Matt Shultz’ voice, the snarl of the guitar, the swell of the crowd, all add a certain charm and swagger to the performance.
Spanning 21 tracks, Unpeeled compiles much of Cage’s discography into one unique anthology.
Hearing Shultz’ twangy rendition of “Shake Me Down”, supported by a string section will give fans chills; especially those who’ve been there since the very beginning. It’s humbling to hear these original songs made new again with the addition of horns, strings, and Shultz’ unhinged voice. The crowd chanting along to the refrain “even on a cloudy day” tops the immersion.
“Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” sounds as rickety as ever, especially in the flesh. But the sweeping live drama of “Aberdeen” takes the cake. The tantric opening guitar riff is accompanied with shrieking violins that rise again at the chorus. It’s a cinematic performance; baroque meets grunge-punk worship.
There’s even an interesting cover of Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush” but reimagined with string sections instead of synths, and Shultz’ boyish voice replacing The Strokes’ Julian Casablanca’s gruff mumble.
Shultz and his band is 21 for 21 on this record. Cage The Elephant revisits each track with a tight concentration that leaves room for improvisation; a sneak peek at the band as you’ve never heard them before. Unpeeled shows an act that is willing to uncover, unplug, and just play the hits. It’s an experience that will leave you in the pit, swaying to the music, and cheering for the band.
© July 28, 2017
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