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Beck, Cage the Elephant, Spoon, and Sunflower Bean provide festival-like vibes in Charlotte

 By Shirley Griffith

August 27, 2019

PNC Music Pavilion hosted its own mini-festival Sunday night with a boastful lineup. Sunflower Bean started exactly at 6 p.m. and Spoon closed out their bouncy set as the sun lowered itself behind the horizon, leaving the night to the Bowling Green, Kentucky natives Cage the Elephant and renowned genre blender Beck who has decades of hits up his sleeve. The two acts collaborated together on Cage the Elephant’s latest album Social Cues and Beck adds vocals to co-written track “Night Running” which inspired the pair to embark on the summer tour. 

Cage the Elephant has made its name by consistently charting alternative songs (even tying with U2 for the most No. 1s) and on the festival circuit, making waves with its bombastic live performances. Thunderstorms were a repeated theme throughout the night, perhaps a metaphor for weathering the storm of current socio-political upheaval. Cage the Elephant frontman Matt Schultz appeared on stage to ecstatic applause, holding over him a fabric-less umbrella– almost daring the evening’s overcast skies to bring its worst– but he and the band were ready. As the first thunderous riffs started, the stage ignited with a row of flames, summoning the best of the rock gods that came before him. Swaggering with bravado and non-stop engagement with the audience, Schultz turned the entire arena into his own personal playground. 

After a recent divorce, Schultz moved to New York to learn the entrancing Japanese dance, Botuh, which he now utilizes in his live performances. The movements are severely disciplined, holding and balancing a pose until letting loose and moving his spine like a ribbon in the wind. Schultz’ whole performance was an artistic rhythm of letting himself go. He also used his wardrobe to demonstrate how he reveals himself to his fans. With nearly every song, he either took off or added on another garment (or grabbed a hat from his off-stage hatrack), until he created more than five entirely different looks throughout the set as a way to manifest different aspects of his personality into the mood each track called for. The myriad outfits and Botuh moves (which included a full-on headstand) complemented the churning rockstar energy behind him, flowing in an amalgamation of timeless rock ’n’ roll and progressive ideology. High kicks segued into murky psychedelia, lights bled deep purple and pulsed red as the band played out “Too Late To Say Goodbye,” the laser-sharp “Tokyo Smoke,” and the careening “Mess Around” which the crowd erupted over. 

After the band caught their breath, the guitarist and bassist sat atop the stage’s high school bleacher-like stairs and again brought to mind a timeless, classic tone. A vulnerable moment in the set was cemented by Schultz staring directly into the single spotlight, sweat and intent dripping off him for an almost uncomfortable amount of time before the twangy intro of their oldest hit, 2009’s “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked.” Schultz sauntered into the crowd, greeted by adoring fans and, as the song wound down, he was back on stage thanking the Charlotte audience for giving back to him as a performer. At the shimmering intro for “Telescope” Schultz grabbed a flashlight and held it up as a beacon for everyone to put their phones’ flashlights on, thus creating a glorious sway of tiny lights from front row to the furthest lawn seat. Schultz’ voice and dancing never wavered throughout the set. 

After a smoke-filled outro, the smoke cleared to reveal Schultz standing shirtless with skin-toned tights after having metaphorically and visually shed everything on the stage. He then spoke earnestly to the crowd, “Don’t give up hope. There’s a lot of people taking things into their own hands and…ending things. But, don’t give up hope.” This moment led the band into “Cigarette Daydreams,” a song that held a special beauty as once again Schultz and the audience sang together in an extended embrace. Schultz ran off stage and returned in a bright red ensemble, while the band hurtled into “Teeth,” a hysterical, party-driven last stretch of the performance and Schultz spent the majority of the track running through the aisles of the audience, eventually landing in the lawn section where “Teeth” magically segued into Queen’s “We Are The Champions” as fans lifted the frontman up on their shoulders and proudly displayed him like a trophy. 

Beck. Photo: Jared Allen

Following that, Beck no doubt had his work cut out for him but, with his position as one of the brilliant minds in indie and alternative music, he came through. The set changed from the bleacher stairs to a surrealistic landscape of massive, cubed mirrors and dark, raised platforms on which his band stood commandingly. A large screen was raised behind the stage and featured brightly colored, bizarre pop art and retro neon-lit designs. Starting with the multi-lingual, country-psych 1994 hit that propelled him into the public eye, “Loser,” the crowd was immediately reminded of who they’re dealing with– a visionary. He then pulled out his newest hit, the bouncy “Up All Night” which showed him comfortable in his finest pop star persona. The computerized intro to 2005’s “Girl” featured a trippy, colorful background setting the pattern for the setlist and once again reminded the crowd of Beck’s prowess as he rammed into the hip-hop infused “Que Onda Guero.” 

Beaming to the crowd he exclaimed, “Sometimes you need to get struck by lightning” as the disjointed hip hop snare intro of “Saw Lightning” turned the song into part dance party, part sermon. Each of Beck’s touring musicians held their own and then some during the set, most notably the drummer and lead guitarist with rolicking solos. Beck didn’t have quite the same raucous energy as Cage the Elephant, but his visuals and music catalog proved that he doesn’t have much else to prove. The fuzzy chords of “Devil’s Haircut” channelled into the free-wheeling angst of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with guitars wailing and thrashing like it was the early ‘90s.

Beck. Photo: Jared Allen

Beck spoke to the audience admitting that he felt comfortable and that he’d even watched the opening acts from the crowd. Phones were raised to “create a constellation” as he stepped mildly into “Lost Cause,” then the touching “Heart Is A Drum.” “New Pollution” invigorated the set although the famous saxophone solo was executed digitally. Massive metallic and white balloons, which looked like suspended droplets of mercury, were released into the audience as intoxicating “E-Pro” jumped freely, wildly around the pavilion. Beck changed into a full white suit and coaxed a bluesy intro out of his band as he and the keyboardist sang “Let Me Take You Down” from The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and quickly turned the song into a hodge-podge of “Where It’s At.” Britt Daniel, of opening band Spoon, joined Beck on-stage for a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up.” Daniel switched from vocals to guitar and Schultz bounded on stage in a fresh red outfit to join Beck in performing their co-written track “Night Running” which sounded like a more vibrant, dub reggae version of Iggy Pop’s “Night Clubbing.” For the finale, the members of Sunflower Bean joined the party on stage and endless amounts of white confetti were shot out of canons as every performer let themselves loose in a dance party remix of “Where It’s At.”  

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