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Beck, Cage the Elephant are odd couple on lively Night Running Tour

Johanna Gretschel
jgretschel@statesman.com
Beck and Cage The Elephant co-headline during The Night Running Tour with Spoon and Wild Belle at the Austin360 Amphitheater at Circuit of The Americas on July 26, 2019 in Austin, Texas - [Scott Moore/Austin360]

No one warned me that the lead singer of Cage the Elephant looks like Freddy Krueger.

Matt Shultz gyrated onstage in a creepy fishnet face mask and fedora, slowly stripped from billowing purple track pants to a nude, chest-bearing bodysuit, and sprinted through the crowd and up an awning, where he performed one-legged acrobatics—all while seamlessly delivering dozens of his ubiquitous alternative-rock hits.

A-LIST GALLERY: Beck & Cage the Elephant at Austin360 Amphitheater

It wasn’t exactly the show I expected (though if you search ‘Cage the Elephant live show,’ Shultz is pretty well-known for this) but it was the show we needed! Skeptical at first, my friend and I had no choice but to stan his wild antics, which took center stage Friday night at the Austin360 Amphitheater, where Cage the Elephant co-headlined the Night Running Tour with alt-rock icon Beck.

“Anybody know this song?” Shultz winked before launching into “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” the band’s first major single and still most recognizable song.

Cage the Elephant is one of modern radio’s more sneakily prolific bands, and the Grammy Award winners played most of their major hits — “Too Late To Say Goodbye,” “Skin and Bones,” “Come A Little Closer,” “Shake Me Down,” “Cigarette Daydreams” — with an emotive, engaging onstage presence from Schultz. During the final song, “Teeth,” the lithe singer (now in the nude bodysuit that, yes, did make him look completely naked) streaked through the crowd to climb on top of the lighting and sound booth, and then, an awning by the lawn seats, where he showed off a series of yoga poses before quietly being escorted away by security.

The tweens in the rows around me, breathlessly singing every word, bolted from their seats for a chance at touching Schultz’s sweaty body while their parents looked ready for Beck to take the stage. 

Up front, a sparse red backdrop morphed into an illuminati eye blinking open-and-shut inside a triangle as the iconic twangs of 90s slacker anthem “Loser” took over the airwaves. Beck was here! The 49-year-old veteran followed that up with several older tunes: “Devils Haircut,” “Black Tambourine,” and “Que Onda Guero” before launching into “Up All Night,” one of the best tracks from his 2017 album, “Colors.” The dance-ready, electro-pop song is more conventional and radio-friendly than Beck’s earlier offerings to the alt-rock canon, and that along with other 2017 tracks “Wow,” “Dreams” and this year’s latest, the Pharrell-produced “Saw Lightning” were the most engaging for the younger audience, although the whole crowd seemed to get the most hyped for another mid-90s classic, “Where It’s At.” Two turntables and a microphone!

After watching Shultz crawl around the venue during Cage the Elephant’s set, the fedora and suit-clad Beck seemed pretty staid in comparison—though he was the reason I volunteered to cover this show. The pairing of the two artists for a tour seems a more than a little unlikely and Beck said as much in a brief comment to the crowd —  “This will never happen again” — though he also noted that “getting to spend time with them is sowing the seeds for the next record, I think.” That record, “Hyperspace,” has been announced for a tentative 2019 release with no official date, so maybe he needs all the help he can get.

The link, then, on the Night Running Tour is the eponymous single “Night Running,” from Cage the Elephant’s fifth studio album, “Social Cues,” which was produced by and featuring Beck. Predictably, Shultz and Co. returned onstage at the end of Beck’s set for a rendition of the danceable track, whose sizzling electric guitar riff weaves enchantingly through the chorus, a single thread linking two disparate musical artists together—at least for one tour.

Opening act Wild Belle gave off Lady Gaga vibes with lead singer Natalie Bergman’s platinum blonde hair, oversized hat and even bigger, smokey vocals, while local favorite Spoon attracted nearly as much love from their hometown audience as the evening’s co-headliners.