Only the best of artists are award-winning songwriters, beloved by fans as well as critics, while another rare breed of performers thrive in the live setting, effortlessly transforming radio hits into larger than life stadium anthems. In Beck and Cage the Elephant, you find musicians who thrive in the venues of both studio and stage.
On Wednesday, July 31, Beck and Cage the Elephant brought their Night Running Tour to Chicago’s Huntington Bank Pavilion for a pre-Lollapalooza party – the four-day extravaganza was to kick-off in Grant Park the following day – rivaling a festival-like experience as Spoon and Wild Belle added to the evening’s entertainment.
Beck kicked-off his headlining set with the song that first captured fans’ hearts, 1993’s “Loser,” unleashing the iconic slide guitar riff in all its glory while standing silhouetted on the multi-layered stage. The hits kept flowing with “The New Pollution,” “Girl” and “Que Onda Guero,” while later “E-Pro” featured a blistering outro that gave Beck and his band a chance to show off their speed.
“How do you feel? Did we get lucky tonight with this beautiful Chicago night,” said Beck, noting that the cool breeze allowed him to breakout his houndstooth suit.
After sharing a jam-filled take on “I Want to Take You Higher,” Beck – standing atop the peak of the stage platform – led fans through the trippy daydream that is “Wow,” elevating the sparse composition of the recorded track into a blanket of all-encompassing sounds. “Saw Lightning,” “Devils Haircut” – complete with Tron-touches of eighties-era art pop and new wave – and “Up All Night” soon followed with Beck joking there would be “No sleep ’till Lollapalooza.”
Standing alone and strumming his acoustic guitar, Beck stripped things down to revel in a moment of sweet sorrow with the Sea Change gem “Lost Cause” before his wry humor and slinky falsetto highlighted “Debra.”
“Is JCPenney still open,” Beck asked joking that when he wrote the Midnite Vultures song in the late-nineties the department store was on solid ground. He attempted substituting Amazon into the lyrics, but quickly concluded it wasn’t the right fit.
“Where It’s At” served as bookends for the encore-esque rock spectacle that would end Beck’s set. Spoon front man Britt Daniel and Cage the Elephant singer Matt Shultz joined the fun for interludes of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and “Night Running” – the Beck and Cage collaboration for which the tour is named – respectfully.
Speaking of splendid spectacles, Cage the Elephant’s rapid-fire performance found Matt Shultz flinging his body across the stage, on the speakers and in the crowd as a backdrop of smoke and fire framed the band. “Cry Baby,” “Spiderhead,” “Cold Cold Cold” and “Ready to Let Go” were early stand-outs while “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Trouble” and “Cigarette Daydream” led to some of the most enthusiastic sing-alongs of the evening. Guitarist Brad Shultz also ventured out into the crowd, furiously strumming while laying on a sea of fans during “It’s Just Forever.”
As his Cage the Elephant bandmates played the last notes of “Teeth,” Matt Shultz – now stripped down to a flesh-colored leotard and red boxing shorts – dove into the audience and crowd surfed his way to the soundboard structure scaling it as if it was the Empire State Building and he was King Kong.
Earlier, Wild Belle debuted a new song about “misunderstandings on the internet” during their show-opening set, while Spoon later celebrated the recent release of their greatest hits album, Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon, with a performance full of fan favorites including “The Way We Get By,” “The Underdog” and “Hot Thoughts.”
The Night Running Tour will continue to rock across North America through the end of August. Head over to Beck.com to pick up tickets and check out photos below from the sold-out Chicago stop featuring Beck, Cage the Elephant, Spoon and Wild Belle.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)