In-your-face rock

Cage the Elephant, at the Recher Feb. 26, has become a must-see on the indie circuit

February 25, 2010|By Sam Sessa | | Baltimore Sun reporter

Matt Shultz doesn't ask for your attention -- he demands it.

When Shultz, the lead singer for Cage the Elephant, takes the stage, anything can happen. He jumps down into the crowd, grabs concertgoers by their shirts and yells song lyrics into their faces. He dives off the stage, crowd surfs around the club and scales the walls -- all while holding a mike. Behind him, the rest of the band grinds out a steady stream of raw, gritty rock grooves.

These high-energy, highly unpredictable shows have helped make Cage the Elephant a must-see on the indie rock circuit. The concert at the Recher Theatre on Feb. 26 is sold out, and Shultz is looking forward to the inevitable mayhem.

He almost can't help himself.

"I'm a little bit of a showoff," he said. "When I get into an elevator, I'm standing there with somebody and I just want to walk up and lick their face, just to see what they'll do."

Shultz's reckless attitude has had its repercussions. Last year, near the end of a show in England, he climbed onto an upper balcony and jumped down onto the crowd below, breaking two ribs and separating his rib cage from his sternum.

"When I hit the crowd, I felt an extreme pop in my chest," Shultz said. "I thought I'd broken my collarbone, but it was actually my ribs."

Not one to be stopped by a few measly broken bones, Shultz finished the show, and the rest of the tour.

Since coming together in Bowling Green, Ky., in 2005, Cage the Elephant been determined to keep playing music, regardless of the consequences.

Shultz and his brother, Brad, who plays guitar in Cage the Elephant, were raised in a strict Christian household where "drug-influenced music" was banned. As a teenager, Shultz bought a copy of " Jimi Hendrix Live at Woodstock" with the money he earned working at a pizza shop. It was an eye-opener.

"I loved it," he said. "It was the freedom of expression, the no regrets, the aggressiveness. I'm not talking about aggressiveness as in hate or anger, but aggressiveness as in pure, raw energy that was untamed and seemed to be flowing out from Jimi Hendrix."

Each of the guys in Cage the Elephant quit school to pursue music full time. Dropping out of college was a big decision for Shultz, but he didn't hesitate to make it.

"All of us made big sacrifices," he said. "We never hesitated because it was something we loved -- something I felt like I was supposed to do. I didn't think I could continue to live without trying."

Before he helped form Cage the Elephant, Shultz played in a band called Perfect Confusion. One night, after a show at Uncle Pleasant's in Louisville, Ky., Shultz had his tarot cards read. The fortune teller started talking about how he needed to "cage the elephant."

"She was freaking out about it," he said. "It was really, really weird."

When Perfect Confusion split up, Shultz immediately knew what he'd name the new group.

Eager for a change of scenery after kicking around Kentucky, Cage the Elephant moved to London in 2007. At the time, indie dance music was all the rage, and Cage the Elephant's sound and live show didn't quite fit in with the British scene. It took a year for them to build an overseas following -- a brutal year in which the band second-guessed their decision to leave the States.

"That was one of the most frustrating times of my life," Shultz said. "It felt like time was moving in slow motion."

But Cage the Elephant kept performing, and eventually began attracting fans. The group signed with an EMI subsidiary and released a self-titled debut album in 2008. It spawned a couple singles, including "In One Ear" and the scalding "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked," which charted in Britain and the U.S.

Cage the Elephant finished recording a second record in September and will return to the studio to mix it next month, Shultz said. While making the album, which could be named "Computer Says Move," they were listening to albums by the Ramones, Pixies and Black Flag, among others, he said.

"Our whole musical spectrum has opened up," he said.

Several years ago, Shultz got a tattoo of a band around his right forearm. One of his friends was studying to be a tattoo artist and needed the practice. It's not a well-drawn tattoo, and for a time, Shultz regretted getting it. But with time, he's come to love the imperfection.

"I love what it represents," he said. "You might regret it in the moment, but in the long run, you can't regret your life or the lessons you've learned. ...For the most part, I love everything we do."

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