Cage the Elephant is a quintet, but on Friday night at the Pageant, the group might as well have performed under the name, "Matt Shultz and Friends." Although the vocalist kept the banter to a minimum -- from a "Thank you" here to a "Hey everybody, look at this kid who looks exactly like Jay Reatard" there -- he flung himself around (and off) the stage like a puppet having a seizure. He unexpectedly dove into the pit and bounded from table to table around the venue, while his voice jumped from high to low -- between screaming and then suddenly channeling Violent Femmes' Gordon Gano.
The frenetic show is not what one might expect from CTE, an act best known for its bluesy, mid-tempo radio hit, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked." On Friday night, though, that song -- and the rest of the setlist -- sounded rawer and punk-influenced, especially an unnamed new song. Shultz's vocals sounded more exasperated than the over-enunciated voice heard on the band's self-titled debut album. Luckily, lead guitarist Lincoln Parish's meaty guitar work was loud and clear enough to hear over Shultz and the crowd's combined vocals. "Back Stabbin' Betty" was another crowd favorite; it showcased Parish's feedback-drenched chops better than any other song.
But with these few notable exceptions, the instrumentalists were charged with just staying out of Shultz's way, both physically and musically. The dynamics worked, though: Though music writers have struggled to categorize CTE -- genres thrown arond include alternative, punk and blues - the act at the Pageant was an unabashed punk band, right up through an encore performance of "In One Ear." The band's latest single is an ode to itself, in which it takes on critics and sings its own praises. After Friday night's show, no one needed the extra encouragement.
CTE was joined by openers AutoVaughn and the 22-20s. AutoVaughn seemed to be suffering an identity crisis: The band headbanged while singing sincerely, "Why don't we just love one another?" and grimaced over three-part vocal harmonies. However, the band that started with poppy "woo-hoo" lyrics degenerated (in the best way) over the course of its set into a pulsing rock band worthy of that headbanging. When vocalist Darren Edwards said that he got the blood on his guitar when CTE "beat the shit" out of them after the last show, it was easy to believe that they at least put up a good fight.
First openers the 22-20s were nothing short of spectacular. With the same kind of blues-rock swagger you might expect from the Black Keys or the Raconteurs, the band burned through the low tempo, molasses-thick "Bitter Pills" and a big 'ol 12/8 blues romp with equal aplomb. From the applause as the band removed its gear after the set, it was clear it had won over the crowd.