I’ve been going to Darien Lake Amphitheatre for 20 years, but what happened following Cage the Elephant’s flawless 19-song sprint last Tuesday night was something I’d never seen before. In his own Russell Hammond moment, vocalist Matt Shultz crowd-surfed across the lawn and climbed on top of the concession building wearing even fewer articles of clothing than when he initially appeared on stage. His antics elicited a rapturous response from the audience and solidified his status as one of the most charismatic frontmen to arise from a decade where streaming is the new spinning.
After all, such a moment was tailor-made for the current era, because the number of views that fan-shot footage will amass in the coming days promises to outweigh the amount of people who actually experienced the show in real time. What would have been a “you had to be there” scenario not that long ago is now just another leaf on the social media vine. The truth is that you don’t really have to be there anymore, which, given the ever-growing disconnect between artist and audience, is an unfortunate yet not totally unforeseen byproduct of the Information Age.
Are people going to concerts out of love for music or are they looking for the narcissistic stamp of approval that comes with everyone else out there being able to see how exciting their life is?
Answering that question would require a degree of self-awareness that far too few possess in 2019, so don’t expect the dynamic to change anytime soon. For now, we can simply revel in the reality of western New York being deemed worthy enough to host Beck, Cage the Elephant, Spoon, and Sunflower Bean all in the same evening.
Prior to opening for U2 at New Era Field in 2017, Beck hadn’t played a show in the area since 1998 on his Pre-Mutations tour. Last Tuesday night was his third consecutive appearance on the summer schedule and arguably his strongest of the bunch. The whimsical electrofunk behind “Up All Night,” “Dreams,” and “Colors” blended seamlessly with the earsplitting churn of “Devil’s Haircut” and “E-Pro” to create a sensation that couldn’t be conveyed through a screen.
The band was locked in from the start and Beck spent an hour-plus confirming what those of us who have been purchasing his records for the last 25 years already knew: That he’s a musical chameleon whose work is limited only by the breadth of his own imagination.
A sparkling “New Pollution” and a surprising spin through Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” rounded out the set with an appropriate bang seeing as how anyone would have had a difficult time following what Cage the Elephant had done.
It’s astonishing to see how far Cage has come in 10 years, because the success of “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” belies what the band has become in the wake of their fifth studio album. Their lyrics are deeper, their arrangements are more expansive, and they’ve sonically matured to the extent that no stage is safe. Regardless of where they fall on the bill, they’ve acquired a particular set of skills that enable them to steal the show without warning.
“Social Cues,” “Come a Little Closer,” and “Cigarette Daydreams” each contained a piece of what makes the band so good, but it was Shultz’s use of Butoh, the Japanese dance of utter darkness, that made the show what it was. His performance brought an air of unpredictability back to the rock ‘n’ roll circus at a time when everything feels over-rehearsed, and, for that, I can’t thank him enough.
Texas-bred indie outfit Spoon got the most out of the 40 minutes they were given by keeping the talking to minimum. They sandwiched 2017’s saucy smash “Hot Thoughts” between a smattering of other choice cuts from the catalog and frontman Britt Daniel held it all together with his electric stage presence.
Sunflower Bean had even less time to make an impression on a half full venue, so, if you arrived late and want to see what they’re all about, perhaps this is one of the rare occasions in which seeking out a viral video is an acceptable consolation.