Cage the Elephant/Portugal. The Man – SummerStage – May 16, 2016
Those waking up on Monday morning in the NYC area probably had a tough time believing that summer was almost here. With temperatures in the unseasonably low 40s, seeing music outdoors wasn’t an obvious activity for later that evening. But when showtime rolled around, the wind had died down, and Central Park’s SummerStage was packed with people who were more than comfortable as they kicked off the summer-concert season with plenty of temperature-raising rock and roll from the stage.
As far as double bills go, the pairing of Cage the Elephant and Portugal. The Man was relatively inspired. In fact, at times the two sets seemed to echo each other, as if the bands were two sides of the same sheet of paper, each providing answers to the questions posed by the other. Portugal. The Man got things rolling: In contrast to the last time they performed at SummerStage, with lasers and clouds of smoke, they played mostly in daylight, but their set was anything but sunshine. Delving deep into a set list built largely from their Evil Friends and In the Mountain in the Cloud albums, frontman John Gourley and the band found new life in the tour-tested material, adding pockets of serrated guitar to songs like “Holy Roller (Hallelujah)” and extraterrestrial synth to “Head Is a Flame (Cool with It).” The crowd sang along and everyone found their mid-July dancing form, truly enjoying the band’s first NYC appearance in more than a year and a half. A new song was synth-psych Motown, Gourley singing about “coming in hot like it’s summer in the city we’re living in.” The sound dialed in about halfway through their hour-long set, building to a crescendo that peaked as the sun set with “All Your Light,” a fireworks display that opened into four distinct well-choreographed jams of varying intensity that eventually returned to a completely redesigned final verse leading to a blistering take on the outro riff from the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”
With the sun fully set, Cage the Elephant began to build the energy even higher. Their opening number, “Cry Baby,” was like a distorted-guitar so-heavy Beatles, lead singer Matthew Shultz bounding and thrashing across the stage. By the second song, “In One Ear,” the audience was ready to clap, sing and dance along as the this-is-a-rock-show lights were in full bloom of the purple, yellow, reds and blues of Portugal. The Man’s set closer. At some point, someone in the crowd threw a phone onstage and got a unique-vantage photo, the summer’s-almost-here party vibe making its annual pilgrimage into the hearts and minds of young rockers everywhere. From there, the show was a dark and smoky dance party, shades of solstice sunshine in “Trouble” with its central core of “ooowoowoo.” Instead of singing about “evil friends,” Shultz warned that there “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” The sold-out audience basked in the reds and blues and white strobe lights as the band worked through material off Tell Me I’m Pretty and Melophobia, with occasional rock-out explosions to match the mood. When the show finally concluded and the lights came back on, it was merely mid-spring again, but as the intermingling music of Cage. The Man still buzzed in the Central Park air, it was clear that summer is almost here.
—A. Stein | @Neddyo