FOALS, Cage the Elephant and the art of the co-headlining gig


Written by Mike Frash // Photos by James Nagel //

FOALS, Cage the Elephant with J Roddy Walston & the Business //
Fox Theater — Oakland, CA
May 20th, 2014 //

FOALS and Cage the Elephant have more in common than it appears at first glance. Both acts have three studio albums, with their first arriving in 2008, and they continue to tour on their massive 2013 efforts. Both alternative rock groups continue to gain in popularity — no less than two Cage the Elephant songs continuously emit from local radio airwaves, while FOALS straight-up headline huge festivals back in the UK. They’ve been sharing the top of the bill since beginning this tour in early May, as the co-headliners have zigzagged across the US together on their way to Sasquatch! Music Festival. So, who goes first when they co-headline a theater show?

Based on the reaction of the crowd, it could have gone either way, as the thrilling performances sparked rabid fan reaction, a palatable excitement that’s often been missing in rock music the past decade. Tickets were sold with FOALS at the top of the bill, and despite marketing efforts that had Cage the Elephant on top, FOALS would be the final act of the night. The dual headliners got it all going after a scorching, way-too-short set from J Roddy Walston & the Business.


Cage the Elephant’s take on rock is rooted in familiar garage-blues stylings, as seen through the recent success of their single “Come a Little Closer”. Virtually every song they perform live is intrinsically catchy and radio-friendly — Cage the Elephant purvey glossy pop that also dabbles in punk & funk. But first and foremost, the Kentucky-based group give a live show that is an ecstatic spectacle, led by captivating lead singer Matthew Shultz. A spark-plug of a front man, he was able to launch himself flying-squirrel-style into the crowd, swim through the sea of people with ease, then get back onto stage and regain composure faster than seemed humanly possible.

The folks at the Fox Theater Tuesday loved every minute of the performance, and for good reason. The band is at its best when delving into upbeat rock crescendos, with lights matching the music and action suitably, and Cage the Elephant exert tons of effort for their adoring fans. Frankly I can’t remember the last time a rock show generated such unbridled enthusiasm, where hands went up without asking and patrons sang-along throughout, losing themselves in the moment.


Shultz is bonafide rock star, and he throws around charisma somewhat akin to Mick Jagger (not to confuse comparable energy with songwriting). Shultz is someone who’s not only comfortable on the pedestal, but he can also impressively swim into a sea of fans to do a goddamn handstand for five plus seconds to end the set, only to casually flop down with a satiated grin on his face.


FOALS signaled a major tonal change from Cage the Elephant; the UK math rockers’ music is darker and more moody, cerebral yet constantly calling out for kinetic energy. FOALS’ live set is rather relentless, where clapping to the build up and pogoing to extended dance-punk freak-outs are the norm.

Lead singer & guitarist Yannis Philippakis was as focused as ever Tuesday, delivering a typically impassioned performance. Though, it’s the guitar work from Jimmy Smith that truly elevates FOALS on stage — the way he’s able to nimbly and tightly play his guitar as if it were a percussive instrument, often on the off-beat or with atypical syncopation, never disappoints. Songs were almost evenly pulled from FOALS’ three studio records; the main set was bookended with “Prelude” & “Inhaler” from Holy Fire, “Spanish Sahara” perfectly slowed things down for a mid-set emotional overload, and an elongated “Two Steps, Twice” brought the house down per usual to end the show. The only complaint: twelve songs didn’t feel like enough.

And that is the drawback of a co-headlining show like this one — you’re only going to get festival-length sets instead of a proper 90 plus minute show. But FOALS and Cage the Elephant are at the top of their game, exhibiting how very excellent they are in a live setting, in their own unique ways.


  1. Epic Shots James!!!

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