The lineup alone foreshadowed a killer evening in Queens, but it was even more action-packed than we’d anticipated. Last night, the place to be for rock and roll in New York City was undeniably Forest Hills Stadium, and the massive venue was more crowded than we’ve ever seen it before. Beck and Cage The Elephant’s Night Running Tour hit hard with fellow big names Spoon and Sunflower Bean, and there were no openers; every set really felt like a headlining set. It helped that the fans – a passionate turnout of young and old rockers whose taste favored most or all of the bands on the bill – were so happily wrapped up in the whole experience. When it all collides as enticingly as it did last night, it’s fascinating to watch a large group of human beings experience something so thrilling together. They gasped at the musical peaks and pyrotechnics. They yelled out responses to the bands’ banter that were chaos in unison, but sang an impressive percentage of song lyrics perfectly, no matter which band was on stage. They were so ready to bust out thousands of phone flashlights, plus a few actual lighters, and punt giant balloons around with collective etiquette (‘send them to the fans in the back, not hurtling at the musicians’ seems to be the unspoken rule) – you’d think they were attending arena shows nightly.
We couldn’t wait to see what kind of pure-rock set Sunflower Bean would cook up, and as expected, Julia Cumming owned the stage like a legend from another decade. “New York City, what’s going on? We’re Sunflower Bean and this is our hometown!” she reminded them, bringing more scorching heat than the weather with her trusty Rickenbacker and lush singing voice. “Thank you guys very much for coming early and hanging with us in the sun,” guitarist Nick Kivlen said sweetly between songs. Cumming was more inclined to playfully challenge the audience; for their classic-sounding hit, “I Was Home,” she persuaded them to get even louder while she ditched her leather jacket. “Listen, I’m from here. I know you can get loud. Come on. I know we’re the best city! I don’t care about the other cities!” Then she urged them to jump like it was “a Rage Against the Machine concert in 1993.” Such interactions showcase her prowess as a lead singer, but everyone would have likely been jumping that hard regardless. Sunflower Bean’s sound was vibrant and adrenalizing in the open stadium, and they were really locked in – Cumming destroying her bass licks, Kivlen pouring out feel-good guitar solos, and drummer Jacob Faber driving it all forward with precision. They were once again joined by Danny Ayala (of The Lemon Twigs), who began contributing his skillful licks on keys just a few months back. We could have gladly rocked with them for much longer, but the six songs they served up were perfect picks for their short slot. Tracks from their new EP, “King of the Dudes” and “Come For Me,” both of which already feel like much-needed Bean hits – bookended their fast-moving setlist. And a memorable reaction from the stadium occurred during Sunflower Bean’s “Twentytwo” – Cumming caused huge swells of cheering and applause as she filled the air with her powerful vocals.
From beneath his cowboy hat and shades, Spoon frontman Britt Daniel was shredding and singing each word with razor-sharp enunciation, well backed by a large faction of the New York crowd who knew all the lyrics. The Austin, Texas-based rock band – whose current lineup consists of Daniel, Jim Eno, Gerardo Larios, Alex Fischel, and Ben Trokan – played a snappy eleven-song setlist that covered six of their nine studio albums; mostly hitting on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and They Want My Soul. “Good to see so many of you all!” Daniel said in a rare moment when they weren’t creating their slick rhythms and cool moods. “We’ve been on this tour for awhile, and we keep playing all these shows where there’s seating up front. You know what I mean? We like it like this. The G.A. pit. Let’s hear it for the pit!” he said approvingly. As strong as their studio work is, the experience of seeing them live tops it, because Spoon really broke out of the confines of each song and jammed full force. “I Turn My Camera On,” a big favorite, came with a generously long, freeform intro that kept their fans in delicious suspense. When he finally sang its first words, he quickly interjected with a grin, “You all love that, don’t you?” It was the tone of someone who’s played it enough times to expect a warm response, but he still seemed surprised by New York’s fervent reaction. Both Daniel’s vocal passages and guitar solos had him falling to his knees as they rocked, and whenever he rolled up his left shirt sleeve, you knew he’d be grabbing his guitar and ripping up his strings again in seconds.
Cage The Elephant’s Matt Shultz has been taking his costumes to new levels on this tour, and even going into it with that expectation, we couldn’t believe what he was wearing when they kicked off their performance. Considering how aggressively hot it was during last night’s outdoor show, the fact that he appeared in multiple masks and an innumerable amount of long-sleeved layers topped off with a flowing skirt was insane. From minute to minute, it was hard to even keep track of what he had on or how it had appeared on his body – strips of KT Tape included. But it didn’t matter whether he was totally shrouded or stripping to bare skin – affectionate screams ensued with his every minor adjustment and transformation. Shultz’ question rolled out like one word, and he tipped his shady straw hat as he asked it: “How about a little Cage The Elephant?” The Bowling Green, Kentucky-based rockers – comprised of Matt Shultz, brother Brad Shultz, Nick Bockrath, Matthan Minster, Daniel Tichenor, and Jared Champion – delivered much more than a little of it. Cage The Elephant’s nineteen-song setlist was both searing and emotive, spanning all five of their studio albums, especially Melophobia and the recently-released Social Cues. Each song they dished out was enhanced by an ever-present chorus of voices, the volume of their fans increasing on “Ready to Let Go,” “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “House of Glass,” “Shake Me Down,” and “Cigarette Daydreams” in particular. The force of their true rock presence was so awesome that their wild stage design wasn’t even a main feature, but we’d be remiss not to mention the red carpet bleachers running high up above the elevated keyboards and drums, providing extra thrashing spots for Shultz. Normally, lines of flames shooting up from the stage would be an eye-catching highlight, but all eyes were on the highly-creative and consummate frontman, who seriously never stopped moving.
“You guys are beautiful. Thank you, thank you! We love to celebrate love and life and happiness. You can’t get that happiness unless you experience that ability to mourn,” Shultz said thoughtfully, reflecting the complicated emotional state he’s in at this moment in time. Sometimes he seemed close to tears as he reached out to touch the outstretched hands of his fans; other times, he seemed filled with fury – the kind of raw anger that creates exceptional rock energy and seeps into his elegant vocals. Most of the time, though, you could sense how much he truly loves the rush of performing; perhaps even the rush of piling on so much fabric during the hottest weather in history. “New York, you’re giving me the feels. You’re giving me the feels!” he said blissfully. Shultz seemed overcome with excitement as their gripping show continued, and thus, other quotes were more jumbled. “That was fun. I almost said ‘I never knew taking off my clothes was that fun,’ but anyway, I don’t know. Maybe in the right situation with the right person. I don’t know,” he said cryptically at one point. By the time they closed with “Teeth,” Shultz was down to red running shorts and was moving his body like a possessed scarecrow. In what became the most talked-about moment of the night, he finished out the song with an epic crowd-surfing excursion that lasted even longer, standing up in the very center as Forest Hills blasted Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” Long after the audio had stopped and the stage was broken down, Shultz was still surfing slowly across the sea of people, and the spotlight followed him all the way to the back of the stadium. When he arrived, he precariously scaled a sizable overhang behind the soundboard, then took it even further, climbing all the way above one of the portal’s glowing exit signs.
The lights went out at 8:44pm, prompting expressive cheers for Beck all around the dark stadium. In that same minute, he started off on the high platform in the center, noodling on an acoustic slide guitar solo that quickly turned into “Loser.” We’ve always admired Beck’s bold habit of playing his biggest hits right out of the gate; whether he does it to flip the script on setlist norms, to treat the kids with early bedtimes, or because he just likes getting them out of the way, it really makes for a great cadence. Not only are you shocked at how quickly your favorites pop up, but you end up all the more curious about how things will end. But as it goes with Beck, if you forgot exactly which hits he’s written over the years, you are soon reminded just how many radio favorites he’s created. He and his talented band grooved hard and turned every song into a mini-party, from “Up All Night” to “Devils Haircut” to “E-Pro” to encore starter “Where It’s At” and many more. Early on, Beck commented on the Night Running Tour, describing it as “musicians, artists and weirdos traversing this country together. We’re really happy to be here in New York. This is our sixth show this week, so we’re getting loose.”
Soaking up everyone’s contagious good vibes, Beck said in a loving tone, “Gotta appreciate this time. Life is a fragile thing. I wish I could stay in New York a little bit longer. Seriously, should I move here? I feel like all my friends are here.” Then he shared a meaningful backstory. “Can I just say something? Half of my family is from Queens. About five generations grew up on Atlantic Avenue. My great-great grandfather ran the gas station, and my great grandfather ran the gas station, and they used to run motorcycles all up through here. So, a lot of history here – it actually means a lot to be here tonight. And I’m sure that they probably came here,” he looked out at the historic stadium’s furthest edges, “who knows when. Anyway, my brain is a little addled from the humidity, so I don’t know how to make that more meaningful; that’s just a fact. This is the neighborhood that embraced my family into America.”
Before treating us to “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime,” the 1980 song by The Korgis that Beck covered for the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, he said with his usual genuine smile, “I’m very grateful for all of you being here. I feel very at home with you.” And during the encore, we got the two guest appearances we’d all been craving. For a fiery cover of “Pump It Up” by Elvis Costello, Beck was joined by his buddy Britt Daniel, calling Spoon one of the greatest bands (echoing a similar statement he made when he brought Daniel up by surprise at Madison Square Garden last year). For closing song “Night Running,” the Beck/Cage collab that appeared on Cage The Elephant’s latest album, Social Cues, he was of course joined by Matt Shultz, who was wearing a whole new bright-white outfit, unsurprisingly. They visibly had a blast exchanging verses on the reggae-inspired track, giant silver balloons bouncing around them in a smoke-machine flurry, and the crowd was in a starstruck state witnessing it all go down. In a nice moment toward the very end last night, Beck addressed the thousands of fans as if he knew them all personally. “This is a special tour. This is probably one of my favorite tours I’ve ever been a part of. I hope that we can have a good talk about it sometime.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley