Alt Rock

Rank the Videos: HIM 1996 – 2001

I was taken aback when HIM announced their breakup. As I explained before, they were never the most important band in my life, but I’ve followed them for so long it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend. I immersed myself in the band shortly after the news, similar to many fans and soon I came upon their videos. I never thought they had the best music videos, but there are a handful I always loved. Some are outright terrible, but others are charming even if they are strictly fan service.

Before seeing them one last time in fall, I wanted to look back at all their videos and rank them from best to worst.

“Join Me (In Death)” (2000)

HIM’s biggest song received four different videos with the “ice version” being the most popular. Ville and crew find themselves in the middle of an ice palace performing what turned out to be their breakout song. This clip, directed by John Hillcoat, gets to the heart of the track, which is about Romeo and Juliet. Ville is a smoldering Romeo at the peak of his glam rockstar phase. A mysterious heavy coated woman plays Juliet, who meets her demise by drinking poison. The entire thing takes place in an ice cave and even members are shown freezing over. Just watching the video makes you shiver. With its cool imagery and Ville’s good looks, the video has since become iconic within the HIM fandom. It’s definitely a fan favorite and one that helped the band break into US mainstream charts. The only thing that bothered me was how uncomfortable the woman looked. She’s wearing a barbed wire outfit and it looks like she’s trying hard to keep it together. Aside from Ville’s eye shadow, it’s the most distracting thing in the video.

 

“Wicked Game” (UK Version) (2000)

The third, and best, video for “Wicked Game” finds Ville having the worst night of his life. Cold and wet from the rain, he’s convinced to warm up in a strip club. While he starts having a good time watching the dancer on stage, he gets his wallet stolen, his drink ruined, starts a fight, and ends up being kicked out of the club. The other HIM members play the role of a cheesy backup band complete in corny Elvis costumes. For some reason, the dancer always freaked me out. Maybe it’s because she looks like she’s made out of plastic. Otherwise, the clip is humorous and keeps your attention, unlike previous versions, making it one of HIM’s most memorable videos. It’s not their best, but at least it’s fun and doesn’t have cheesy Gothic elements.

“Right Here In My Arms” (2000)

As HIM found more success their videos improved, but they were still kind of rough as this clip shows. Here, the band is trapped in a mirrored box performing the song. Outside, one lucky lady watches the performance even though the band can’t see her. It’s a simple clip but is kind of cool with the box the band is encased in and the lights. Ville finally seems comfortable mugging for the camera but pulls off faces that are supposed to be sexy, yet end up looking funny. Behind him, the rest of the guys are still pulling their best rockstar impressions, tongues hanging out and all. This used to be my favorite HIM video for a while. I remember being jealous of the girl because she got to watch Ville in all his glory. I’ve gotten over it since then.

“When Love and Death Embrace” (1999)

HIM’s first few videos are rough, but at least they started to get it right for their third one directed by Mikko Pitkänen. It’s a straightforward clip; the band sits in what looks like an old hotel mixed with set piece shots and footage of people brooding. Nothing much happens, but its sophisticated tone and charm match the somber mood of the song. Plus, Ville does his best pouting for the camera leading to the start of his sex symbol status. The video’s gloomy vibe does match the sound of the band at this point: melancholy, dark, and gothic. Overall, the video isn’t that memorable, but it’s not terrible.

“Gone With the Sin” (2000)

This video is more Ville eye candy. The clip is just him walking through a beautiful landscape looking sullen and moody. He then comes upon some flowers and makes his way, barefoot, to a grave bearing the heartagram. He leaves the flowers while looking over the grave. Did I mention Ville is walking through the fields without a shirt on? There are actually two versions of this video. Both are pretty much the same except the US version features super bright, vivid colors while Ville himself is in black and white. It’s kind of a cool effect that reminds me of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” video. The Finnish version doesn’t have the blinding colors. Rather, the scenery is presented in all its glory. While the color dynamics are cool in the US version, the entire thing looks more beautiful and pleasant in the Finnish one. The video as a whole is nice even though nothing happens.

“Join Me in Death” (Version 1) (1999)

For a video with four different variants, the first three are very similar. The very first version features the band performing the track in a room filled with lasers. It’s kind of awkward as it’s clear Ville is supposed to be the focus. At this point, he doesn’t seem sure of what to do and starts pulling weird poses and even has a Mick Jagger thing going on. These attempts to look sexy are ruined by the overly pouty faces, glitter make up, and a choker that looks more like a neck brace. Since the song was used in the movie The Thirteenth Floor the remaining versions of this video mix in footage from the film, which features lasers. That makes a lot more sense now. Even worse the footage is so out of place. It’s hard to make the connection between the song and the movie. Still, the video isn’t as memorable or visually pleasing as the later clip.

“Poison Girl” (2000)

I’m not a fan of live performance videos. They’re overdone, lazy, and generic. It’s no different for this HIM clip. The video is pulled from various performances from their 2000 Berlin show. It features the band playing the song with plenty of eye candy shots of Ville pulling off his cheesy rockstar impression. There’s even a moment where he takes off his shirt followed by a shot of drooling girls in the crowd. The video doesn’t even feature a live version of the song. Rather, it’s the standard track played over live footage. Aside from some brief moments, the clip is pretty dull. And watching a young Ville’s rockstar behavior is kind of cringy. I’m sure back in the day I would’ve found these shots sexy. Now, they’re kind of awkward to sit through.

“Wicked Game” (1996) (German Version)

HIM’s first video is something you would dream up when you’re 15. So yeah, it’s pretty bad. That’s to be expected for any band trying to make a name for themselves. The amateur clip hits all the hard rock video clichés: headbanging, playing in the woods, sticking out your tongue and making devil horns, and random shots of a dog. It even has a sepia tint for that extra dose of “edgy.” Though it’s cheesy, it’s still kind of cute. The band doesn’t seem to take the video seriously. The only one trying to pretend they’re actually performing is the drummer, Gas Lipstick. Ville doesn’t even lip synch half the time. You can even see him in the background walking the dog as if he grew bored with video shenanigans. The band tried two more times to get the video right, improving with each attempt.

“Pretending” (2001)

If you get dizzy easily, best avoid this video. Either the band or director Kevin Godley wanted some sort of shtick to make the video memorable. What’s the result? A goofy mechanism that rocks the members back and forth. Instead of looking cool, the video is disorientating and not pleasant to watch. While the other guys rock gently, Ville is tossed violently back and forth while holding onto the mic stand for dear life. Because he comes in and out of frame so fast it starts to make your stomach turn. In the end, the video is memorable after all; I remember to avoid it because it makes me sick.

“Wicked Game” (1998)

Somehow HIM’s second attempt at this video is cheesier than the first. The clip finds the band playing outside yet again this time fighting against bad weather. Ville is bombarded with a diva fan looking uncomfortable while ladies clad in stereotypical Goth attire (dread falls, latex, black wings) look on from afar. Some ladies dance, Ville mugs for the camera, and gets close to the love interest. That’s about it. Rather than going cheap, the director, Markus Walter, went for a stereotypical “dark” mood, which ends up looking bad. At least in the first version, the band looked like they were having fun. Here, they look pretty miserable, especially Ville who is pelted with snow in the face and then soaked with rain by the end. Luckily, by the third time, the band finally got it right.

Be sure to come back next month where we’ll look at HIM’s videos from 2001 – 2005.

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100 – The Hunna

100

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been obsessed with Night Riots since I saw them open for Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Now, I love them even more for introducing me to The Hunna. The Hertfordshire quartet took the stage before Night Riots and tore it up. I was floored by their raw energy, sheer force, and awesome presence. Plus, it didn’t hurt that their songs were kickass. I bought their debut album, 100, right after the show ended. While it’s not perfect, it’s a promising as hell debut.

Right away the album pulls you in with the insanely catchy “Bonfire.” This opening track perfectly captures what The Hunna are about: raucous music with sing-along worthy hooks. Singer Ryan Potter recounts a destructive relationship with a hint of sadness, but mostly sass as he sings snarky lines like “So bite my tongue/But fuck your heart/and I can’t stand/can’t stand you, baby.” Everything explodes during the chorus, hitting you in the chest with the wild guitars and pummeling drums. The music may be intense, but the hook of “And we blew up like a bonfire/fire, fire” instantly grabs you. Though the content isn’t necessarily upbeat, the way the song is packaged makes it fun and so fucking satisfying making you want more. Luckily, The Hunna is prepared to deliver.

This trend of earworm hooks and wild music continues for just about the entire album. “We Could Be,” which seems to be targeted at previous record labels who passed over the band, has the same driving energy and sheer force as the previous track. This song stands out for the catchy, yet biting hook of “We could be way up/and we could be on top/if it weren’t for shit like you.” Somehow they manage to make this chorus fun and upbeat even though there’s a lot of attitude and anger behind it. “Never Enough” follows the same pattern of rocking music with gripping hooks on this highly energetic and booming track. It makes another high point on the album.

Though they don’t seem to talk about it much, the band must’ve had a hard time getting started judging from songs talking about their struggles. “World is Ours” has a positive message of not giving up when times get tough and talks about trying to get the band running. It has a great message but isn’t the most gripping song on the record. “You & Me” is another song dedicated to the non-believers and a nod to those who stuck with them over the years. We get to see just how much the band means to them with the line “not just a band, but a family.” It seems they’ve been through some rough times, but at the end, they keep smiling, which is something they express in other songs. Tracks like “Brother,” “Alive,” and “Be Young” all have an uplifting message of live life, be happy, and don’t stop trying.

The Hunna slow things down with the soft, sentimental “Sycamore Tree.” Potter finds himself in a moment of reflection on this mellow track. The way it’s framed is actually soothing: for most of the song, it’s only Potter and an acoustic guitar. Near the end, the rest of the music kicks in waking up listeners, but things never get crazy. It’s nice to hear them switch things up, but it’s a little too slow for my taste. “Still Got Blood” is the stronger ballad. It has a raw, rock sound with the fiery guitars and hard hitting music. There’s definitely a lot of attitude and soul to the song, which keeps it from getting dull. Potter gets sultry for the sexy track “Bad For You.” With a blues-tinged riff, Potter sounds soulful and full of desire as he sings about something he wants so bad but knows it’s no good. It’s one of those songs that you put on to get in the mood.

Honestly, there are no bad songs on the album. Some are stronger than others, but they’re all enjoyable. But what keeps 100 from being a stellar debut album is the length and lack of variety. After a while, the songs start sounding the same. “Coming Home, “Rock My Way,” and “Alive” can all be described as highly energetic, catchy, fun songs. Aside from a guitar riff here and there, little about them really stands out from other, stronger tracks. This is why songs like “Piece By Piece,” which takes some cues from funk and has a sick groove, are so notable.  This becomes painfully obvious when you realize the album keeps going and going. Filled with 16 tracks, some of it, sadly, is filler. If they opted for something shorter, they could’ve picked the best songs making for a standout debut album. As it is now, it’s not bad, just a little tiring after a while.

Still, The Hunna fucking rock. The album has its flaws, but it’s enjoyable. All the songs make you feel good and have killer hooks. You’ll be singing along with them in no time. They somehow manage to perfectly blend pop melodies with hard driving rock music, making for songs that are super satisfying. Plus, Potter proves to have a wonderful voice. He switches from signing with so much fire it sounds like he’s about to rip his vocal chords to sounding soulful and sweet. And the way his thick British accent infiltrates songs makes it downright charming. If you thought the album was good, just wait til you see them live. If The Hunna is the future of alt-rock, I think music will be awesome at least for a little while.

Ellipsis – Biffy Clyro

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Biffy Clyro are one of those bands that likes experimentation. Their music often falls into that category where so many genres are mashed together the best way to describe is “alt rock.” They make the type of songs that seem complex, taking several listens just to piece everything together. They often shift gears between albums and they seem to do the same for their seventh release. Biffy go all out rock for their most accessible release so far.

Biffy Clyro get in touch with their hard rock side on this album. They’ve been never been shy about getting raw and gritty before, but they normally vary their sound. Here, they stick on a pretty straightforward path. The opening track “Wolves of Winter” is intense and hard hitting. All the music hits you like a crashing wave for an aggressive tone. There’s a moment where the music drops, leaving only a steady bass line and Simon Neil’s rapid vocals. Something about it is so satisfying, making it one of the stronger songs on the album. There’s even some clever wordplay with the lyric “Just remember, no I in team/There’s two in brilliant.” It’s a great, energetic track that leaves your blood pumping. The same goes for lead single “Animal Style.” The gritty guitars and somewhat sensual vibe make it an intense rock song. The hook is memorable, the music is driving and dirty, and Neil cooing “ooo ooo ooo” makes it a stand out on the album.

Tracks like “Flammable” and “On a Bang” continue with the raw, intense rock trend. They’re in-your-face tracks with great energy and a lot of attitude. When Neil sounds fed up when he sings “Now you know better/why can’t you fucking do better” on the latter track. They have similar mood and sound to the previous rock songs. They’re good but may not grab you instantly. Biffy seem to leave the weird, complex compositions behind for the majority of the record for a more accessible sound. This is best heard on the ballad “Re-arrange.” Rather than being intricate, epic, and heartbreaking, it plays like current radio hits. The sappy lyrics, echoing beat, and hand claps make it more suited for a band like X Ambassadors. It’s not horrible, but it can be off-putting for those who aren’t used to Biffy sounding like every other band on the radio. Luckily, this is the only low point on the album.

Biffy has always experimented with their sound and they do the same here with the odd “Small Wishes.” It’s their country song. It has light, twinkling music with twangy guitars that make you question if you’re still listening to the same album. The song is even more jarring since it comes after two gritty, rock songs full of loud, fuzzy guitars. It leaves you scratching your head, not really sure what you just heard. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it actually fit with the rest of the album. Though there are some slow songs, the majority of it is intense rock. It’s hard to go from that to a country song. The track is better suited for a b-side. Otherwise, feels out of place on the album.

What’s most interesting about this album are the lyrical themes. Even if it’s difficult to pinpoint what certain songs are about, it’s easy to see the running thread of broken relationships and unchecked feelings. On the upbeat “Howl” Neil laments how he’s “always got the rage” and can’t really change for the better of a relationship and he questions what real love is on “Herex.” On the ballad “Medicine,” there are several references to addiction, whether it be drugs or not letting go of things. It climaxes for a dramatic end where Neil hints it may be better if the other person just left. But these themes are provocatively captured on the beautiful closing track “People.” It begins slow and gradually builds up to a fuller sound over time. The song takes a somber turn as Neil sings about being mean, having the “Cruelest mouth/and sick little tongue” driving his lover away. It’s a definitive classic Biffy track that ends the album on a downer. There’s so much going on here you’ll play it on repeat just to hear the music, lyrics, and vocals come together for this melancholy tune.

Ellipsis is another solid album from Biffy Clyro. But unlike releases Puzzle and Opposites, it doesn’t grab you right away. This is a record that has to grow on you over time. Because there are few intricate compositions, varied styles, or epic moments, many of the songs don’t grab you right away. Their other songs felt larger than life, complex, and sometimes weird. These songs don’t have the same impact since this record is straightforward rock. It’s still enjoyable to listen to and is probably their most accessible, but it may take a while for long time fans get into. The new album is still exciting, energetic, and has that Biffy charm.

My Weekend with The Cure AKA The Cure in Chicago

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The Cure at UIC Pavilion June 10, 2016

When I saw The Cure for the first time at Riot Fest 2014, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. I finally witnessed one of my all time favorite bands right in front of my eyes. At the time I wasn’t convinced the band would tour properly again despite what Robert Smith said to the press. So I was stunned when a massive world tour was announced last year. I refreshed, refreshed, refreshed until tickets popped up. I was going to see The Cure again somehow. Initially, the shows felt like ages and ages away. Time somehow flew by and it was time for my Cure filled weekend. And it went even better than I could have ever imagined. I was lucky enough to attend both the Friday and Saturday shows each with their own charm and amazing setlist.

I was too impatient to sit through any other bands, so I skipped Twilight Sad on both nights. I imagine they’re pretty good, since I enjoyed their album, but I knew I couldn’t focus on them with The Cure being so close. After waiting in line for 30 minutes to buy a shirt, yes it took that long, me and my girlfriend found our seats. When the lights first went down on Friday night, my heart went into my stomach as the cheers got louder and louder. They came out one by one: Reeves Gabriel, Jason Cooper, Roger O’Donnell, Simon Gallup, and Robert Smith. I was so excited I couldn’t say anything as if it was my first time seeing them. Any nerves left as soon as they started playing.

Though both nights were amazing, Friday night will always be my favorite. There was the feeling of hearing songs for the first time, a stellar setlist, and having no expectations. I banned myself from looking at setlists from other shows, so I had no idea what they were going to do. Their first song of the night was “Shake Dog Shake.” It’s a staple of many of their shows by this point, but I was ecstatic to hear it since they didn’t play it during their Riot Fest set. It was an appropriate way to kick off the concert especially with the cool, flickering images behind them. But it was the next song that almost broke me. “Kyoto Song” is one of my all time favorite tracks, so I was stunned when I heard those opening bars. I’ve never cried at a concert, but I was damn close to it at that moment. Luckily, the tears never came.

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It seemed like Smith was in a Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me mood as they played “Like Cockatoos,” which some of the crowd didn’t seem to like, “The Perfect Girl,” and “All I Want,” where Smith forget most of the words. It wasn’t perfect, but it was still a treat to hear. They also went back earlier in their catalog for highlights “Primary” and “Charlotte Sometimes,” which has never been my favorite song, but I still loved hearing it live. I actually like the live version better than the recorded one. They even surprised me by playing songs “Want” and “Jupiter Crash” from what’s considered their least popular album Wild Mood Swings. Again, awesome to hear live even if the crowd around me didn’t think so.

But the biggest highlight of night one was the first encore. The stage went red and Robert walked up to the mic hold a spinning top. He turned it a couple time before the jarring riff of “The Top” rang out. My jaw dropped when I heard those opening notes. It’s one of the strongest, yet underrated tracks from The Top, so it was unbelievable to hear it live. Listening to Smith wail “please come back/please come back/all of you” gave me fucking chills. Right at that moment I knew something special was happening. They hadn’t played the song in a long time, 32 years in fact. Having them play it in Chicago for just one night made the concert that much more special. And I can’t believe I was there to see it.

Other amazing night one songs include “Exploding Boy,” which Robert introduced by saying “This is what is called the b-side,” “Never Enough,” “Give Me It,” “Doing the Unstuck,” “Friday I’m In Love,” and “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea.” Some of these songs I heard from their Riot Fest set, but hearing them properly on their own tour was a completely different experience. It was special; they weren’t trying to slay through the hits. Rather they mixed obvious favorites with some deep cuts for rabid Cure fans. With a total of 32 songs played it was an unforgettable night and I’m honored I was one of the lucky ones to attend.

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Night one was amazing, but The Cure didn’t disappoint with night two. Right from the beginning the band let you know you were in for something different as their opening song was “Out of This World” from the underrated album Bloodflowers. Surprisingly, this night’s set had other songs from the album including “The Last Day of Summer,” “39,” and “Bloodflowers.” Some of the crowd didn’t seem happy about the choices. I’m not even very familiar with the album only listening to it three times, but considering these are songs they haven’t done in a long time it was another rare treat.

Going to see a band twice in a row, hell even twice on the same tour, can be risky. Will they change things up or is it going to be the same setlist? Luckily, The Cure played almost an entirely different set. As expected, there were some staples like “Pictures of You,” “Lullaby,” “Close to Me,” and “Why Can’t I Be You?” but they didn’t necessarily play them in the same order. And some songs were so infectious that I didn’t mind hearing them again. I had just as much fun hearing “The Walk” on Saturday night as a I did on Friday night. They also played “A Night Like This” and “Fascination Street” on both nights, which got the entire arena singing along. It was awesome to hear a sold-out venue sing songs back at Robert Smith, just thinking about how may people adore this band.

Other highlights include “High,” “The End of the World,” “Closedown,” and “The Caterpillar.” The band also performed two new songs “It Can Never Be the Same” and “Step Into the Light,” which they debuted at the start of the tour. My first impressions? I like them a lot. The first song was kind of slow and beautiful, like a lot of their ballads, while the second was more upbeat and catchy. I can’t wait to hear these songs on their new album (hopefully). New songs are tricky and I honestly didn’t think they’d play them that much on tour, but I’m glad I got to hear them. A song they performed both nights that I never expected to hear live was “Burn” from The Crow soundtrack. I was dumbfounded when Robert pulled out a pan flute and started playing sloppily. I almost didn’t know what was going on. Once I recognized what song they were doing I flipped. It’s one of those great Cure songs that too many don’t seem to talk about, so it was beyond amazing to hear it live. It’s definitely one of my favorite moments from both shows.

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The best moment of this night was when the lights went low, the stage turned green, the opening bard of “A Forest” rang out. All you could hear were cries of “YES!” from the crowd. It was fucking awesome to hear the song live where Smith held some notes, showing he still has powerful vocals. One of the best parts of the show is when the band turned the arena into a dance party. Everyone screamed and started dancing in the aisles when they played “Hot Hot Hot!!!” This has never been my favorite Cure song, but hearing it live is a completely different experience. Even Bob Smith look like he was having a good time while singing it. “Wrong Number” was also good fun to hear especially when Smith let out a huge “Hellllooooo!” near the end. Sadly, the band couldn’t play forever and ended both nights with the classic “Boys Don’t Cry.” Personally, I was hoping they would end with something else for night two, but I didn’t mind hearing it twice since it’s a fun song to dance to.

Though I was lucky enough to catch The Cure at their Riot Fest set, seeing them at their own show is a different experience entirely. For one thing they have more room to pull out deep cuts, which they did on each night. I was pleased how much they switched up the setlist each night making it feel like two completely different shows. No matter which night you went to, you were guaranteed a stellar performance. They sounded amazing on both nights. Right as the show started I got chills at how amazing Robert Smith still sounds. He sounded so good, there were times I was just grooving to the music I forgot the band were in front of me. Smith was also charming and playful pulling off his dance moves that made everyone cheer. He bantered with the crowd more on the first night where he talked about how he “speaks fucking clearly” and trying to find the balance between performing songs the band want to, but making sure the fans will enjoy it too. On night two, he walked around each corner of the stage to say goodbye and as the crowd waved and cheered he gestured his arm as if to say “Aw, shucks! Stop it!” As usual Simon Gallup was dancing and strutting his stuff. The best part was when he and Robert would play together in each other’s faces. These were two legends on stage having a blast! And like that The Cure were gone.

Both shows were amazing. Sure, they didn’t play songs I really wanted to hear, but I was ecstatic with all they played. The only bad thing about the show was UIC itself. Unlike the Cage the Elephant show, it had little to do with the sound. Instead it was the heat. On the weekend the band played it was really hot in Chicago. How did UIC treat this? By not turning on the air. I’m not sure if they did the first night, but they didn’t the second night, which may have been part of why the band only did 28 songs. By the end of the night, my clothes were soaked through. As I said last time I hope I never have to return to UIC Pavilion for another concert.

Despite this, both shows were absolutely amazing. I can honestly say they’re the best shows I’ve ever been to. Once it was over, it was hard to get back to reality and get back to work. How can you top a weekend like that? The Cure are amazing performers and are really pulling out all the stops on this tour. They’ve been doing so many deep cuts, rarities, and b-sides it made me wonder whether Smith would announce retirement at the end. Hopefully, the announcement will just be a new album. Whatever it is I’m more than happy I got to spend the weekend with The Cure. It’s something I’ll never forget and similar to the end of Riot Fest, something I want to experience again really soon.

Fifth Time’s the Charm: Cage the Elephant in Chicago

Cage the Elephant at UIC Pavilion June 7, 2016

Cage the Elephant at UIC Pavilion June 7, 2016

Ever since their second album Thank You, Happy Birthday I’ve been a huge fan of Cage the Elephant. Seeing them for the first time in 2011 at the Aragon Ballroom cemented them as one of the best live bands. This past Tuesday night marked the fifth time of seeing them on stage and they didn’t fail to disappoint. It wasn’t the same intimate theater setting they usually play, but they didn’t let it intimidate them. They commanded the stage with the same fire, energy, excitement, and passion they bring to every show proving themselves to be comfortable performing to bigger crowds.

Morning Teleportation and Portugal. The Man were the opening acts, which I intentionally missed. I was miffed that the first band was added at a later time. Personally, I hate concerts with more than one opening band especially when it’s two bands I don’t care about. Not only do I hate sitting through them, I feel it takes away time from the band I really want to see. So I caught the last two songs from Portugal. The Man and they seemed alright. They at least riled up the crowd and prepared them for Cage. Finally, the band walked out on stage one by one with Brad Shultz strutting around on stage with so much swagger. Matt hit the stage last greeting the crowd with a big smile dimples and all.

They opened with “Cry Baby” from their new album Tell Me I’m Pretty. Matt wasted no time dancing and shaking like he was about to fall over. After that they launched straight into fan favorite “In One Ear,” which exploded the entire venue. No matter how many times I hear the song live, it sounds better each time they do it. It never gets old and it’s great to see it’s a staple of their live shows. Matt stumbled and jumped around stage with the same energy and passion you’d imagine he would have at the start of the tour. They turned UIC Pavilion into a dance party with tracks like “Spiderhead,” “Take It Or Leave It,” “Mess Around,” and “Aberdeen.” Matt’s not afraid of losing himself in the music as he dropped to his knees headbanging while guitarist Nick Bockrath shredded away. Matt even showed Brad some love as the two embraced in a headlock while Brad continued to play as if nothing is going on.

The band finally gave fans time to catch their breath during slow tracks “Too Late to Say Goodbye” and “Trouble.” I was actually surprised how just about every person in the venue knew the words to these songs. Matt stopped several times to let the crowd take over on vocals, holding out the mic with a big smile on his face. Usually when a band plays new songs, fans politely listen waiting for the band to get back to songs they know. That wasn’t the case with Cage the Elephant. The crowd was actually excited to hear every song from the new album they played.

But the evening wasn’t perfect. The band had a few feedback issues, but the biggest problem was the arena itself. I’ve never been to UIC Pavilion for a show before, but I was disappointed with the sound. It doesn’t have the best acoustics, which made it difficult to hear the band at times. In between songs Matt took time to address the crowd, yet it was hard to make out what he was saying. The venue wasn’t very kind to the band, but they powered through it and didn’t let sound problems bother them.

A lot of the songs from the setlist were culled from their last tour: most of it was from Melophobia with few tracks from their first two releases. Of course songs from the new album got the most spotlight. It’s not a bad thing, but it would’ve been nice to shake up a few things. Pull out some older tracks they haven’t played since 2011 or leaves off tracks like “Telescope” or “Come a Little Closer,” which feel overplayed at this point. But while you were there you didn’t care what they played; you just wanted to hear them.

During songs “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” “Back Against the Wall,” and “Cigarette Daydreams” the crowd let their voices ring out, singing so loud it drowned out the band. At that moment, the attention turned to the audience who sang every word with Matt, something you didn’t see too much at their shows a few years ago. As a fan it was an amazing sight to see. The thought of all Cage the Elephant fans coming together for one night and sing these songs as they had done many times in their bedrooms.

After “Come a Little Closer,” which prompted more sing-a-longs, the band returned for a three song encore: “Cigarette Daydreams,” “Shake Me Down,” and “Teeth.” It wasn’t until the last song that Matt unleashed any pent up energy and dove into the crowd, something that’s a staple at Cage the Elephant’s live shows. While Matt swam through fans to get back to the stage, the rest of the band took a bow and walked off with Brad flipping his guitar in the air and leaving with more swagger. Once he got back on stage, Matt stayed behind throwing picks, shirts, and random gifts to loyal fans. With one last smile he ran off leaving the venue filled with screeching guitar feedback.

Even though the venue kind of sucked, there were sound problems, and it wasn’t a small theater they still killed it. The vibe of the night was about having fun and dancing the night away. Matt was as charming and hyper as ever. Every time he moved, the crowd moved trying to copy his spastic dance moves. Though I still prefer them in more intimate settings, it’s great to see they can thrill larger audiences especially since it seems like their concerts are only going to get bigger. I didn’t leave the concert with the usual high I get from shows, probably because this was my fifth time of seeing them, but I still had a big smile on my face. It was an amazing pick me up from a crappy week and I’m already looking forward to the next Cage the Elephant show.