It’s six o’clock on a Friday evening, and Cage the Elephant frontman Matt Shultz pulls his fishnet stockings as high as they will go before jogging out to set Grant Park main stage on fire. The angry sky above can’t quench the insulation of 70,000 bodies below it. Each body shivers with excitement over what the next ninety minutes of pure fun and raw talent will bring.
An instant roar erupts from all angles as Shultz’s full get-up dances into view; a pink sequined mini dress and blue eye shadow complement his fishnets and free spirit nicely. Everyone is aware that his outfit sets an incredibly high bar for a cisgender man who usually sports black jeans and striped blazers. Only legends can pull off this look—and he does so seamlessly.
His energy begins at an impalpably high level and almost never drops. By the end of “Cry Baby,” he is sweating bullets, and a few songs later he strips off the dress, causing quite a stir. He whips his sequin skin around in the air as if he’s about to toss the dress into the masses, but instead announces that the dress is too pretty not to wear. So he does.
He shakes the beads of sweat off his shaggy hair and scissor kicks back and forth across the stage whilst singing like an emo angel. Like always, his mic cord follows his body-rolling frame, coiling into patterns beneath the mic stand he uses as a walking stick. In some ways, he’s old school classic rock: a young Mick Jagger of vivacious spirit and unparalleled energy. However, he clearly isn’t stuck in the past. He’s experimental and passionate, and his lyrics are peppered with wit and grit.
Even after a stripped down rendition of “Cold Cold Cold,” Shultz doesn’t let the adrenaline drop. He comes back harder with songs most people have inevitably forgotten but are ecstatic to hear from his freshman and sophomore albums. New versions of “Telescope” and “Cigarette Daydreams” are called by Shultz and repeated by thousands upon thousands of deliriously happy people who know every word. Whether the next song dates back to 2009 or was released less than a week ago, it fits the set like a Michael Jackson silver glove that won’t stop twitching with rhythm and excitement.
Shultz’s vocals are as raw and passionate live as they are on his newly released “Unpeeled” album in which he strips down songs to vocals and acoustic guitar. But instead of perching upon a stool in order to focus on his tones and raspy vibrato, he manages to achieve the perfect sound while hitching a piggyback ride from his brother, guitarist Brad Shultz, and sprinting down the center divide of the audience to climb on top of the lighting booth.
His renegade spirit lifts everyone else’s to new heights, and by the time ninety glorious minutes have passed, the audience feels as though they’ve just left a spin class rather than a show, and they’re not quite sure how Shultz is still standing. This set is just one among hundreds to be performed over four days at Lollapalooza in Chicago’s famous Grant Park, but it will live in infamy. Whether audience members are just discovering Cage the Elephant or have faithfully followed the band since their self-titled album was released eight years ago, this performance is certainly something special for everyone lucky enough to watch.
Older crowd members are transported to a place and time they were convinced no longer existed in today’s pop-plagued and over-commercialized music industry, while millennials are proud to see live music thriving to unite people of all backgrounds and ages. Though the bass might be heavy and Matt Shultz’s eyeliner even heavier, in this day and age, he is exactly what we need.