Beck / Cage the Elephant / Spoon Budweiser Stage, Toronto, ON, August 12
Published Aug 12, 2019Beck and Cage the Elephant are a generation apart, but they both got their big break with postmodern mashups of slide guitar and hip-hop, so their pairing as tour partners makes sense. It also made for plenty of family bonding, as Budweiser Stage was peppered with Gen X parents and teenagers in tow.
Following an early evening set from Sunflower Bean, Spoon performed as the sun was going down and the early birds were filing in. The cute bounce of "The Underdog" was full of joyful hooks, but a few too many sound-alike songs — all with bouncing quarter-note bass lines and generic rock beats — didn't leave much to latch onto.
Things got significantly more interesting as soon as Cage the Elephant arrived, as pyrotechnics erupted from a stage that featured a staircase and risers with rows of flames (like the fire pits you see on the patios of overpriced restaurants).
The music was pleasant enough and mostly sounded like MGMT as performed by the Black Keys, but it was really all a vehicle for frontman Matt Shultz's outrageously flamboyant peacocking. Initially wearing a weirdo mime mask and a black plastic trench coat, he gradually peeled off layers throughout the set, making multiple hat changes and spending instrumental passages fiddling with a string of beads around his neck.
As he shuffled around manically with hunched shoulders, he strongly resembled Nardwuar the Human Serviette — except imagine the Evaporators were a fine-tuned rock juggernaut. Beside him, his brother Brad Shultz played fuzzy guitar licks while wearing a Slavic-chic tracksuit and gold chain.
At the end of the set, Queen's "We Are the Champions" blared over the P.A. while Matt Shultz spent a loveably narcissistic 15 minutes strutting through the crowd, milking every last second of his time in the spotlight.
The stage was redecorated with numerous mirrors and a couple of high platforms for Beck, who emerged to perform a dramatically spotlit slide guitar solo. This led into a banging version of "Loser," which established the upbeat tone for a set that highlighted all of the songwriter's best party bangers. "Up All Night" was given a glitzy treatment with lasers, "Mixed Bizness" had a gleefully funky swagger, and "Wow" perfectly juxtaposed its slapstick verses with gorgeous falsetto choruses.
Even songs that were 25 years old still sounded playful and futuristic, and Beck seemed ageless as he strutted around the stage, at one point shouting, "I don't care if I look like a fucking fool!" Only a hammy solo rendition of "Debra" missed the mark, since it was missing the chorus (and bizarrely contained no mention of the titular sister).
With the noise curfew approaching, Beck paused the show for a cryptic yet genuinely touching speech about the fragility of life. Making vague reference to a loved one suffering from ill health, he performed an abridged solo version of "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime," before getting the party started again with the titanic riffs of "E-Pro."
For the encore, Beck invited Cage the Elephant back on stage for their reggae-flavoured collaboration "Night Running," plus a reprise of "Where It's At." Matt Shultz threatened to steal the attention away from Beck by wearing a cycling suit paired with a mesh mask — but the veteran took centre stage to end the night with a pulse-racing harmonica jam.
For all those families in the crowd, it was a perfect cross-generational bonding experience. So listen up, teens — sometimes your parents actually have pretty cool taste too.