Cage the Elephant
Peter Wolf and the Midnight Travelers
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What an interesting sense of perspective two highly recommended concerts hitting Louisville this weekend will present. In each instance, the headliner is an act with a longstanding performance history with the city.
The first, the Bowling Green-bred Cage the Elephant, has played Louisville clubs at almost every stage of its career. Its advancement culminates Friday night with its first-ever headlining show at the mighty KFC Yum Center.
The other, Peter Wolf, played Louisville haunts — the downtown Convention Center, now known as Louisville Gardens — more than 40 years ago as vocalist and frontman for the J. Geils Band (including a final outing in 1982 with a then-little-known U2 as an opening act). Now, at age 70, he returns for a club show supporting an outstanding solo record.
For Cage the Elephant, headlining Yum Center might come as a surprise. The band played the venue as recently as September 2014 as a support act for the Black Keys.
There was no doubting vocalist Matt Shultz’s ability in playing to a huge room. He detonated a punkish power-pop charge with a soul falsetto the second that Spiderhead, the most approachable tune from its then-current Melophobia, kicked into gear and remained a body in very literal motion during the equally combustible Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.
But did that mean the band was ready for top billing status on arena tours? Apparently, one of the artists headlining that 2014 show, Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, thought so. He signed on to produce the newest Cage the Elephant album, Tell Me I’m Pretty. The record crackles with electric immediacy, but the pop accents are even more prevalent, from the Doors-like swagger of Cold Cold Cold to the dark fandango guitar drive of Portuguese Knife Fight. The whole album shifts from retro-friendly hooks to modern indie immediacy that, in all likelihood, will play out nicely onstage given Cage the Elephant’s proven performance drive.
Get to this one early as Portgual. The Man, the Alaska rockers that have been staples of college and club shows in Lexington and Louisville, will open along with Chicago’s Twin Peaks.
On Sunday, Wolf is back, but in a performance guise far different from the one he inhabited when the J. Geils Band was a roadhouse rock-turned-MTV generation favorite.
The music on the singer’s new album, A Cure for Loneliness, is decidedly more relaxed and rootsy, with blues, retro rock, soul and even a flourish of cocktail jazz running the show. It Was Always So Easy (to Find an Unhappy Woman) is a round of hapless honky-tonk fun, Wastin’ Time is all vintage R&B, and How Do You Know summons the spirit of Slim Harpo-inspired boogie. Of particular interest is Tragedy, a poker-faced crooner of a tune that distances Wolf most dramatically from the explosive stage artist who played Louisville during the 1970s.
Tragedy also has been a staple of Wolf’s current tour.
What few echoes exist from the Geils days have received a massive makeover on the new album, including the transformation of the title tune from 1980s album, Love Stinks, into a playful bluegrass romp. A few Geils-era hits (Give It To Me, Must Have Got Lost) also make their way into Wolf’s current shows. But expect Sunday’s show to lean heavily on post-Geils music, including songs from his 1984 solo debut, Lights Out, and 2002’s hugely underrated Sleepless.
That’s the wildlife report as to what you can expect in Louisville this weekend — an Elephant in the room and a Wolf at the door.
Top of the Hill
If you haven’t caught Nikki Hill in action at the old Willie’s Locally Known on North Broadway, then you definitely need to catch her as she heads to the venue’s new digs at 286 Southland.
The New Orleans-by-way-of-North Carolina singer is a vocal empress of Tina Turner-like intensity, although rooted as much in rock ’n’ roll as the former’s preference for revue-style soul. The video on her website of her ripping through an encore medley of two early AC/DC classics, If You Want Blood and Rocker, says it all. But the mix of blues, roadhouse rock and R&B that overflows on the title tune to her new album, Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists, is just as commanding.