Peeled Back, Stripped Down
Cage The Elephant has been concocting raucous slices of bluesy garage rock since their inception in 2006. They originally formed in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but relocated to London shortly after. Their most recent studio album, 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty, was slightly softer than their previous releases, but still true to themselves with regard to sound and style. This small but noticeable shift, however, is very evident on their recent live album release, Unpeeled.
Unpeeled is not the typical live album: whereas most live LPs are recordings of a single show, this one instead is a compilation of many different shows during their Tell Me I’m Pretty touring cycle, playing a role in the noticeable lack of crowd noise. Every song is mixed well and performed in a concise manner more reminiscent of a studio release.
The final difference is the instrumentation. The band chose to mostly play stripped-down, acoustic versions of their hits (plus a couple covers), with some strings in the background and even a choir. Frontman Matt Shultz, whose vocals are usually howling and gritty, opts for a more delicate vocal style to fit the relaxed ambiance.
What’s impressive about Unpeeled is that even though the volume is turned down and the vibe is more relaxed, their hits still have the same punch, urgency, and fun. Their early hit single, the gnarly, foot-stomping “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” still contains all the attitude Cage fans have become accustomed to. From the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young harmonies of “Cry Baby” to the mellow closer “Right Before My Eyes,” the set powers through 21 separate cuts, each fun to listen to in their own right.
Cage The Elephant has had ample time to hone their craft, and it shows in their professional, airtight delivery. Choosing to embark on a tour that alters their sound so much is usually a risky endeavor, but the band pulls it off well, and overall it’s a fun listen throughout. Regardless of what directions they choose to take with future releases, putting out live albums like Unpeeled will keep their fans happy.