Beneath the layers of Cage the Elephant

Band: Cage the Elephant
Date: Saturday, Sept. 30, 8:30 p.m.
Venue: Jake Peavy Foundation Stage

In 2008, Cage the Elephant used the progressive blues rock single “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” to catapult from Bowling Green, Kentucky, into the international rock scene. The light-speed wave of notoriety this single brought the band could have easily burned them out, but Cage the Elephant remained on scene and built an ever-growing catalog broadening the band’s talent and creativity.

Cage the Elephant’s sound has changed greatly since “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” first with its 2013 release “Melophobia” and again with 2015’s “Tell Me I’m Pretty.” The band began to develop a trademark modern rock sound laced with a ribbon of psychedelic ‘60s pop rock.

Lead singer Matt Shultz (picture above by Daniel Anderson) says this change was part deliberate, part natural. After releasing two records molded and shaped by the music industry, Shultz says, the band decided to answer the question, “What if we could go back and make our first self-titled album the way we wanted to make it?”

“The records that we were making weren’t fully who we were,” Shultz said. “We were under the forces at hand at that point. We’ve been able to push forward and bring our fans along the way. It’s about the songwriting. It’s about the spirit, the heart and the message of the music. Now, we’re in a place where we have complete creative control and are in control of our imagery. It’s more of a representation of who we are. It’s been a blessing.”

Photo by Neil Krug

Cage the Elephant’s latest release is the band’s latest exercise in innovation. “Unpeeled” is a live album unlike any other. It documents stripped-down, acoustic live performances of the band’s hits as well as unique covers, such as its beautiful take on Eric Goulden’s “Whole Wide World,” a track accented by a full string section joining them on stage. The concept for this album began with an acoustic set at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit.

“We’re very much a studio band,” Shultz explained. “We like to play the studio as an instrument as much as we like to play our instruments. As a way to fill some sonic space, we brought in this string section. Afterward, our managers came up and were like, ‘That’s the best thing you ever did! That was amazing!’ It felt good, and it went really well.”

Sometime later, RCA asked the band to fulfill its contract with a greatest hits album. Cage the Elephant thought doing a typical greatest hits album signified the end of their career, which was far from over. At the time, Shultz says, the band was already putting tracks together for their next studio album. Instead, the group reminded themselves of the success of their Bridge School Benefit set and brought the concept to the label.

“We were like, ‘Maybe they’ll be interested in allowing us to do this cool thing where we do these songs that everyone loves and that we love and a couple of covers, and strip it down and bring in a string section,’” Shultz said. “RCA was very gracious and allowed us to do it. So, instead of a greatest hits, we got to do something creative.”

While he did not know when their next album will be released, Shultz says it will be shaped by the band’s experience and creative freedom. He did say the album will represent “the next phase” of Cage the Elephant, which he likened to David Bowie’s “Berlin” releases. Shultz says this album will reach into the band’s past and future, and that the band plans to employ “all the tools and paintbrushes that are available to us.”

“There’s a couple of working titles that we’re working on,” Shultz said. “We’re seven songs deep. I don’t know when you can expect it. So, we’re gonna start getting together as a group and working through stuff in November.”

Shooting arrows with Blackberry Smoke

Band: Blackberry Smoke
Date: Friday, Sept. 29, 9 p.m.
Stage: Jake Peavy Foundation Stage

Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke will be filling the streets of downtown Mobile with a heaping serving of Southern rock that can be embraced by fans of soul, blues and country as well.

Vocalist/guitarist Charlie Starr says Southern rock is an undefined genre steeped in a plethora of sounds, providing endless amounts of creative legroom.

“I don’t have a definition for Southern rock,” Starr explained. “If you put on ‘Where We All Belong’ by Marshall Tucker, you’re like, ‘Yup! There we go!’ Then you put on a Wet Willie record, you go, ‘Well, that’s different, yet it’s similar.’ They’re still called Southern rock bands. It’s all over the map. I think that being called a Southern rock band is almost a license to be as free as you can possibly be with the music.”

Photo by Rob Blackman

Blackberry Smoke will entertain TenSixtyFive with cuts from its latest effort, “Like an Arrow.” This album is the result of spontaneity. Starr says it started out like any other album — the tracks had been written, the demos recorded. When the band began rehearsing for the studio, Starr says the sessions were so good the band felt the need to go ahead and lay down the album while the magic was still present.

“Everything went right, in that everything was feeling so great at that moment,” Starr said. “We had time off and we were like, ‘Hell, let’s book the studio right now,’ where normally, we would’ve started right then talking about, ‘Who should we get to produce it?’ and ‘Where should we record it?’ I said, ‘Hey, the studio is free, and we’re free. Let’s go!’ Next thing you know, we were finished.”

Starr says one of the biggest thrills of this album was working with the late Gregg Allman on the album’s warm, poignant closer, “Free on the Wing.” Starr says he was apprehensive about approaching Allman to perform on this song. Even though he’d had friendly interactions with Allman in the past, Starr says it would have been hard accepting a “no” from the Southern rock icon. After listening to the track, Allman agreed to contribute his talents.

“He was a huge persona, but he was a very quiet, unassuming fellow,” Starr said. “He was such a sweet man. Now that I can look back, finding out after the fact how sick he was and the fact that he still came and did that for us was so moving to me. We couldn’t have been more honored and proud and appreciative.”

Blackberry Smoke is no stranger to the Alabama Gulf Coast. Its collection of backwoods rock ‘n’ roll translates into a wild set filled with Southern-fried jams. The material on “Like an Arrow” could make for one of its most memorable local performances yet. From edgy rock numbers such as “Waiting for the Thunder” to the soulful sounds of “Sunrise in Texas,” Blackberry Smoke has something for everyone.

Wet Willie is still smiling

Band: Wet Willie
Stage: Jake Peavy Foundation Stage
Time: Sunday, Oct. 1, 4:45-5:45 p.m.

TenSixtyFive is an epic celebration of music in the streets of downtown Mobile. Since the festival’s beginning, iconic local band Wet Willie has thrown a jam-filled set of funky Azalea City blues into the jambalaya and will return for the third installment.

Guitarist/founding member Rick Hirsch has a deep appreciation for the festival and is taking a break from his Studio H2O to join in the festivities. Hirsch said he feels the demise of BayFest opened the door to a festival that uses the gateless philosophy to please both festival-goers and local businesses.

“BayFest was extraordinarily difficult to participate in, as far as the audience is concerned,” Hirsch explained. “The whole town was cordoned off in a way. It was expensive and becoming more inaccessible for people who wanted to go. This TenSixtyFive thing happened and opened it all up.”

Photo courtesy TenSixtyFive

For Hirsch, Wet Willie’s TenSixtyFive performances provide him the chance to revisit a specific “stage” in his career. The guitarist cites Wet Willie as his first “professional” job in the music world. Hirsch adds that the chemistry he shares with his fellow band members also brings him back to perform with Wet Willie. For Hirsch, taking the stage with Wet Willie is a family reunion filled with musical reflections on the past.

“Of course, the camaraderie that you develop with the people in that situation is deep,” Hirsch said. “You’re really more like brothers and sisters than just acquaintances, I guess you would say.”

While Hirsch is excited about reuniting with his bandmates, Wet Willie’s fans are excited to get reacquainted with the band. With lineup changes and a departure from Capricorn Records, he says, the band’s evolution shifted from the funky blues of “Country Side of Life” to the disco sounds of “Weekend.”

Hirsch says each stage of the band’s evolution has brought a new group of listeners into the fold.

“With different people, I can tell by what they ask for what they really want to hear,” Hirsch said. “A lot of them swing back to that organic thing that we had going originally as a blues rock group. It’s funny in a way, because that stuff plugs into today’s music scene more than the latter, more slick stuff.”

Wet Willie has yet to disappoint with its TenSixtyFive performances. The band brings grins to faces with “Keep on Smilin’” and has the crowd on their feet for their electrifying take on “Shout Bamalama.” With past history between lead singer Jimmy Hall and Blackberry Smoke, the two bands might surprise the crowd with a jam session. When asked if a collaboration was possible, Hirsch simply replied that “anything can happen.”

“I’m sure that would be a really great thing, for a jam like that to happen. Aw, man! I can’t even imagine. It would be funktastic, as I like to say.”

Muscadine Bloodline has gained national notice

Band: Muscadine Bloodline
Date: Friday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m.
Stage: Jake Peavy Foundation Stage

Nappie Award winner Muscadine Bloodline will use its TenSixtyFive pulpit as a homecoming. A few years back, Charlie Muncaster and Gary Stanton were performing as solo country artists in whatever venue would have them. Eventually, the two crossed paths and formed Muscadine Bloodline.

The duo’s combined talent and enthusiasm has served Muncaster and Stanton well. Since winning the Nappie Award for Best New Band in 2016, Muscadine Bloodline has relocated to Nashville and thrived. The duo has played numerous festivals across the United States, sold out numerous shows and shared the stage with such notables as Luke Combs and Blackberry Smoke.

“We’ve seen this big transition from being a bar band and playing downtown Mobile for four hours for nobody or for free drinks, to last week in Virginia and D.C. playing headline shows,” Muncaster said. “There are venues that people are coming to see us, and it’s not just because they were just there in passing.”

“We keep going, going and going,” Stanton added. “We’re having a good time and enjoying it. It’s weird, because things are kinda starting to work for itself. We feel that we’ve put in a lot of sweat equity into this thing over the past few years. We’ve worked hard and grinded, and we’re starting to see the fruits of the labor.”

Photo via Facebook

Even though things are moving fast, Stanton says they still have a long way to go. When they moved to Nashville, neither invested much time in following the stereotypical Music City dream of meeting “the right person.” They recognized that progress in the country music game comes from putting in time on the road and in the studio.

Muscadine Bloodline has been busy writing and recording new music for 2018. So far the band has recorded five tracks, one of which will become a single for radio play. If it doesn’t perform well, Muncaster and Stanton will continue to release singles until they find a hit. Ultimately, the pair say fans can expect a new release by next spring. Muncaster says he has high expectations for the new material.

“The songs are better,” Muncaster said. “We’ve been in the room with some huge songwriters who have number ones and are really hot in Nashville. You’re co-writing with people who have done this for a long time, and their ideas are brilliant.”

“We’re excited to see the turnout,” Stanton said. “We’ve played at home before, but every time you play at home, it’s fun to see the first fan base that you ever had come out and see it grow every time. It just really makes you feel good and makes everything worth it.”