On Thursday night, Foals frontman Yannis Philippakis put his arm around my shoulder and grabbed my nipple, kindly humoring the fan in me and posing for a photo. Then we stayed at the side of the stage and carried on watching Cage the Elephant power through an absolutely raucous set at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, ME.
It was a moment, and no other better encapsulates the excitable and playful vibe of the Spring Fling Rock AF 2016 tour, which just concluded and featured Foals, Cage The Elephant, Silversun Pickups, and Bear Hands trekking across the country together for the past three weeks. Short of a full-blown festival like Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, there are few better available examples of multiple intense groups owning the same stage on the same night.
Bear Hands sparked the charge, kicking off the evening with a slate of songs that showcased the accessible sense of adventure for which they are acclaimed. Some of these were pulled from their upcoming album You’ll Pay For This, which will be released on April 15. At times, the band sounded like Local Natives, and in at least one other instance, images of Zach de la Rocha may have danced in their heads. Trying to combine elements so disparate is usually a fool’s errand, but the thing about experimental music is that at its most successful, it sounds effortless. And it sure is easy to listen to Bear Hands.
Foals followed up with their punishing live sound, which takes the harder edge that perhaps bubbles under the surface more on their albums and proudly shoves it directly down your trachea. That doesn’t mean they rid themselves of the loud-quiet dynamics that set them apart from most of their peers. Since the rowdy moments are so much larger in an arena, the contrast between the sound level highs and lows is actually perceptually greater—the softs are soft, and the louds are loud. Perhaps the best example of this was “Spanish Sahara,” which featured an extended, serene jam during the outro, a perfect comedown from the song’s boisterous climax.
Speaking of volume peaks and valleys, Silversun Pickups went on third, proving that their shoegaze-meets-aggressive-indie-rock is still so potent after all these years. If you want to feel old, remember that this group has been around for 14 years, since 2002. They may be getting a bit long in the tooth (at least relative to the young whipper-snappers bands who pop up every day), but Silversun Pickups sure is aging like George Clooney.
Then there was Cage the Elephant, who seemed like they could use a break. They didn’t look tired in any sense, but they really deserved to—my goodness, they’re running on 900 percent power every second they’re in front of a crowd. Frontman Matthew Shultz operates with the energy of a McDonald’s PlayPlace full of six-year-olds, using every micron of available real estate on stage and on the hands of audience members crowdsurfing him around the venue. Cage the Elephant has a reputation to preserve, and at this point, their prestige seems everlasting.
Such was the common theme of the evening, and presumably of the entire Spring Fling Rock AF tour: fun. Everybody looked like they were enjoying the hell out of themselves, and not just during their performances. It was clear that these four groups loved being on the road with each other, and the enthusiasm for their pals and the experience as a whole was visibly spilling over the brim. When one band was on, members of the other three were almost always watching from the side of the stage, cheering each other on, taking photos with fans, and in at least one instance, grabbing a nipple.
It was fun AF.
The Spring Fling Rock AF tour is over, but for those who missed out or just want to partially relive the spectacle, the bands will soon be getting back out there individually. Foals and Silversun Pickups will continue touring starting in mid-April, including a sold-out show together at Fox Theater in Pomona, California on April 14, while Cage The Elephant and Bear Hands each have strings of live dates beginning in May.
Check out our exclusive photo gallery below, and let us know in the comments if you have any precious memories of seeing any of these bands perform.
IMAGES: Derrick Rossignol