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Cage The Elephant Deliver Intimate iHeartRadio Show Ahead of 'Unpeeled' Release: Live Recap

Cage The Elephant perform During the iHeartRadio Album Release Party at the iHeartRadio Theater in New York City.
Katherine Tyler for iHeartRadio

Cage The Elephant perform During the iHeartRadio Album Release Party at the iHeartRadio Theater in New York City.

It’s rare to witness a live show from Cage The Elephant that doesn’t involve frontman Matt Shultz taking off his shirt, sweating or surfing the crowd. So when he stepped on iHeartRadio’s performance stage in the New York neighborhood of Tribeca -- a stage adorned with metallic drapery, flower strings and dimmed lightbulbs -- dressed in a button down shirt and suit jacket, it was clear the night's set would show a different side of the charismatic indie rockers.

“It forces you to dig deep,” Matt tells the crowd of the intimate and stripped-down setting. The performance marks the release of the band’s latest album Unpeeled, an entirely acoustic project out Friday, July 28. The tracks, all of which were recorded live during a string of tour dates that spanned 2016, see the band deliver revamped versions of some of their most-loved hits from early favorites like “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” (off the band’s 2008 self-titled debut) to more recent hits like “Cold Cold Cold” off 2015’s Tell Me I’m Pretty.

On stage, the six members of Cage The Elephant -- Matt Shultz, vocals; Brad Shultz, guitar; Daniel Tichenor, bass; Jared Champion, drums; Nick Bockrath, guitar; Matthan Minster, keys -- are joined by a string quartet for this performance, as they were on the tour as well. The arrangements were all done by Bockrath, who was in orchestra growing up and recalls how his mom would tell him, “Cello is cool, Nick.” 

With little room to roam, Matt mostly remains in one place as he sings, holding the extra length of mic cord in his hand like a dog holding its own leash begging to go for a walk. That restraint is what allows each song to hit even harder, though, as the missing stage antics allow for the lyrics to suddenly become the main attraction. After singing “Rubber Ball,” Matt even takes a moment before he tells the audience, “I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry,” then jokes for good measure, “I’m sweating from my eyes.” Elsewhere in the set, the band tossed in two of the three covers from the album, Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” and The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown,” both of which fit in seamlessly with Cage’s intention and delivery. 

Throughout the hour-long performance, which includes an interspersed Q&A during the first 30 minutes, Matt’s older brother Brad looks on with a blend of brotherly love and just a touch of caution, as if even he is unsure whether or not Matt will soar into the crowd at any moment if out of nothing more than habit.

For the final song, “Right Before My Eyes,” the band and string quartet walk off stage, leaving Matt all alone with nothing but a stool to sit on. And for once, he stays seated during the entire song, lost in the lyrics and the moment. Seeing him sing with eyes closed, voice hushed at parts, made it clear why this album had to be done. For a frontman like Matt, who has gained so much attention for his emphatic onstage presence, Unpeeled quite literally peels back those layers to expose something more raw, and ultimately more beautiful.

The exclusive iHeartRadio album release party with Cage The Elephant can be streamed here tonight (July 27) at 9 p.m. ET, or heard on iHeartRadio's local Alternative and Rock FM stations as well as on iHeartRadio.

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