Cage the Elephant Revisits Catalogue With Stripped-Down Live Album ‘Unpeeled’

Recently, Kentucky-based band Cage the Elephant set off on a stripped-down tour showcasing their now extensive catalogue of down-home rock n’ roll. Lead singer Matt Shultz and the boys, along with an orchestra, stopped through cities like Los Angeles, Knoxville and Washington D.C., performing acoustic sets with songs spanning their entire career — from their 2008 self-titled debut to their most recent album, 2015’s “Tell Me I’m Pretty.” Overall, 21 live renditions made the cut, including three covers. They deemed both the tour and the album “Unpeeled,” a true representation of their raw selves.

While these are technically acoustic sessions featuring acoustic guitars and piano, Jared Champion, the band’s drummer, is still very much a part of this album. Though still softer than their studio recordings, “Unpeeled” works to make you groove as Cage has always done. “Sweetie Little Jean,” a retro-Beatles-esque tune and the percussion-heavy “Cry Baby” are plenty to pry you out of your seat. As with any live album, part of the fun is enjoying an altered version of your favorite song. Plus, it’s inevitable that the chills will find their way up your spine when you hear the crowd singing in unison with Shultz. “Trouble,” the fan favorite and lead-single from “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” is a perfect example as fans join in when Shultz sings the line “I said it was love and I did it for life (did-did it for you).”

Some of the more intimate moments come from songs like “Rubber Ball” and “Right Before My Eyes” – both from 2011’s “Thank You, Happy Birthday” – when the lights dim and Shultz relaxes with the crowd. The latter even shows the singer picking up a guitar, casually strumming as he serenades. The versatility of Shultz shines bright on this record. Never has his voice sounded so genuine, so fulfilled and so perfectly in tune with the music.

The orchestra lends so much to this acoustic endeavor as well. “Come a Little Closer,” a fan favorite from “Melophobia,” springs to life during the chorus, creating a swelling crescendo, enough to make the hairs on your arm stick straight up without hesitation. Even as a modest string section, they steal the show on a song like “Aberdeen” with their almost eerie, horror-movie wails and stunning, abrupt strikes of the nylon.

Three covers can be found on this album, each more interesting than the last. “Instant Crush” comes from Daft Punk’s famed “Random Access Memories.” Julian Casablancas (lead singer of The Strokes) provided lyrics here at a pace that seems a tad faster than Shultz is used to, but nonetheless, he pulls it off. The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown” wouldn’t be out of place on any Cage record over the years. These guys came out of the bustling British punk scene in the 70s, with this particular track being their most successful. Lastly, and in sticking with the same era, “Whole Wide World” is from Wreckless Eric fame circa 1977. Here, Shultz can barely contain his joy as he belts about finding that perfect girl on that perfect beach.

If Cage were around during the aforementioned rock-fueled era of the 1970s, they’d easily compete amongst the giants. Shultz’s stage presence is undeniably effervescent and contagious. Even during the acoustic sessions, he finds a way to force asses out of their respective seats. It’s reassuring to see a band, whose first album produced a massive hit in “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked,” continue to improve and challenge themselves almost a decade later. There’s no “one hit wonder” gene in any of these guys, and “Unpeeled” is all the proof you need.

Unpeeled” is available July 28 on Apple Music.