Posted by: Necci – May 01, 2012
Let me make something clear - I am not a normal Chili CookOff attendee. In fact, in the 26 years I’ve been living in the capital city, I had never previously attended any event put on by 102.1 the X. Not because I’m one of those idealistic assholes who wouldn’t be caught dead at an event put on by a major corporation such as Clear Channel. No, it's much simpler than that: I have simply never been interested in a Chili Cookoff lineup. Until now.
In what some may call the perfect storm of redneck glory, the station puts on an entire day of nationally known bands strutting their stuff on an outdoor stage, combined with endless amounts of chili, completely colliding with the 80 degree weather. Normally known for booking radio rock bands such as Shinedown and Buckcherry, the station took a slightly different route this year and booked bands the kids on Spotify are more likely to be enjoying currently.
In what would turn out to be the only musical downside of the afternoon, Middle Class Rut was the first band I caught upon entering. It wasn’t that the band was putting out horrible music or was unenjoyable to watch live - neither of these things were true. It was simply that, while I enjoyed watching the band, they definitely seemed to be missing something. That something could very well be another band member or two, as the stage felt slightly empty with just the duo occupying its space. A second guitarist could serve the band well, as the sound and energy they put off was nothing to scoff at.
If I were handing out a most photogenic award for the day, it would most certainly go to Neon Trees. These newfound pop stars decided to give fans a visual show as well as a musical one, strutting from one end of the stage to the other in flashy red pants and vests. Pulling mostly from their hit album Habit, they sped through one pop hook after another, closing with their hit single “Animal,” which may have been the peak of the day as far as crowd dancing is concerned.
Fashion sense aside, the band backed up their bizarre look with vocal chops and fantastic live presence. Besides perhaps a back flip, they physically did everything that a band scheduled third-to-last on the bill could possibly to do entertain; the audience rewarded them with roars of approval at any given opportunity. During the peak of the set, vocalist Elaine Bradley hit the deck, passionately screaming lyrics from the stage floor - a moment that was just as appealing audibly as it was visibly.
While the only actual award being distributed was a fan award for favorite chili of the day, the imaginary "Stole The Show" category had one decisive winner: Cage the Elephant. I had heard that the Kentucky outfit was known for bringing an absurd amount of raw energy to their live show, but I was still overwhelmed by just how true that statement turned out to be. Lead vocalist Matthew Shultz could not sit still as his shrill screams echoed throughout the fairgrounds, while brother Bryan stayed true to his guitar, performing with a slightly less energetic stage presence.
In a set that was dominated by their break out sophomore album Thank You, Happy Birthday, they plowed through song after song, maintaining on-stage energy as if each one was their first. The band came together with such precision at times, brief moments were created that let the audience know that they were not only on the same page, they were writing the same book. All of this energy exploded during the band's breakout 2011 single, “Shake Me Down,” in which lead vocalist Shultz took a dive into the crowd. He surfed amongst the endless sea of fans, who sang every word back to him as he rode a wave that would turn out to be the highlight of the entire day.
And then, there was Cake.
For most in attendance, the reason they bought a ticket in the first place had finally arrived. Marching on stage to a thunderous applause, the band quickly took their places and dove into their simple yet familiar blend of spoken-vocal lounge rock. While not as outrageously dressed as Neon Trees or energetic as Cage the Elephant, lead singer John McCrea lead Cake through a set doing exactly what Cake does best. It wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t glamourous, but the quintet swayed through a set that was simple yet effective. Continuing their march through a setlist that spanned almost two decades and included almost every piece of their career, the band nodded, smiled, and genuinely looked to be having a good time.
And as the sun disappeared into the skyline and Cake began blowing through their numerous radio hits, there was a moment where the crowd came together, sang the words everybody knew, and matched the bands appearance of genuine enjoyment. This moment, while perhaps not completely sober or polished, was certainly a reflection of the day as a whole.
By Chad Brown