An Evening With Cake

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From the minute I found out I’d be attending the 3rd night of Cake’s 3-night stand in Atlanta GA (about 14 hours before showtime!) I went on a bit of a trip down memory lane. Now, 7 or 8 years ago I would have had to trudge down to the basement, dig through all my old CDs, and fish out “Fashion Nugget”, “Motorcade of Generosity”, and “Prolonging the Magic”. But, oh, what a modern age we live in. I pulled out the trusty iPod and began reliving “Cake moments” from my younger years. Ahh, Cake.

Back in the 90’s before My Chemical Romance and Linkin Park were ‘alternative’, Atlanta was a great place to be for those into alternative or indie rock. We had a radio station that would actually play Dinasour Jr., Mudhoney, Live, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and, yes, Cake. We had Music Midtown, where up and coming bands had the opportunity to play in between Foo Fighters & Fountains of Wayne, between Cee-Lo and the Offspring. And one band that it seemed was ALWAYS in Atlanta, was Cake.

Somehow or another, in the blur of 100s of concerts and bands that I just HAD to see, I never managed to see Cake live. When I found out I was going, after I’d re-immersed myself in my favorite Cake gems, I started wondering if Cake would really have a crowd on the 3rd night of a 3 night stand. Center Stage is, after all, a big theater. Well, as it turned out, my reservations were without merit entirely.

Upon entering the Center Stage complex I was immediately aware that this was gonna be one crowded show. Since the show was all general admission I hurried into the main auditorium to make sure that I got a seat. My timing couldn’t have been better. No sooner did I sit down, then the crowd started pushing it’s way in, and within 5 minutes every seat in the house was full and the crowd on the floor was large and growing.

Moments later, the announcer came on and announced the band. The band took the stage and broke into a faithful rendition of “Sad Songs and Waltzes”, the closing track from 1996’s “Fashion Nugget”. A barrage of old familiar tunes followed, “Opera Singer” & “Love you Madly” (Comfort Eagle), “Comanche” & “Haze of Love” (Motorcade of Generosity), and a great version of “Frank Sinatra” (Fashion Nugget) complete with an elongated bridge section to accommodate a crowd sing along.

Singer John McCrea brought down the energy for a moment to talk to the crowd, telling us the tale of their meanderings from their own label to Capricorn to Columbia records, and their recent transition back to their own record label. One would think this would be a step in the wrong direction for any band, but here, that proved NOT to be the case. McCrea informed us that, despite their migration back to a humbler situation, “Showroom of Compassion” (2011) has debuted as the #1 album on billboard this week. Not bad

“Whatever,“  McCrea quipped, “Cake is just a joke band anyway, right?” poking some fun at those out there that never took the band seriously, just before launching into several selections from the new record including a very cool tune called ‘Federal Funding”.

After spending an hour hyping the capacity crowd up, the band took a 15-minute intermission, and encouraged the crowd to refresh their drinks and take this time to talk with their friends.

“If you think about it, no one wants to consume all their music so fast, take a break. That’s why we’re calling it ‘an Evening with Cake’. We want all our friends to come relax, hang out with us and enjoy their evening”, said McCrea, the only member of the band to speak to the crowd all night.

After a quick refill of my tasty beverage, it was back into the main room, just in time to catch the band’s return to the stage with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. The very first notes of “Stick Shifts and Safety Belts” sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy which didn’t abate through “Mexico”, “Rock N Roll Lifestyle”, and several songs off the new album including the current single, “Sick of You”, which the band turned into another crowd-powered sing along. The only break the band gave were the few short moments that McCrea lamented the almost complete disappearance of the ¾ time signature as the worst loss of the 20th century.

The band’s incredibly sparse stage set-up belied each member’s talent for his instrument. No massive banks of digital sounds necessary. Guitarist Xan McCurdy didn’t even switch guitars throughout the show. Vince DiFiore was the lone multi-instrumentalist. Several synthesizers, along with a trumpet and stacks of odd percussion instruments crowded his work space. McCrea played a really mean finger-style guitar and delighted with his infamous half-talked, half-sung delivery. Whenever he did set down his guitar, he picked up a Vibra-Slap, which he was anything but shy with. Gabe Nelson (Bass) and Paulo Baldi (drums) rounded out the group, keeping the band in time, and on the beat. The only bit of ‘set’ on stage was one lonely, leave-less tree at the front of the stage.

With this band’s signature “slacker rock” sound, I was astounded to see the energy the were able to elicit from this sell out crowd from the opening chord through the intermission, and all the way until their closing number, “Let Me Go”. It was clear; the band truly knew their fans, what they want, and how to give it to them. After just a few moments of deafening screaming John McCrea came back out to a thunderous reception, and, as an encore he gave away their set tree, but only after eliciting a promise from the winner to put it in the ground immediately, and post a picture of him and his tree to the cake website, and continue to do so once each year. It was an interesting, albeit odd way to bring the night to a close. The band returned, and finished up with “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” and “Pentagram”, leaving the crowd wanting more.

All in all, this was a pleasantly surprising show. I expected a good, low-key night of music, and I got a full on rock show replete with kitsch, wit, energy, and heart. Cake may be approaching 20 years on the scene, but their still straight-from the oven fresh.