It’s always an interesting feeling going to a concert for a band or artist that you like, but being well aware that you are more a casual fan than a “true” fan. I say this because you usually like the music of the band/artist and know their hits really well, but are only familiar with the rest of their catalog, so unless the show is completely mind-blowing, you probably won’t be into the show as much as the majority of the fanbase. This was the case when I saw KISS, Aerosmith, Galactic, Donald Fagen, and Tom Petty (all different shows). Still there have been a few situations where I was more into a show than I ever expected, specifically the Foo Fighters/Weezer concert I saw in 2005. However, last night’s Cake concert was more like the former than the latter.
Overall, the show was good. Kind of odd, but good. The musicianship of the band was much better than I ever anticipated. Since the band’s music isn’t anything extravagant, and pretty consistent in sound and feel, I was just expecting to see a fairly loose band having fun. However, the band was incredibly tight, having each song down to a science, even without a setlist. Each musician’s part never overshadows the others, creating tightly woven music that is superficially unassuming, but impressive when closely examined. Guitarist Xan McCurdy was incredibly skillful, showing off his talents not with gaudy guitar solos, but with tight riffs and licks reminiscent of Steve Cropper. Bassist Gabe Nelson was rock-solid, laying down the backbone for each song. Drummer Paulo Baldi was incredible, and so in-the-pocket that unless you were paying close attention, you would have no idea how syncopated his beats actually were. Multi-instrumentalist Vince DiFiore filled in the gaps with keyboards, percussion, and, of course, his masterful work on the trumpet.
And then there was lead singer/guitarist John McCrea. Vocally, McCrea was exactly what I expected, with his limited range and deadpan voice. And his guitar work was fine, and kind of impressive at times. Yet, it was his antics, hand motions, and often off-time vibraslap playing that took away from the rest of the band. McCrea seemed to be attempting to conduct the band with awkward hand motions, which not only was unnecessary (since the band was super tight), but distracting, at least to me. He also seemed to have no sense of timing during different songs, hitting the vibraslap at weird moments or on the wrong beat. Of course, he was on cue when it counted, like during “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” But it was hard to shake the notion that he was either just messing around, or actually had no idea where the beat was, in regards to both the hand motions and vibraslapping.
However, McCrea’s performance was only one of the several odd instances that happened during the show. The show started with an incredibly 80s style instrumental song, with neon lights in the background, that went on just a little too long. And when the band did finally come on the stage, they didn’t start right away, creating a weird transition before they started with the Willie Nelson ballad, “Sad Songs and Waltzes.” If they had come on while the song was ending, and started immediately after the canned music was finished, it would have been a lot more effective.
Another odd aspect of the show was the fact that though there was no opener, and the band did play two sets, the second set was half as long as the first, and included a total stoppage of music so that McCrea could pick an audience member to take home a fig tree (with the hope that this person would plant it and take pictures of it for the rest of their life). While I had no problem with the tree giveaway in the middle of the set, it was the fact that right before the tree giveaway he stopped after starting “Jesus Wrote a Blank Check” and then went and explained why he was stopping (there was no setlist and he was following his muse), which preceded him going into the tree giveaway. This whole sequence caused a very awkward moment in the show, which killed the momentum the band had going for it. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this happen, but the other times have been during Ben Folds shows, when it was just him and a piano, and the atmosphere was much more intimate and less formal. As I mentioned, the second set was half as long as the first, which not only was odd, but made me question why they even had two sets. The whole thing left me with a weird, unsatisfied feeling.
With all of that said, I still had a good time, and was happy to know that the band was giving all of their merchandise proceeds to help Hurricane Sandy relief causes. The band was solid, the music was good, and the crowd was into it. Still, I never found myself totally immersed in the show, like I am with many of the bands I see. In my mind, Cake sounded exactly like did on their records, and while it was an enjoyable show, I left feeling like there was no real need to see the band again for a while, unless their next record is completely different from and a lot better than their previous six albums. But if you get a chance to see them, you should. I just wouldn’t go out of my way to do so.
1. Sad Songs and Waltzes – Fashion Nugget
2. Opera Singer – Comfort Eagle
3. Stickshifts and Safetybelts – Fashion Nugget
4. Arco Arena – Comfort Eagle
5. Wheels – Pressure Chief
6. Ruby Sees All – Motorcade of Generosity
7. Frank Sinatra – Fashion Nugget
8. Love You Madly – Comfort Eagle
9. Long Time – Showroom of Compassion
10. Bound Away – Showroom of Compassion
11. Mustache Man (Wasted) – Showroom of Compassion
12. Sick Of You – Showroom of Compassion
13. Federal Funding – Showroom of Compassion
14. Comanche – Motorcade of Generosity
15. Jolene – Motorcade of Generosity
16. Thrills – B-Sides And Rarities (during tree giveaway)
17. Sheep Go to Heaven – Prolonging the Magic
18. Rock ‘N’ Roll Lifestyle – Motorcade of Generosity
19. Never There – Prolonging the Magic
20. Short Skirt/Long Jacket – Comfort Eagle
21. The Distance – Fashion Nugget