Review: Cake

(Above: An early live performance of “Jolene” for San Francisco’s Fog Town Network in 1994.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Cake’s sold-out performance to open the third season of shows at Crossroads KC was less a concert than an extra-large backyard party.

The Sacramento-based college rock quintet so blurred the line between band and audience that a lot of fans must have felt like they were part of the performance, even if they weren’t all necessarily onstage.The night opened with “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” an easy crowd-pleaser, though to be fair every number aired was greeted with an immediate and visceral response. It’s easy to see why. Every song is built on a surf, country or funk guitar line, bolstered by a serpentine bassline and steady drumming, accented with keyboards or trumpet — the band’s defining instrument — and secured by singer John McCrea’s mesmerizing monotone delivery.

“Frank Sinatra” employed one of the band’s best tricks. After the song’s natural crescendo, the band brought it back down, brought the audience in and built it up again. The move was just as effective when they repeated it later for the rarely played “Satan Is My Motor.”

After closing an hour-long opening set with a great version of “Jolene” (not the Dolly Parton song), the band took a 10-minute break and then returned for another hour of music. They kicked off that set with the instrumental “Arco Arena” and treated the multitude to an extended version of “Italian Leather Sofa.”

Although McCrea had no trouble coaxing the audience to sing, he still worked the crowd hard, prowling the front of the stage and encouraging singing or clapping in nearly every number. The results were frequently impressive. The crowd chimed in so loudly at their cue in “Rock N Roll Lifestyle” that the band repeated the verse, letting the audience carry it, a capella.

McCrea also took time to talk with the audience between every song. He cherished the band’s freedom from major labels, lamented the lack of3/4 time in modern pop music and even gave away the potted tree prominently placed near the front of the stage. Since the band operated sans setlist, they frequently huddled to figure out what to play next (and so they could hear each other over the barrage of requests shouted from the crowd).

The first encore was a bass-propelled cover of “War Pigs,” which the band thoroughly made their own. While Cake’s reading may have been less menacing that Black Sabbath’s, it was more fun, with a trumpet solo and sea of hands raised clapping along at the end.

The night ended as everyone wanted it to, with Cake’s biggest hit “The Distance.” There wasn’t much further anyone could go after all that anyhow.

Setlist: Short Skirt/Long Jacket, Comfort Eagle, Stickshifts and Safetybelts, Frank Sinatra, Wheels, Shadow Stabbing, It’s Been A Long Time (new song), Satan Is My Motor, Jolene. Intermission. Arco Arena, Pentagram, Italian Leather Sofa, Mexico, Opera Singer, Rock N Roll Lifestyle, Daria, Guitar, Never There. Encore: War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover), Sick of Me (unsure if this title is right), The Distance

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