Music review: Cake’s appearance simply delicious

At multiple times throughout Cake’s two sets at Northern Lights on Monday night, frontman John McCre

At multiple times throughout Cake’s two sets at Northern Lights on Monday night, frontman John McCrea delivered an ultimatum familiar to anyone who’s followed politics in the past decade: “You’re either with us, or you’re against us.”

Of course, like with most of what came out of his mouth over the course of two hourlong sets before a packed house, McCrea had his tongue firmly in cheek. But there was more than a grain of truth to the catchphrase. Ever since 1996, when “The Distance” broke Cake nationally, critics and fans have been split on the Sacramento, Calif., based band, with many deriding McCrea’s speak-singing style and the group’s nonchalant music and lyrics.

Audience revved up

At this show, there wasn’t much to be against as Cake tore through each infectious number with glee, slamming the audience into submission with McCrea’s funky acoustic, Vince DiFiore’s snaking trumpet lines and Xan McCurdy’s slithering lead guitar. Opening with “Comfort Eagle,” a quintessential Cake song if there ever was one, the band proceeded to get the audience moving and chanting along from the first note.

The rubbery riffs of “Frank Sinatra” and the deliberately paced “Wheels” followed, before McCrea took the first of many opportunities to bond with his audience. “What song do you feel like playing next?” he asked as the crowd roared unintelligibly.

Thankfully, the band ignored all incoming suggestions in order to play two songs from its coming album. “Bound Away” emphasized Cake’s country streak, offering quite a few new wrinkles with its instantly memorable vocal line. “Sick of You” was even better, with its lead guitar line reminiscent of “Day Tripper.” McCrea conducted the audience in a sing-along of the song’s hook toward the end, splitting the crowd in half to sing harmonies in what was perhaps the evening’s finest moment.

This audience was one of the most energetic (and surprisingly tuneful) crowds to come through Northern Lights. Often the audience participation segments would begin without any prompting from the band, which in turn energized the musicians onstage especially on later numbers such as Black Sabbath cover “War Pigs” toward the middle of the second set.

The group didn’t ingore its back catalogue, playing a handful of songs from their 1994 debut “Motorcade of Generosity.” “Jolene” gave the rhythm section — bassist Gabe Nelson and drummer Paulo Baldi — a chance to shine with a steady backbeat behind its basic chord progression.

A tree to nurture

While the band is often sarcastic, it has a strong social conscience. Toward the end of the show, McCrea gave away a red delicious apple tree to an audience member who correctly answered the question: “What percentage of Earth’s human population enjoys running water in their homes?” Well, he was sort of correct. “Thirty-four is very close, and close enough to get this over with,” McCrea quipped. That lucky fan will now have to update Cake on the progress of his tree through photographs submitted to the band’s web site.

About the only complaint to be made of the band’s generous set was the relegation of all of their most recognizable songs, including “Never There,” “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and the aforementioned “The Distance,” to the end of the show and the encore. But no matter — by the time these songs rolled around it was merely icing. (excuse the pun)

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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