Last night John McCrea and the rest of the members of Cake played to a sold out house at the Centre in Vancouver. The night was a gathering of both old and new material, with a dash of humor and a sprinkle of crowd interaction. This was by far the best concert of 2011, thus far, and I say that even after going into the show with not the greatest expectation.
The performance was billed as An Evening with Cake, which means no openers, just a healthy dose of the main course. The show was in support of their latest album, Showroom of Compassion (which, on a side note, debuted at number one in its first week). As the house lights were swallowed by the darkness, the stage lights began to pulse. An epic beat started to radiate from the speakers. The sound started to feel triumphant, like the scene in a film where the hero is rising over the villain. Then the music kept on going, and going, ebbing and flowing, to the point where some people in the audience were red in the face with laughter. It was meant to be funny, but the 10 minutes it took was a bit drawn out.
Finally the five piece from Sacramento took the stage, to a roaring applause. Lead singer, John McCrea, approached the microphone and said – We’re Cake and we’re here to serve you – and then the show was on its way. They started the night with Opera Singer, the title track from 2001’s Comfort Eagle, which was rich and well received. The concert goers in attendance began to get into the groove, right off the bat. Some older audience members, stood up and started swaying to the music like a blade of grass in the wind.
The one thing you have to note about this band, or at least that I noted about this band, was how much richer they sound musically during a live show, over recorded material. Each one of the band mates, be it John McCrea on lead vocals, Vince DiFiore on trumpet, Xan McCurdy on lead guitar, Gabe Nelson on bass or Paulo Baldi on drums, all are so strong in their own department. When you bring that talent into a setting where they can just rock out to their personal favorite, the mood is magical and the wall of sound is impressive. Not many bands around keep a trumpet man employed and can maintain top spot on the charts; Cake defies many odds.
Throughout the set they traversed their discography. In the first half of the show they played Love You Madly, also from Comfort Eagle, and then took a step back with Stick Shifts and Safety Belts, from 1996’s Fashion Nugget LP. Both songs played with a subtle charisma that had a flock of females from the horde, up and dancing with a little chutzpa. They delved into Sick of You, which was once of the first songs of the night to get a large portion of the audience chanting along. Of course they also covered most of their all time greats. Sheep Go To Heaven, Never There, Short Skirt/Long Jacket, Rock ‘N’ Roll Lifestyle and of Course The Distance. When each and every one of these pieces was performed, it had the entire venue rocking and singing along. It was a powerful feeling to see so many varying groups of people share in one common interest.
John, had a very dry sense of humor on stage. His breaks between numbers, had him awkwardly joke about various subjects. It was humbling to see, that someone of his level is just as at a loss for words as most. He also advised the attendees that the band plays sans-set list, as he put it, so they do not feel like such a “machine” every night. This was a breath of fresh air, in a world where its all about pumping out the shows as a requirement, Cake is doing something that makes ever night more special.
Through out the evening, there was this sad little coniferous tree sitting near the front of the stage. Some time near the last few songs, McCrea announced that he would give it away to the first person that could tell him the plants name; in Latin. After a bit of a circus, as people leaped from their seats and began to shove themselves to the front, yelling and screaming out what they thought it might be. The band leader, decided, he would only hear from people sitting calmly with their hand up. It ended up going to an audience member, whom I believed was named Nick.
I have to say that overall I was blown away by how much better Cake is during live performances over recorded material. I am by no means saying that I dislike their albums, I am in fact a huge fan of their entire collection. I am saying is they are night and day when compared to what they accomplish in a live setting. The sound was richer, the instruments are so powerful and well operated that it sends shivers through your body. At times they have this certain Latin rawness about them, that is nearly impossible to capture when recorded. The way Mr McCrea plays these fluid arpeggios, that seem so effortless, the way that Mr. McCurdy can own the strings on his ornate guitar with a delicate bluegrass riff while Mr. DiFiore jumps from keyboard to trumpet and back again, without breaking a sweat; it is so seamless that it has to be from the soul, it is something pure.
Cake has earned my love, as one of the best live acts I have seen in some time. It is not often that I go to The Centre in Vancouver expecting to be blown away, but on this night I was left jaw dropped and in pure awe of this masterpiece before me.Cake has a truly exceptional magic, that all should experience.