“Thank you for coming to An Evening With CAKE. Because that’s what we’re doing tonight, hanging out with each other.” That may not have been the exact quote since the memory tends to go in your forties (as in mine), but that is basically what CAKE frontman John McCrea said to the crowd at one point during the band’s concert Friday night, June 18, at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe, Arizona. To the capacity crowd that packed the venue that evening, that is exactly what this evening felt like, only in this case we were hanging out with one of the coolest and best live bands around.
It had been nearly three years since I saw CAKE for the first time at the 2007 Monolith Music Festival at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. I was not a fan before that show. I left that evening a converted CAKE fan and have been waiting for a Phoenix appearance ever since. Finally … !
The Marquee was jam packed! The only show I have been to at the venue with more people was Jimmy Eat World March 2009 on their Clarity 10 Tour. The nice thing about a CAKE concert is the relatively sedate crowd they attract, so finding a spot in the middle of the venue was relatively easy.
Showtime was at 9:00pm. At 9:05 the intro music came on, a song that reminded me of Europe’s The Final Countdown. Yes, cheesy hair metal was played as CAKE was about to come onstage, but CAKE has never been about doing things the conventional way.
Nope, CAKE is all about being one of the purest, most independent expressions of music as an art form in the business. Impossible to categorize since the band plays a style of music that combines genres as diverse as country, rock and roll, rap, alternative, funk and jazz, CAKE has something to offer for everyone.
At the tail end of the cheese that was being played the five members of CAKE strode onstage to deafening applause. The band settled into their respective spots onstage and led off with Comfort Eagle. Holy cow, seriously!
Live, the characteristic that immediately jumps out at you is the fact that CAKE fans know EVERY single lyric to EVERY single song, and the title track to the Comfort Eagle album is a prime case. You could not even hear the band yell out “Dude!” at the end of several lines of the song, because the fans in the audience (including me) all yelled it at the same time. A great start to what turned out to be an incredible show.
The band played two distinct sets since there was no opener with approximately a 10 minute break in between each set. The first set consisted of 100% older material spanning their entire catalog, including personal favorites such as Stickshifts and Safetybelts, Mexico, Frank Sinatra, Daria, and my favorite song from CAKE, the always crowd-pleasing Sheep Go To Heaven from the band’s third album Prolonging the Magic. That track ended the first set and was brought to a beautiful close with the entire crowd, at the constant urging of John McCrea, singing over and over “Sheep Go To Heaven, Goats Go To Hell”.
Before Sheep Go To Heaven was played John McCrea gave away an apple tree that was part of the set that evening. No joke, he asked members of the crowd if they could identify what kind of tree it was, with the winner getting to take the tree home! The only condition was a promise to actually plant the tree and take care of it. I hope Carly (I think that was her name) holds up her end of the bargain!
Set two included two new songs from CAKE’s forthcoming sixth studio album. McCrea got quite a kick out the fact that for once the band’s fans were a tad clueless in regards to knowing the words. However, being the kind soul he is, he spent time during the second song educating the crowd with two lines worth of lyrics, having one side of the venue sing one while the other side sang the second line at the same time. Adding to the fun was McCrea making a game out of the endeavor, having one side sing their line, having the next side sing theirs, then when the lines were sang together comparing the two sides to one another.
This is what makes a CAKE show so special, the incredible presence of John McCrea. Possessing an unusual vocal style that is half singing and half talking, a dry sense of humor, a tremendous intellect, a capacity to speak intelligently and with conviction on issues he feels are important, and above all an everyman type of persona that inspires his fans to WANT to sing-a-long, to WANT to obey his “commands” during the show. This man is the consummate entertainer, and a strong vocalist and musician to boot.
However, McCrea alone could not make CAKE the amazing band they are. Complemented extremely well by lead guitarist Xan McCurdy, bassist Gabe Nelson, Vince DiFiore on the trumpet and keyboards, and Paulo Baldi on the drums and percussion, this five-piece showed some exceptional precision on every song that was played during the evening.
I believe another Prolonging the Magic song, the stellar Never There ended set two. The crowd really got into this song and once again sang along with McCrea the entire time. When the band exited the stage the second time I was already more than satisfied, but I knew there were two huge crowd favorites still to come.
Come they did! When the trumpet introduction to Short Skirt, Long Jacket was played, the crowd reached a fever pitch that had to blow the band away. I did not think the crowd at The Marquee could get any louder, but I was wrong. Once again the crowd joined in, particularly during the wonderful chorus of “Na na na na na na, na na na na na na”. At the end of the song McCrea again divided the crowd into two halves and instructed each half when to sing the chorus, turning the joy of singing along with the band into the joy of competing with fellow CAKE fans. It worked, as each side made every effort to out-do the other, bringing the chorus to a deafening roar. It was awesome! I know my side won …
“Reluctantly crouched at the starting line, engines pumping and thumping in time.” The crowd erupted when McCrea uttered the first two lines from The Distance, the band’s breakthrough hit single from their 1996 sophomore effort Fashion Nugget. I said back in paragraph two I was originally not a CAKE fan. This song is why. 14 years after its original release I can listen to the song and realize what a brilliant piece of work it is. The crowd was singling wildly and pogoing while CAKE poured their bodies and soul into the piece. The third song of the encore, this was the perfect end to a perfect Evening With CAKE.
I can only hope a return trip to Arizona comes about when the new album is released during the fall of 2010. CAKE is worth the road trip though! Thank you CAKE for making a believer out of me three years ago, and thank you for an even better show this go-around. Hands down Concert of the Year to this point!