If you heard the word "vibraslap," and immediately thought of something used in the bedroom, then you're a freak and we should hang out. But if you pictured a Latin percussion instrument, then you were probably at the CAKE concert last night at the Mann Center in Philadelphia.
An Evening with CAKE provided a fairly thorough retrospective of the band's impressive catalogue, and concertgoers were treated to two sets of John McCrea's semi-spoken, quirky lyrics and Vince DiFiore's well-punctuated trumpet riffs. And of course, plenty of vibraslap.
The concert kicked off just before 8:00 p.m., as the band took the stage in front of a large silkscreen image of a whitecapped mountain, to the tune of some epic synth-rock. The show started strong, with "Comfort Eagle," "Frank Sinatra," and "Wheels," which nicely touched on three different albums. After the customary greetings and fibbing that Philadelphia was the first city McCrea's ever called "excellent," the energy came way down with their Willie Nelson cover "Sad Songs and Waltzes."
Thankfully, crowd favorite "Stickshifts and Safetybelts" brought the tempo back up, and I learned that the song apparently is actually about road head and the obstacles thereto. Next the band debated the afterlife of domesticated animals with Prolonging the Magic's "Sheep Go to Heaven." This song initiated a bothersome trend for the evening, with McCrea elongating the final chorus by dividing the crowd and pitting them against each other in a barnyard shout-off.
McCrea must really be into the politics of power, because on two other occasions, including a new track called "Song of the Sea," he encouraged the crowd to sing louder by intimating that the other side thought they were weak, or even that they hated them. For a concert that was supposed to be about "hanging out, having a good time," these Machiavellian demonstrations were a bit off-putting.
I wasn't too worried about all that, however, when CAKE closed their first set with "Jolene," played with a sweet restraint appropriate for this moving song off their first album, Motorcade of Generosity. Definitely my favorite song of the night.
After a short break, while most were still re-upping on beer, the band returned and launched into Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," which I didn't realize was on their B-Sides and Rarities album, so that was a fun surprise. The second set seemed to go by quickly, with the band chugging through "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" and "Love You Madly," which was better live that one would think.
Before the set wound down, McCrea stopped for what I learned is a nightly occurrence at CAKE concerts - giving away a tree! Yes, a real live sapling. After pledging to plant the tree, upload a photo to the band's website, and take care of the tree for decades to come, a lucky gent came up on stage to claim it. I thought this was a pretty unique tactic, and highlighted the band's environmental consciousness, also evident in the fact that their personal studio, where they now record on their own label, has been fitted to run entirely on solar power. Looks like even rock bands from California are going green.
After that whole process, the crowd needed a reason to explode, and they got it with a smashing rendition of "Never There." Minutes later, the encore kicked off with "Short Skirt, Long Jacket," which had the Chuck fans in the audience happy, followed by "Mexico," and of course, closing the night with their biggest hit, "The Distance."
Overall, CAKE put on a great show that highlighted the evolution of their unique sound over two decades and five albums. The band sounded great; props to lead guitarist Xan McCurdy for keeping the riffs tight. And I really want to know how McCrea gets that signature sound from his acoustic guitar, which I can only describe as "woody."
As for stage presence, McCrea was very comfortable in his front man role, but definitely too chatty for me. He even called out a girl in the front row for saying "Stop talking" during the encore. I do like when bands interact with the audience, but McCrea took it a bit too far. However, the band sounded great, it was a beautiful night, and the crowd was really into the show. I am happy to put a notch in my concert belt for a unique and hard-working band like CAKE, and I'll be looking out for their new album on January 12.
A few other notes:
- Don't buy tickets for Orchestra B, Row B. You will be behind the light and sound boards and will have to stand the whole time. Also, don't try to walk behind those boards or the usher will bitch-slap you.
- Shaking my head at Mann Center security, who allowed a guy to hop up on stage, walk casually over to John McCrea, and shake his hand before anybody realized what was going on. That kind of stuff is pretty scary.
- Big shout-out to whoever drives the Mini Cooper with the vanity plate "CAKE."
Favorite Songs: "Comfort Eagle," "Jolene"
Wish I heard: "Commissioning a Symphony in C," "I Will Survive"