18th January | SWX
Many bands aim to create a spectacle of their skills to impress and astound. Cake are by no means lacking in musical gifts, but quite clearly feel no need to prove themselves to anyone. Their leisurely approach was a refreshing one and the various off-beat elements of the night, which included bringing a cherry tree on stage to be given away to whoever guessed its breed, felt in no way contrived. Performing with a vibra-slap and a trumpet as key instruments was just part of the colour and unique style they had chosen. Their on-stage behaviour was equally individualistic.
With no warm-up act, we were treated to a continuity-announcer-style recorded intro, welcoming everyone and barring the use of cameras, which was followed by something akin to an 80s TV theme tune, like Quantum Leap played on Vangelis-smelling synths. It has to be said that this tune went on an awfully long time before the band strolled on and bimbled around in silence for a while after the music stopped. Singer, John McCrea was sporting a big bushy beard, flat cap and Big Lebowski style jumper.
Once they leapt into ‘Frank Sinatra’ off their album Fashion Nugget with John’s weedy-sounding acoustic guitar alongside the rockabilly brilliance of the cherry red Les Paul straight out of Back to the Future Part 1, it was like someone had lit the room on fire. The drums struck with a crispy thinness as the percussion popped and clicked around the music. The warbling of the keys had a sixties sound, like ‘House of the Rising Sun,’ as the trumpet proudly poked its head out of the musical stew. Along the front row you could see a line of people doing the bird. They bobbed those heads for the entire night.
The band’s social media is saturated with political articles, and so when we were asked if we wanted a “soft breakfast,” it wasn’t a surprise. The recent single ‘Sinking Ship’ being about the state of the Western democracies, you could be forgiven for expecting an ill-placed rant at some point. Instead, we were split into two halves, one being the ‘minority’ and the other being the ‘majority’, the former apparently representing those seeking escapism and the latter possessing angry indigence.
As they played ‘Sick of You,’ the chunky guitar riff evoked memories of The Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’; the ‘Minority’ sang how they wanted to “fly away” while the other half chanted that they were, “so sick of you, so sick of me.” All the while John conducted, congratulated and gave the finger to alternating sides, agreeing and disagreeing with everyone. It’s not often a band pulls off a crowd participation piece of pithy political satire, which also gets them all singing along to the chorus. It’s even more rare that you can mention Brexit without people wanting to throttle you.
The evening was split into two sessions, with an intermission for us to apparently “collect our thoughts”. However, after the cherry tree was donated at the beginning of the second half, the band did seem to rattle through the remainder of the show one song after another, saying little in between. This was possibly connected to the singer at one point saying, “don’t smile at me if you’re not clapping along” perhaps getting tired of inspiring us. If so, that is surprising as the feel within the crowd generally was an upbeat and communal one. As they closed with ‘The Distance’ during the encore, we’d certainly lost no love for them.
See the video for ‘Sick of You’ here: