Cake includes old and new sounds in concert

The 9:30 Club couldn’t decide what it wanted to be when Cake visited Nov. 15.

The concert hall resembled a jazz club, a country bar, a 70s disco, a folk sing-along and a mosh pit – which just reflects the sound of Cake.

After its breakthrough hit of 1996, “The Distance,” Cake suddenly attracted a large young alternative crowd that was drawn to the pseudo-rap of lead singer John McCrea and the heavy bass and driving beat that carries the song.

But for anyone who started buying Cake albums or going to its shows to hear more of the same, they were in for a big shock. In much of its work, Cake simultaneously weaves together several genres into a nearly seamless tapestry – anything from country to alternative to songs with a waltz beat.

The scene for the Sacramento, Calif., band was set with some purposefully tacky props, including a backdrop of a snow-covered mountain and hooting and hollering from the crowd.

After a raucous opening, the band settled into two of its Western-leaning ballads and started losing the sell-out crowd a bit. An audience of five or six cowboys taking long draws on bottles of Budweiser in a Texas bar probably would have appreciated McCrea’s crooning more than the 20-something crowd. The solid performance of Vincent di Fiore on trumpet carried the band through the beginning of show.

But the energy-level picked up with the jazzy “Hem of Your Garment,” a song off its newest effort, Prolonging the Magic (Capricorn Records), in which McCrea got the crowd to sing along with a little coaxing. They kept the flow going with the humorous country-sounding ditty “Stickshifts and Safetybelts.”

These songs and others featured arrangements that can’t be heard on any of its three albums made Cake a real pleasure to see live. The audience didn’t get the stock version from the album rehashed in concert, a trend all too common in live music today.

Cake also showed why it is one of the masters of percussion in modern music, using a variety of instruments to give it a three-dimensional sound. From sandpaper blocks in “You Turn the Screws” to double drumsticks on a trap set, Cake’s percussive stylings give you something to tap your foot to.

Near the end of the set, people began crowd-surfing during “The Distance,” and grooved under the disco ball in the group’s encore, a remake of “I Will Survive.” Other than being overwhelmed by too many styles of music at once, Cake didn’t disappoint anyone looking for a different musical experience.

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