Cake has never sounded like anyone else, and no one that came after has ever come close to sounding like the Sacramento band either. It's not like Nirvana or Green Day, with 1,000 copycat bands immediately coming out of the proverbial woodwork to shove out their own shingle. Even if you think all Cake songs sound the same (and most, in fact, do), one must admit that their greatest achievement is being utterly and completely unique. With our recent piece on 94.5 The Buzz and various other blogs dealing with the seamy unoriginal underbelly of "post-grunge," Cake hitting up Verizon Wireless Theater last night reminded us about a time when radio-rock was a strange and interesting place. Where, in Houston, you could hear David Sadof wax intellectual on Sonic Youth or Echo & the Bunnymen, a time when bands like Cake, God Lives Underwater and even Eels got radio play next to Bush and The Verve Pipe.
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Part of Cake's appeal has always been its quirkiness and even dearness. They fused elements from Wall of Voodoo, Herb Alpert, and '90s hipster lounge culture to whip up a sound that has shone through the entire post-grunge morass. Cake dared to use hand instruments and brass to craft three-minute pop singles, with lead singer/probable robot John McCrea officially snatching the prize for "Most Laconic Singer of All Time." The sound was so goddamned weird that it's still a wonder to Aftermath that Weird Al never lampooned them on an album. What struck Rocks Off Wednesday was the polite devotion of the crowd, who somehow managed to fill over half of the venue even for an early start time of 8:15. In a word, the crowd was hella nerdy - daresay even "dorky." Aftermath remembers tweeting to friends that "the crowd at Cake is the IT department for the Nickelback crowd." It's also been a while since we've seen such a reverent crowd, except for the guy continually yelling for the band to play their "Jolene" cover. Or the drunk chick who yelled "The Distance" before the band even had time to pick up instrument one.
The band ran through two hour-long sets with an intermission. Opener "Comfort Eagle" (you know, the song Google thinks is called "Building a Religion") is still Cake's most aggressive and the least happy-go-lucky song, more indicting than the rest of their catalog. A new song, "It's Been a Long Time," retained the same love torn bitterness that has colored the band's previous work, albeit with the band now incorporating a healthy dose of newfangled synth in addition to McCrea's signature donkey-call instrument. Cake's newest frontier is being green. They already record in a studio that uses solar energy and their Web site extols the virtues of all manner of earth-aware products and practices. They even gave away a pomegranate tree from the stage to a fan who correctly guessed its type. Albeit this was after a good 15 minutes of guessing by various members of the crowd, some blurting out such inane guesses as "pussywillow" and "a green one." For the record, we guessed oak.