Cake House of Blues April 12, 2015
After a weekend of sporadic downpours and questionable weather, Houstonians could have easily opted to stay tucked in Sunday night for the Game of Thrones season premiere or yet another marathon of Bar Rescue. Quite the contrary: Cake's House of Blues show was completely sold out, overflowing with fans so dedicated they would have swum to the venue if needed.
Upon walking into House of Blues, it was clear why Cake still sells out shows 20-plus years after forming: fans everywhere were preemptively singing their favorite songs, giddy with anticipation for the California alt-rock vets to take the stage. The excitement among the crowd was almost enough to be happy that so many people got to experience this show, but frankly there were too damn many people in the venue. Overhearing tall men comment on how the place was too packed was commonplace.
The band started with the unlikely opener "Sad Songs and Waltzes," a Willie Nelson song from 1996's perfect Fashion Nugget. Opening with a slower fan favorite was an immediate indication that Cake would be playing a set constructed for sincere aficionados rather than casual listeners. This held true as the set rolled into 2001's "Opera Singer," and then two songs from their newest record.
Upon introducing the second of the two new songs, lead singer John McCrea remarked on "the powerful clapping of Houston Texas" and made a well-received joke about how the downtown area seems to be constantly ripped apart. At this time, he shared a story about how seemingly everyone tried to sway the group from releasing a record on their own label, because, well, this is a horrible time for the music industry. McCrea is sadly accurate.
This story would have been much more impactful, however, if it was possible to actually hear what McCrea was saying. The biggest problem with Sunday night's show was the sound. The whole operation could have been louder, especially considering that HOB was packed to the gills, but this was particularly true of the vocals. It was unfortunately evident during "Stickshifts and Safetybelts," when all that could be heard was every drunk girl in the venue. Even so, the audience was extremely receptive to Cake's new songs, particularly "Mustache Man (Wasted)."
The show was split into two sets, one of eight songs and six in the second. To open the second set, the band gave away a tree to an audience member, which went on for an absurdly long time. True, this may not have felt as awkward if the crowd could have heard what McCrae was saying, but the consensus in the back was, "Whaaaaaaaaaa????"
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The second set started with "Love You Madly" and then into an audience participation fiesta of "Sheep Go to Heaven." This went straight into a somewhat uncomfortable "Satan Is My Motor," where McCrae had a much harder time getting the full buy-in of the audience. the singer observed that "maybe there are a lot of Catholics in Texas" before explaining to the crowd that the song is a metaphor and we all have a dark side, so just treat the participation like "therapy." This entire interaction was not only hilarious, but raised the question of whether or not this happens in all states or just in the Bible Belt.
A few songs later, the regular set ended with the classic "Never There." Throughout the show, founding member and trumpeter Vince DiFiore was a shining highlight, and here he took his playing to a higher level. Think about it: what would Cake sound like without his signature trumpet? The entire dynamic would shift.
After the song ended, the band left for a literal five seconds. The hungry audience barely had time to call them back before they opened a three-song encore with a fantastic rendition of "Frank Sinatra," followed by "Wheels," and then ended the show with "The Distance."
Sunday's show could have lasted for three more hours and everyone would have been happy, even if it was shockingly difficult to hear. Cake has an undeniably unique sound (thanks largely in part to DiFiore's trumpet and McCrae's signature cadence) that allows them to stand apart from other bands of their era. Everything they create sounds new and different yet exactly the same all at once, which is a nearly impossible feat.
No one could impersonate what Cake does. No wonder the venue was so packed.
Personal Bias: Overall great show, but the sound was far too quiet. I really would have loved to hear "Italian Leather Sofa," and don't think I am the only one.
The Crowd: Most all-ages shows are usually spilling over with underage kids. Not so much here -- this show truly embodied "all ages."
Spotted In the Crowd: Three boys walking together, leader in front, yelling "Sheep go to heaven!" before his friends followed with "Goats go to hell!" Definitely an effective way of getting through the crowd.
Random Notebook Dump: Cake's set, like the band itself, was totally peculiar and super-unique. Disco-ball lights shone above a Bob Ross-esque large mountain-and-forest backdrop. Totally bizarre and completely perfect.
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