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Last Night: The Sea and Cake, with Meg Baird, at Warehouse Live

Meg Baird
The Sea and Cake, with Meg Baird
September 22, 2007
Warehouse Live

Better Than: Watching your math teacher's band play the Abyss

Download: Unfortunately, the Sea and Cake don't seem to have any free downloads available. There's a YouTube video of "Crossing Line" embedded below.

Guitarist Meg Baird of the Philadelphia folk group Espers opened things up at the Warehouse, with a beautiful wispy voice and tender finger picking that often recalled something like Joni Mitchell.

But while Baird probably would have destroyed at Anderson Fair or the Mucky Duck, her performance at the Warehouse was hampered by the thunder of bar conversation. It's an unfortunate fact discovered by many a folk act that rolls into a Houston rock venue: Houston audiences are loud, and they are not going to tone it down just because someone happens to be onstage. Some people might consider this rude, but it's simply the way people are here, and all the hand-wringing in the world probably won't change it. Unfortunately, it can be extremely distracting during a quiet performance, and that certainly was the case for Baird.

Happily, the Sea and Cake faced no such problems. Commanding attention from an audience is a simple feat for them, not because they're flashy -- this is a band that emphasizes substance over style profoundly; two of the members wore running shoes (running shoes!) onstage -- but because there is such a great deal of personality on display.

All photos by John Van

Take vocalist and guitarist Sam Prekop.

Though his distinctive half-voiced singing is smooth and relaxing on record, he's a charmingly casual performer, not unlike J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Frequently, Prekop seems to be either unsure of or uninterested in the notes he's theoretically supposed to be singing, instead flinging syllables in the general direction of the melody. It sounds like a pretty lazy way to sing, but honestly it's a lot of fun to watch someone take himself so lightly while still inhabiting a song so thoroughly. Prekop also seems to have trouble remembering his lyrics:

The New York Times once mentioned a solo that Prekop played seeming to be composed entirely of wrong notes, and he played one of those in Houston as well, mangling his fretting hand into all sorts of inappropriate positions in order to create this anti-solo, as if to say, "I can play anything I want, and I damn well will."

Guitarist Archer Prekop is somewhat more cerebral. He's one of my personal favorite things about the Sea and Cake, for three reasons. One is that he's a frighteningly clever lead player. Another is that, with his round black glasses and ill-fitting sport jacket, he looks like an art professor (in fact, he is a visual artist, as are three-quarters of the band). A third is his guitar:

I have a guitar that looks almost exactly like this. Mine is a Danelectro U-2, a cheap reissue of a popular line of 1950s guitars famously used by Jimmy Page, among others. Danelectro reissues go for about $200 on eBay, and although they don't sound phenomenal, they look pretty damn cool. Prewitt's guitar isn't a Danelectro. It's a spot-on copy made by Jerry Jones, a boutique guitar manufacturer in Chicago. It sounds a lot better than mine and looks just as good.

Eric Claridge is a monster bass player and the most physically imposing member of the Sea and Cake by a long shot.

He's also its most underappreciated. (He's the only member who doesn't have his own entry in Wikipedia, if that means anything to you.) If he's resentful about that, perhaps he's taking it out on his instrument: for someone who plays music that, for the most part, is relatively mellow, the man is pretty rough on his bass. On his fingers as well -- Claridge regularly tosses off riffs that would sideline a lesser man with massive blisters or brutal hand cramps, in particular the grueling slides on show-stopper "Do Now Fairly Well." I would not want to be a bass in this man's hands, no matter how slinky the riffs that came out of me. Perhaps it would all be worth it for the triumphant growl that erupted when Claridge hit the chords at the end of the night's last song.

As intriguing as all these men are, the Sea and Cake may be one of the only rock bands in which the drummer is the most charismatic member. John McEntire, so polite on the band's records, performs like a thoroughbred racehorse, perfectly controlled, yet explosively powerful, and overjoyed to be given the chance to run. In that, and in his fiery yet indelibly tasteful use of jazz and marching band technique, he reminds me strongly of one of my favorite Houston drummers, John Adams of the Fatal Flying Guilloteens. They even sort of look alike:

John McEntire and John Adams

McEntire reminds everyone in the audience why the drums are so much fun. BANG! SMASH! Yes. When I was first starting to play in bands, I used to say that I wanted to make it possible for the drummer to be the coolest guy in the band. Little did I know that John McEntire had long since beat me to it. – Daniel Mee

Critic's Notebook:

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Personal Bias: My lady friend told me she would marry any of the guys in this band.

Random Detail: Claridge's gray beard and ponytail make him look a little like a double-size Willie Nelson.

By the Way: I also saw their show in Austin on Thursday, and both Prekop and Prewitt wore the same shirts both nights. I hope they had a chance to do laundry in Dallas.

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