Thursday, February 17, 2011

Birthday Cake

My old friends the Decemberists decided they'd play a show in Oakland for my birthday, which was really nice of them, except that 1) it's impossible to get my friends excited about the Decemberists, and 2) while I'm perfectly comfortable going to concerts alone, doing that on my birthday just seemed sort of depressing.  So, I decided on the next-best thing: go to see Cake (which I could motivate some friends to go to see) the day after my birthday.

Cake is one of those bands, like, say, Guster or the Juliana Theory, that I rarely think "yes, awesome, I need to listen to this band immediately."  But when I do listen to them, I always scold myself for not being more into them, because they are awesome.  Cake has been at this a long time--they're pushing two decades--and none of their albums represent much of a departure from any of their other albums, but there's something to be said for their consistency.

So Cake has never been at the top of my List Of Bands I Must See In Concert (it exists, and Death Cab for Cutie, Rilo Kiley, and the New Pornographers are all somewhere towards the front)... but now that I've seen them, I'm scolding myself for not putting them up there.  In a reflection of their albums, their show isn't one that blows you away and leaves you, slack-jawed, gazing at the stage at the Fillmore and unable to move.  Instead, it's a show full of really solid material that comes with just enough wry humor and audience participation to make you appreciate the hell out of the band.

(Another thing that makes me, at least, appreciate them is their extensive use of the trumpet.  Trumpeter Vince DiFiore doesn't play a lot of difficult parts, though he plays them really well.  It's when he launches into improv, something you don't get to hear a lot of on the albums, that's when you really start to understand how good he is--and how you're benefiting from seeing Cake live instead of just listening to them in your room.)

The band described their own show as playing two sets, but it felt more like a long set and a half, or like Cake was opening for themselves.  The first half of the show featured some reasonably well-known older material ("Frank Sinatra") and some tracks from their new album, but it wasn't until the second half of the post-intermission set that they launched into iconic Cake, including "Love You Madly," "Sheep Go to Heaven," and "Short Skirt Long Jacket," finally ending the encore with "The Distance".

It's always a nice touch when bands make the audience sing, and it's even better when the audience plays along.  The Cake-going crowd was game enough to provide background vocals on a few tracks, which was fun.  Cake took their audience participation a step further, giving away cool stuff in exchange for knowing the answers to obscure trivia questions, including the date that Gutenberg was credited for inventing the printing press (1440; the prize was a printed page, signed by the band, from a book that Cake put together) and the identity of a mysterious tree on the stage (lemon; the prize was the tree itself).

One thing that made Cake stand out even more: throughout that trivia contest, and throughout the entirety of the show, Cake worked hard to maintain an air of civility, humility, and courteousness.  It's a lesson that a lot of rock bands would benefit from taking to heart, and coupled with some excellent music, it made for a great (if slightly belated) birthday dessert.

Currently listening: "The Only Living Boy in New York," Simon and Garfunkel

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