By Ryan Scott
It has been some time since CAKE graced Arizona with their presence, but being that the band is touring more now since that’s the way bands primarily make their money, it makes sense they would make their way here sooner rather than later.
The band took the stage Sunday night at the Marquee Theater promptly at eight o'clock without an opening act preceding their first set. Yes, I say first because they played two whole sets, which made up for the lack of an opener. “We’re going off the edge of the cliff together, but at least we’re together,” said singer John McCrea. The band opened up their first set with a cover of “Sad Songs and Waltzes” by Willie Nelson, which suits the band's attitude quite well, being that the band doesn’t use a set list. “What song do we feel like playing next?” McCrea proclaimed in order to drive home the point that the band had no specific agenda other than to fill the venue with their sweet and strange sounds for a couple of hours.
CAKE instantly reminds you that they are a band that, on paper, shouldn’t sound good. McCrea sings about as flat as humanly possible while playing a less than prestigious sounding acoustic guitar, usually with lyrics that are at least a little bizarre. Half way rockabilly guitar flows from an amp stack along with the slightly more than occasional trumpet tied with plump and steady bass and drums. This is the formula. Put that all together though and you get something truly distinct and frankly terrific.
As the band chugged through their first set, which took a journey through their entire catalog, I couldn’t help but wonder how someone who had never heard CAKE before would perceive this. A song from Showroom of Compassion was almost indistinguishable from something off of Fashion Nugget in this setting. It must seem like sultry madness. Typically when a band is playing new mixed with the old, there is a greater sense when a song is one or the other. That feeling was totally nonexistent at this show.
CAKE opened their second set with one of the weirdest traditions in all of rock music, where they gave a member of the audience a tree that said member of the audience would then plant and take care of. Odd as it is, one can't help but respect that McCrea and company want to do something positive with their position in this life.
As someone who has seen a wide range of acts in a lot of different venues at a lot of different shows, I can say that CAKE may be among the best sounding live acts I have ever seen. Every song honored what fans came to expect from those songs on the record. “Frank Sinatra” from Prolonging the Magic was a specifically delightful treat and example of just how good they sound. The band wasn’t above fan service though. They closed out their second set with “Never There” before their encore performance that was kicked off with “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” Before they went “The Distance” though, they decided to play the most unusual yet incredibly great cover of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath that I have ever heard. Seriously, CAKE may very well be the LAST band that anyone would expect to do a great cover of that particular song.
Point being, CAKE is pretty great and you should probably go see them if you get the chance.