We Love Music: Cake at 9:30 Club 4/14/11

all photos by Andrew Markowitz.

Who doesn’t love Cake?

No, not the dessert (although everyone loves it, too), I’m talking about the band who has spawned such hits as “The Distance”, “Never There”, and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket”. These are songs that I think most everyone knows and everyone can sing along to. And when Cake opened up a three night set at 9:30 Club on Thursday night, that’s exactly what the entire crowd did.

No one opened up for Cake that night; as lead singer John McCrea later explained “We’re opening up for ourselves.” Before the band came out a small tree was brought out to the front of the stage and I can’t say I’d ever seen anything like that before. Shortly after 8PM, the show started by a recorded speech that would be similar to what you’d hear from a stewardess before taking off for a flight. The recording instructed audience members to turn off all electronics including cell phones and cameras. I had a good laugh as I looked around the 9:30 Club and saw people actually pulling out their phones and cameras and shutting them down in all seriousness. C’mon, didn’t you realize what band you were coming to see?

After a piece of music that’d be perfect for a Rocky movie training scene, Cake took the stage. I snapped away for the first three songs which consisted of “Sad Songs and Waltzes”, “Opera Singer”, and “Wheels”. I quickly grew accustomed to McCrea’s large sweeping hand gestures while standing behind the microphone. I also couldn’t help but tap my foot while taking photos as Cake has a great pocket.

One of the highlights of the first half of the concert was the performance of “Frank Sinatra”, in which the band took off into an extended jam for a few minutes. I think one of the best compliments I can give the band is that they sound just like they do on their albums. And that’s one of the things you want when you go to see a band that you’ve listened to for years but have never seen in person, right? Throughout the night Cake extended most of their songs by a minute or two but stayed true to the sound that you hear on their records. McCrea even contributed his trademark “Hey!” and other various yelps right where you’d expect them.

After an intermission the band took the stage and McCrea had a question for the audience, wanting to know what famous violent act occurred in DC on this date many years ago. The audience member who had the correct answer (Lincoln’s assassination) was brought on stage to claim his prize, the aforementioned tree that was brought on stage earlier in the night. McCrea made the audience member swear before the entire crowd that he’d plant the tree and take a photo to be sent into the band’s website within a few weeks. The audience member, a teacher at Coolidge High School, said he planned to plant the tree at the school. You can take a look at Cake’s Forest and past winners here.

I’m not sure how to describe Cake’s music. I think it’s simple and there’s a lot of beauty in the simplicity as the sum of the parts make for a great sound. McCrea’s lyrics are great, there’s no doubt about that. All of the songs played on Thursday night had a great beat and a great rhythm and I can only describe it as “music that’d make me feel like I’m up to something”. If it were in a soundtrack, it’d probably be in Pulp Fiction while Vincent and Jules are in their car driving somewhere. And no review can be complete without mentioning Vince DiFiore’s trumpet skills which were on full display. Along with McCrea’s laid back vocals, DiFiore’s horn is part of Cake’s signature sound.

But as the night was drawing to a close I was dismayed to realize that Cake still hadn’t played any of their signature songs. McCrea introduced the final song of the evening as a song about “having to leave DC” and the band broke into “Never There.”

However, the absolute highlight of the evening was the three song encore. It started off with an amazing rendition of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” in which the band finally got to show it’s teeth a little bit and had the whole house rocking. Then the entire crowd sang along on “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and afterwards McCrea informed the crowd that singing is actually an endorphin rush along the lines of having a free beer. And after a long pause the band broke into their signature song “The Distance,” capping off a great night.

Andrew Markowitz

A photographer for the past 4 years, used to sell inflatable dartboards and solar powered flashlights. Hobbies include muffin throwing contests and competitive ditch-digging.

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