Perhaps I should’ve known better, but this weekend I attended back-to-back CAKE shows at the Boulder Theater.
Friday night was so much fun. They opened with “Love You Madly,” which riled up the crowd from the get-go. They played all their crowd pleasers, from “Frank Sinatra” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle” to “Mexico” and “The Distance,” plus some potentially lesser-known stuff, like “Long Time” and “Jesus Wrote A Blank Check.” John McCrea’s characteristic monotone vocals rang evenly throughout the intimate venue, Vince DiFiore’s signature trumpet solos perfectly punctuated each track and guitarist Xan McCurdy shredded along, all the while looking impressively unimpressed. I absolutely can not stand it when bands ask you to sing along, especially when it detracts from their own singing — which it always does. But I even took great pleasure out of the back-and-forth chanting of lyrics during “Sheep Go To Heaven,” “Sick Of You” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” In fact, everyone in the audience sang along to every lyric in every song throughout the entire sold-out show.
“When McCrea fudged the lyrics during “Never There,” he unapologetically retorted that he “wasn’t a robot.” He made numerous comments about “not being behind our screens,” noting that by the time we go back through all of those moments that we’ve collected that we’ll all “have cancer.”
CAKE encored with “It’s Coming Down,” during which McCrea made sure to tell the audience how they “don’t usually play this song.” He made more than a couple of snide references to Trump, but didn’t overdo the political banter (contrary to CAKE’s very political social media presence). McCrea seems like kind of a strange dude. Fine.
But nothing could’ve been stranger than when, on Saturday, we drove all the way back to Boulder to catch night two of “An Evening With CAKE,” they opened up with “Opera Singer,” which they’d already played the previous night. And then proceeded to play an entire show’s worth of songs that they’d already played the previous night, with the exception of just two tracks (“Perhaps” and “Satan Is My Motor”).
“That’s right, they played all of the very same songs, two nights in a row. McCrea even said the very same shit, about living behind your screens (he sure hates phones) and getting cancer. Remember how he’d said they don’t usually play “It’s Coming Down?” Well, that’s weird because they played it again, no more than twenty four hours since they’d played it last.”
But, hey, you know what? I did a little research and it turns out that the whole thing is sort of a schtick. The banter was the same both nights in Boulder because it’s the same at all CAKE shows, everywhere. The SF Gate published an article regarding CAKE’s recent performance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival discussing McCrea’s “charged commentary.” His commentary was completely verbatim to that of this weekend, the same exact words, phrasing and tone (which was monotone, of course), including the talk of the “powerful voices,” the “protein in your diets” the cynically thanking the audience for attending because “you have your choice of music and entertainment options.” And maybe this is okay; maybe it’s all a part of their performance, part of McCrea’s “rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.” But, um, can we just agree that it’s all a little weird? A bit inauthentic? Irksome and infuriating, even?
As a kid who was raised by Deadheads and grew up attending Phish shows during my formative years, I suppose I have high expectations (this, unfortunately, isn’t a weed pun). Or at the very least, I was surrounded by a culture of improvisation. One where, when a band comes to town and plays multiple nights, you go each and every night — if you’re lucky enough (and wealthy enough) to acquire tickets to every show. You expect each event to be unique and infused with vigor. If you don’t hear a certain song on Friday, perhaps you’ll hear it on Saturday — and you never miss a Sunday show, because the bands often save the best songs for last. In that tie-dye streaked, psychedelic world of the jam bands, you’d never dream of hearing the same song twice in one weekend. It would be sacrilegious. If String Cheese Incident or Railroad Earth played repeats, you’d be confused, astounded and even concerned.
I know, I know. CAKE isn’t a jam band. Lots of bands just don’t function that way. Get over it, right?
On Saturday night, McCrea boasted that “they don’t use set lists.” CAKE just plays what they feel like playing, right there in that very moment. Well, perhaps they should consider using set lists, so that they’ll remember that they’re playing all of the songs that they already played the previous night. If they used set lists, perhaps they’d branch out and play other songs from any of their six albums (plus B-Sides and Rarities) and their large catalogue of music. Not the exact same show, two nights in a row, at the very same venue in the same town.
Surely there were other people that attended both nights, no? Was it only me? Am I a dummy for not knowing better?
My little brother, the music aficionado, told me that I “might be overreacting.” But I’m pissed. I feel like I got duped. I could’ve called it after Friday and been happy and ignorant. But I schlepped back to Boulder, looking forward to hearing “Dime” or “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town” or “Baskets” or “Comfort Eagle.” I had hoped to hear “Federal Funding” or “No Phone” or “Guitar Man.”
Instead, Saturday’s CAKE show negated all of the glory of Friday’s CAKE show. Because it was the same show, play by play, banter and all.
McCrea had claimed, on Friday, that he “wasn’t a robot,” but isn’t that just what a robot would say…? Or how a robot would act? (Or has HBO’s Westworld been fucking with my reality?)
Okay, so the band sounded undeniably great, in that way that bands sound when their live performances perfectly emulate their studio-recorded tracks. But there lacked a certain chemistry and dialogue between the band members. Like maybe they actually all hate each other. Or maybe they actually all hate performing. Or maybe it’s both — or neither. Hard to say. Regardless, CAKE’s sarcastic lyrics and exceptional break-up songs are still totally awesome, in that ’90s alternative, experimental(ish) indie-ska sort of thing that they do. CAKE truly has a sound like no other, even if that sound doesn’t allow for any spontaneity when performed live. But, hey: they self-release albums from their solar powered studio and they give away apple trees at their concerts. They are quirky. Their songs are catchy and likable. I’m still looking forward to their new album, allegedly set to be released in 2017.
I will find it in my heart to eventually forgive CAKE for tricking me into watching the same show twice (and both nights sold out!), but I still can’t commend their behavior. It’s just poor etiquette.