I was speaking to a gentleman about going to see Cake and he expressed some dismay that Cake was still together and that they were still big enough to sell out a major venue like the Palace in Waterbury. The truth is that 14 years since their last platinum selling album, Cake is still stronger than ever.
Their odd mixture of rockabilly, hip hop, country, and funk captured a certain novelty in the 90s and early aughts. But even as their record sales declined, their shows have still sold out consistently. Maybe it is part of a thriving 90s nostalgia that has made reissues of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream so popular. Or maybe it is because Cake is quirky enough to drag a quirky crowd out of the woodwork where ever they go.
Part of Cake’s quirk is their music, obviously, but their live show is equally quirky. For the past several years Cake has toured by themselves with no opening band. Billing it “An Evening with Cake,” the band plays two separate sets with an intermission in between. On this particular Wednesday night in Waterbury, the band began with “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” a cover of Willie Nelson. It was an odd and downtrodden beginning to the set but in a way that just speaks to the quirk of Cake.
The mood quickly turned around with a rousing version of “Opera Singer” followed by ten or so choice selections from Cake’s first four albums. Before going to intermission Cake performed the deadly sin of any band past their prime: they played songs from their new album. They closed out the first set of the night with “The Winter” followed by “Sick of You.” Although they did manage to get people on their feet for some crowd participation during “Sick of Me,” it still was a rocky ending.
The second set began with the giveaway of a tree. Not just a “who wants a tree?” but lead singer John McCrea asked the crowd for Algonquin name for Waterbury and its meaning. Whoever got the question correct got the tree. After calling on nary six people, finally he found a woman who knew the answer. She was given the tree and sworn to promise to send pictures of her and the tree for at least the next 30 years.
After this spectacle the band formally started the second set with another cover. This time of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” which has been a staple of Cake’s live shows for the past 5+ years. But after the hoopla of “War Pigs” followed by “Stick Shifts and Safety Belts,” the band picked up where the first set left off. Playing back to back tracks from Showroom of Compassion, many of the crowd began to sit down for the first time. Perhaps sensing they were losing the crowd, they played fan favorite “Sheep Go to Heaven” before closing out the set with “Comanche” and “Never There.”
What struck me as odd is that fact that Cake took one intermission already and yet left the stage and spent a decent amount of time off the stage before coming back on for their encore. The encore was fairly standard containing the band’s two biggest hits “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” and “The Distance.” The only real surprise was “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” sandwiched between the two hits.
Leaving the show, there was not any complaints heard from concert goers. Traditionally walking away from a show you hear at least one person waxing poetic that they wish the band played such and such song or “why did they play THAT song?” But there was not a negative word heard in my earshot. Maybe that means that Cake’s quirky crowd is overly positive? Or more likely it means Cake can do little wrong in the eye of their key constituents, the reason Cake can still sell out shows over a decade after their peak relevance.
MP3: Cake “War Pigs (Live)”