Concert review: An Evening with Cake at Jannus Live, St. Petersburg (with photos)

There’s something delightfully odd, even kind of lovable, about Cake frontman John McCrea. His deadpanned, half-sung delivery; the implicit, oft-coded tales of subjects like girls with minds like diamonds and fingernails that shine like justice; his undying love for the vibraslap, quite possibly the most awesome sounding piece of auxiliary percussion in existence...

McCrea is Cake's most apparent epicenter, the musical fuel tank of the group, if you will, as it was evidenced during their sold-out Jannus Live show this past Saturday night.

Ring-leading his comrades from his center-stage post, McCrea made the most of his time in the spotlight, deftly whacking the vibraslap, occasionally strumming his tiny acoustic guitar, and admiringly pointing to fellow band members when their solo time came.

His between-song banter was, uh, well — it won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Specifically during the end of their 2001 single, “Short Skirt – Long Jacket” where he asked for some audience assistance – a few background “nah nah nah nah nah”’s to close out the song.

After motioning for the upper level VIP section to sing – and getting, like, nothing in return – he went off on a populist rant for the ages. I’m paraphrasing here but it was something along the lines of, “Okay, I get it. You’re just here because it’s the place to be in St. Pete tonight. You were probably here watching Night Ranger or something last week and you’re just way above singing right now. That’s fine. Ruin it a little for the rest of us.” It was frank, a tad uncomfortable, but still a little heartwarming in a stick-up-for-the-little-guy kind of way.

The band was as tight as they were eccentric and varied in their performance; thick bass grooves locked into oft-downbeat drums, the lead guitar crunched and howled without ever turning down the road of overbearing-ness, and the trumpet work of aux percussionist/keyboardist Vincent DiFiore – while often heard mixed in the background of their recordings – belted it out as if the show was actually titled “An Evening with Vincent Difiore featuring Cake.”

Oddly enough, they took a 15-minute break about 50 minutes into their two-hour set. For a marathon live band like, say, Phish, this is understandable — but 50 minutes in? You’re strumming guitars and hitting noisy things, not flipping monster truck tires across the stage. Playing for two hours straight without a break isn’t all that unreasonable, is it? Who knows? From an audience perspective, it was a little vibe-diminishing and seemingly unnecessary.

Regardless, they came back and all gripes were nearly forgotten when they launched into a fantastically different and well executed cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” vibra-slapped and all.

The rest of the set delved deep into their diverse back catalogue with tracks like “Never There” off 1998’s Prolonging the Magic, “Friend is a Four Letter Word” from their first major-label release, Fashion Nugget, and even “Jolene” from their debut effort, the self-released Motorcade of Generiosity.

Love 'em or loathe 'em, Cake is, at the very least, an interesting band. Even live, it’s evident that a hyperactive, childlike curiosity plays a large part in their creative process. Stylistic monotony seems virtually impossible for this fivesome and, hey, for us over-caffeinated, channel-surfing, and rapidly-bored common folk, this probably ain't a bad thing.

Setlist:

  1. Comfort Eagle 

  2. Long Time

  3. Shadow Stabbing

  4. Frank Sinatra 

  5. Arco Arena

  6. Bound Away

  7. Rock 'N' Roll Lifestyle

  8. Wheels

  9. Stick Shifts and Safety Belts 

  10. Guitar

Break

  1. War Pigs

  2. Short Skirt Long Jacket

  3. Mustache Man (Wasted)

  4. Mexico

  5. Friend Is a Four Letter Word

  6. Sick of You

  7. Never There

Encore

  1. Love You Madly

  2. Jolene

  3. The Distance