Cake: Proposition H (not Preparation H)

The Independent
San Francisco, CA
October 10, 2008

Cake: Proposition H (not Preparation H)

The evening began at Jimmy’s Victorian mansion across from Alamo Square in Hayes Valley. Unwittingly, I had purchased VIP tickets to the concert which included a catered preshow meet and greet with the band, public officials, and grass roots activists campaigning for Proposition H, a ballot measure that would make San Francisco the first major city in the country to be solely powered by clean, renewable sources of energy. The Victorian gathering was a colorful mix of rock and rollers, groupies, roadies, granola environmental activists, community organizers and for some inexplicable reason, a couple of rowdy Scots, who were visiting the US via New Zealand. This was not Sarah Palin’s America. There were no well-scrubbed college republicans chanting drill baby drill. But in every way that matters, it was a much more honest meeting of free spirits who only want a better country.

Cake may be the biggest little band in the world. They have headlined music festivals and played in large amphitheaters but still have never really entered popular consciousness, at least not in the way that fellow California bands the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Green Day have. This may be in part due to their anti-rock star front-man John McCrea who can be perceived as an arrogant hipster doofus. He talks to the audience almost as if he were a fan of himself while at the same time singing songs that excoriate the shallowness of popular culture. He is at once immersed in the banality of rock stardom while resisting it. Depending upon your perspective, he can appear to be hypocritical or a man of integrity - aware of his own circumstance - and simply condemned to the irony of his own love/hate relationship with all the attention. In his defense, he and the band at least seem determined to walk the walk.

Cake’s next album is going to be recorded in a studio that is powered by 100% solar energy. The band has also taken to giving away a free tree at many of its concerts. Last night, a lemon tree was given to fan who correctly identified it as an Improved Meyer Lemon tree. And the band supports many other environmental causes. However, regardless of your political leanings and opinion of McCrae, Cake puts on a great show.

Cake’s music was once classified as alternative. I believe this was largely due to their rejection of the otherwise ubiquitous guitar solo of mainstream pop music along with McCrae’s laconic rhythmic spoken-singing style, which will not make him a contender on American Idol, but fits well with the droll, observational lyrics. However, as rock music has broadened, Cake is no longer an outlier. It’s not particularly radical any longer to rely on well crafted, funky hooks, mixing elements of country, jazz, funk, and rock. Vince DiFiore’s brilliantly subtle touches of trumpet, more than anything else, set Cake apart from the rest of the crowd. I do loves me a good brass section in my rock. All in all, a great show, from a great set of musicians in an intimate environment. What more could you ask for?

Songs to check out for the Cake neophyte: Love You Madly, Short Skirt Long Jacket, Sheep Go to Heaven