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Cake Comes Full Circle
March 17, 2011 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Three parts guitar, one part drums, one or two parts percussion (to taste), one part trumpet, and a couple dashes of organ. Add a hearty shake of vibraslap. Season with half-sung, half-spoken vocals and lyrical wordplay. And there you have it, Cake, roughly the same recipe as they've been using for the last 20 years. There is a new solar powered serving available now.

It's been 20 years since the original group formed. Two years later, the group from Sacramento, CA, released their first single: Rock & Roll Lifestyle (official video on YouTube). It was self-released, yet peaked to #31 on the US Modern Rock Tracks Billboard chart. Their debut album was also self-released, then re-issued in 1994 on the Georgia-based Capricorn Records label. Capricorn would be the band's label for the next three albums, carrying them through 1998. As the band's contract with Capricorn wound down, Columbia Records courted and signed the band, citing lead singer John McCrea's "very distinctive musical vision" and the band's "previous platinum level success" (their second album had sold one million copies by 1997, and their 3rd album went platinum in less than a year).

Cake's two albums for Columbia didn't reach the same peaks, with Comfort Eagle going gold in over a year and a half after its initial 2001 release. The 2004 album, Pressure Chief, only selling slightly better than their 3rd album, Prolonging the Magic, which was released in 1998. Between the two albums released by Columbia, Cake put together the first and second Unlimited Sunshine tours, in 2002 (event overview) and 2003 (interview with McCrea about the tour). They had two rounds of the tour in 2006 (interview with Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello) and 2007 (basic tour info).

The 2007 Unlimited Sunshine Tour coincided with the release of B-Sides and Rarities, which was available as a "standard" edition with 11 tracks, or a limited 12 track edition, featuring 1 of 5 different scratch and sniff covers. The compilation was the first release on their newly formed Upbeat Records, after parting ways with Columbia (McCrea cited limitations imposed by the label, such as not letting them cover Guitar Man by 1970s soft-rock band Bread). On their new label, they re-released their first album, then issued a new single and their first new album in 6 years. The album part of their greater "green" efforts - recorded in a solar-powered studio and packaged in recycled materials. The new album charted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for the week it came out, even though the album sold as many copies as the band's last album, and the lowest No. 1 in the 20-year history of calculating record sales.

Related:
* NPR World Cafe: 25 minutes of interview and music with Cake's leader singer, John McCrea.
* NPR All Things Considered, then and now: 2004 (8:19, no transcript); 2011 (8:20, story and transcript available).
* Official Cake YouTube channel, with "road journal" video clips and such.
* Previously: Cake covered War Pigs by Black Sabbath.
* YouTube clip of someone playing a donkey jaw, the "natural" version of the vibraslap.
posted by filthy light thief (46 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love these guys! We used to play with them sometimes in my old band.
These cats were always so nice and generous in every way you can imagine.
Thanks for posting!
posted by artof.mulata at 2:46 PM on March 17, 2011


Before someone posts the obligatory "your favoriate band sucks" comment, I just want to thank filthy light thief for such an extensive post regardless of whether Mefites are Cake fans - which, of course, I think they should be.

For those on facebook, if you follow bands as a fan you'll see most of them post endlessly about the latest guest appearance and upcoming concert tour. Cake does that too, but I'd say roughly 90% of their posts are like any other heavily left leaning news junkie friend's posts. It's a riot.

If all this wasn't enough, my god, they covered Mahna Mahna!
posted by Muddler at 2:47 PM on March 17, 2011


Fantastic post about one of my favorite bands. Thank you, filthy light thief.

(I saw the 2006 tour in NYC. Cake was fantastic, Gogol Bordello was great, though Tegan and Sara were unfortunately badly served by the venue. They had a comic that I guess was supplied by the house between sets. He was booed off the stage between T&S and Gogol Bordello, and wasn't allowed back before Cake came on. When McCrea thanked him at the end of Cake's set, the audience booed, which is the only time I've ever seen an audience do that.)
posted by immlass at 2:50 PM on March 17, 2011


Love Cake. First got into them through their cover of I Will Survive, then slowly expanded through their catalog and across the years. They have a vibe nobody else has. (Even when I saw them at 10am performing at Bumbershoot a zillion years ago.)

And Italian Leather Sofa has the best instrumental breaks this side of anywhere.

And Short Skirt Long Jacket gets me hot, and I don't even chase the skirts!
posted by hippybear at 2:51 PM on March 17, 2011


Whenever I visit California I end up, at some point, singing "Sheep Go To Heaven, Goats Go To Hell" to myself.
posted by The Whelk at 2:51 PM on March 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I heard that NPR piece a couple of weeks ago, and was wondering when someone was going to get around to doing a write-up. Good to see that it was this extensive.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:55 PM on March 17, 2011


So few bands are perfect as a band. Cake is perfect. Absolutely flawless in every sense - songwriting, performance, musicianship, musical chemistry as a group. It's quite a thing to see.
posted by The World Famous at 2:56 PM on March 17, 2011


'Frank Sinatra' was a college staple and they're funnnn live. Thanks for the post
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:01 PM on March 17, 2011


Muddler: For those on facebook, if you follow bands as a fan you'll see most of them post endlessly about the latest guest appearance and upcoming concert tour. Cake does that too, but I'd say roughly 90% of their posts are like any other heavily left leaning news junkie friend's posts. It's a riot.

I can see that. They have a page on their website that changes weekly. It's called WEEKLY. This week it's "hipster traps set in NYC" (image link that might die in a week, IMGur for longevity). Last week was a picture of a table, showing programs that are proposed to be cut, compared with what I think are current tax cuts for the rich. The two columns were aligned to show that by ending those tax cuts, these programs could continue to be funded.


ArgentCorvid: I heard that NPR piece a couple of weeks ago, and was wondering when someone was going to get around to doing a write-up. Good to see that it was this extensive.

I heard that show, which is what sent me to write this up*. I didn't realize that 1) Cake was #1 on the Billboard chart, and 2) the fact that their new album sold only as well as their last one. I wonder if Cake chose to release their album that week vs others, or if it was a random choice. If it was a week later, they would have been up against The Decemberists. *That, and I like Cake, and I think their new album is swell.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:05 PM on March 17, 2011


Hurrah for Google Cache: Here's last week's WEEKLY image, and IMGur for longevity.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:09 PM on March 17, 2011


I really don't like that they're directing such dark sarcasm at federal funding. It's super-offensive to those of us who really appreciate the latest wing of whatever building.
posted by circular at 3:09 PM on March 17, 2011


Too much Copperplate.
posted by escabeche at 3:15 PM on March 17, 2011


Cake was invented so that guys who can't sing could do karaoke and feel good about it.
posted by LordSludge at 3:17 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't like Cake, but I love this post (both because it's so damned thorough, and because my wife does like Cake). Thanks, filthy light thief!
posted by Pecinpah at 3:25 PM on March 17, 2011


Over an hour and 14 comments and nobody has done the obvious "The Cake is a Lie" snark? I'd do it myself but filthy light thief knows where I live.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:39 PM on March 17, 2011


For all I know, the Cake is a lie.

By that, I mean I haven't seen them live. But my wife has, and she says they're real, so I'll trust her. For now.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:42 PM on March 17, 2011


Nugget is one of my top-ten pissed-off songs. I just love the "Ya! Ya!"s at the end.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:55 PM on March 17, 2011


They're an inferior wannabe Soul Coughing.
posted by mike3k at 4:01 PM on March 17, 2011


Absolutely flawless in every sense - songwriting, performance

I'm actually surprised by the "performance" side of this comment--my complaint about Cake has always been that the singer sounds a little bored or disinterested (although there's no denying they have absurdly catchy songs and the vocals kinda work anyway). How does his vocal approach translate to live performances? Does dude get down or what?
posted by Hoopo at 4:01 PM on March 17, 2011


I approve of Cake, therefore I approve of this post. However I also think soul Coughing did it better. But that's okay. They do it just fine.
posted by Decani at 4:07 PM on March 17, 2011


How does his vocal approach translate to live performances? Does dude get down or what?

I've seen them a couple of times, they've always been pretty blistering live.

Here is a video of their appearance on Jimmy Fallon at the end of Jan. It's obviously a television appearance, but it is a live clip.
posted by hippybear at 4:11 PM on March 17, 2011


I loves me the Cake, and this post is truly wonderful.
posted by dbiedny at 4:13 PM on March 17, 2011


Cake was invented so that guys who can't sing could do karaoke and feel good about it.

Short Skirt/Long Jacket is actually hard for karaoke. Apart from the sparse instrumentation for cues, it's syncopated and fast, which means you have to be on to nail it, not to mention know the lyrics pretty well even without the lyrics prompts.
posted by immlass at 4:19 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Short Skirt/Long Jacket is actually hard for karaoke

Surprisingly enough, so was Subterranean Homesick Blues. I thought I was so clever having found a song without singing in it--my other technique was to get loaded and scream Sex Pistols songs when brought to karaoke.

I'm not even the "funny" type of bad singer, I'm the "totally killed the whole vibe" type of bad singer. I'll have to remember Cake if I ever go to another karaoke booth, but avoid Short Skirt/Long Jacket.
posted by Hoopo at 4:32 PM on March 17, 2011


Cake was one of the best shows I ever saw in college. Back before "You Turn The Screws" their bass player used to get lower to the ground throughout the course of the night he seemingly leaned back and to ... the left - almost trying to put his left shoulder to his left heel. Really, words can't describe exactly what he was doing. It was slow enough that I didn't catch on right away, but by the end of the night I was wondering how he was still both standing and playing. It was surreal. Three months later, at the same venue, he did it again, playing awesome, but weird performance overall.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:07 PM on March 17, 2011


I was going to make a comment about how I used go to see Cake before they got famous but then I'd have to make a Rock and Roll Lifestyle joke and I'm just too old and tired.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:18 PM on March 17, 2011


Saw cake at Howling Wolf in New Orleans. They were pretty awesome. They do what they do very well.
posted by justgary at 5:33 PM on March 17, 2011


Best. Band. Evar.

NB: That's CAKE (all caps), thank you very much.

Loves me some CAKE.

My own attempt at being somewhat CAKE-like.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:33 PM on March 17, 2011


... and thanks for the awesome post, filthy light thief.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:34 PM on March 17, 2011


So few bands are perfect as a band. Cake is perfect. Absolutely flawless in every sense - songwriting, performance, musicianship, musical chemistry as a group. It's quite a thing to see.

This is pretty much why I love Cake. They don't aim that high but the execution is just perfect.
posted by dfan at 5:51 PM on March 17, 2011


Cake was invented so that guys who can't sing could do karaoke and feel good about it.

Short Skirt, Long Jacket is my go-to karaoke song. I usually have to tolerate a gaggle of cute back-up singers, but, hey, my posse's got my back. I just make sure I have the only live mic.
I'm an old, jaded geezer but CAKE is a band I'll pay to see every time they're in town.
posted by Floydd at 6:30 PM on March 17, 2011


I'm pretty stoked about all the Cake-love in here. They are a fantastic band, and put on a really great live show. They don't just nail the execution, but they appear to have a great deal of fun doing it. I've seen them a number of times, and the show has never seemed merely workmanlike, or just a stop on a tour.

This post reminds me that I haven't gotten around to buying the new album (and they're in town in a few weeks; better get on that).
posted by uncleozzy at 6:51 PM on March 17, 2011


Just saw them last month and they were really great live. It was a pretty dance-unfriendly venue but by the fourth song, there was not a single ass left its seat. They also encouraged a lot of audience participation, heaven for those of us who like to sing along, and they gave away a tree to one lucky attendee, on the condition that he plant it, take a picture and upload updates to their website.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 6:55 PM on March 17, 2011


Okay, I love Cake's music, I've been to three shows in the space of 2 years, and I own all their music. That said, they've lately been kind of turning me off personally. John McCrea basically comes off as an asshole 100% of the time, and it's grating. Their complete ban on photography at shows is obnoxious and unfriendly toward fans, and their political stances (while I mostly agree with them) take on holier-than-thou levels of fervor at times. Like, the stuff with solar energy in particular grates on me. For successful bands it makes sense, for the average Joe, not necessarily.

This is a great post, thanks filthy light thief!
posted by papayaninja at 7:28 PM on March 17, 2011


Man, I love Cake. I saw them play Davis a million years ago before I'd ever heard of them. I bought their album the next day and still can't listen without singing along at full volume in my car.

Also, they were my dog's (RIP) favorite band. I'd croon to him while we drove, and he always loved "Up so close" the best. Just for that, Cake will always be good in my book.
posted by gofargogo at 8:06 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


roughly the same recipe as they've been using for the last 20 years.

Oh god I'm old. When did this happen? Why did no one tell me?
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:14 PM on March 17, 2011


It's okay a lot of people just blocked out the 00s.


You didn't miss much.
posted by The Whelk at 9:27 PM on March 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you making a baking joke?


The go-to car singalong song for my wife and I is "Stickshifts and Safetybelts".
posted by Severian at 9:42 PM on March 17, 2011


They have written some really great bass lines. I Will Survive is one of my favorites to play and almost all over their biggest hits have been from their songs that include the catchy bass lines.

I've always wondered if McCrea writes all the parts as he seems to get credited for almost every song in each album.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:55 PM on March 17, 2011


By that, I mean I haven't seen them live. But my wife has, and she says they're real, so I'll trust her. For now.

Like gofargogo, I saw them only back in the day, with that first lineup (Motorcade of Generosity and the second album) -- with the very funky Latino bass player, the skinny 12 year old guitar player dwarfed by his old guitar, and the trumpet. Does anyone know of any live recordings from that era? They were awesome live. The jam at the end of Jolene, which sounds schticky and jokey on the album, was a hot shit jam live. (Not to be all they used to be, but still...)

Another thing: they had a totally unique, original sound from day one, with the antique amps, busted old percussive guitar, vibraslap and trumpet.
posted by msalt at 12:58 AM on March 18, 2011


To quote myself from years ago having a conversation with my then girlfriend/now wife.

Her: Do you like CAKE?

Me: CAKE the music or CAKE the band?

She thought it was hilarious. At that moment I knew I loved her, despite the fact that I can't listen to their version of I Will Survive in front of her without hearing her complain about the lyrical change.
posted by theichibun at 5:59 AM on March 18, 2011


They're an inferior wannabe Soul Coughing.

I have to admit this was my opinion back in the Ruby Vroom vs. Fashion Nugget era, and it's an easy mistake to make if you live in 1996 and only have those two albums to listen to: they both have some oddball songwriting, story/song speech/singing, and vocalists who don't sing conventionally.

15 years (!!) later, though, I've been won over to full-blown Cake fandom, thanks to relentlessly consistent quality from McCrea and co., the band's obvious sense of joy and fun with what they do, and the unshakeable feeling that somehow, by just working and refining the same formula over and over, they've actually grown. I don't know how that works, but it does.

Really, I prefer to think you don't have to choose, and bands that sound a bit similar don't always have to be sliced into one-versus-the-other, who-ripped-who-off silliness. You can actually enjoy both groups, even if you think one was a bit better than the other 15 years ago.
posted by Shepherd at 6:08 AM on March 18, 2011


The CAKE version of Mahna Mahna (linked by Muddler above) plays a bit part in getting me married off and away from the dating scene. For that I will *always* buy their new albums.

I've attended a handful of shows too, including a rare 'dud' one of theirs. I blame The Murat and Indianapolis crowds for just being major buzzkills
posted by DigDoug at 6:11 AM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't believe Comfort Eagle didn't do better than it did, as it is an amazing album.
posted by Legomancer at 9:09 AM on March 18, 2011


Just bought Comfort Eagle on my Iphone while travelling two weeks ago.

For some bizarre reason, my phone then decided that in fact I did not need any other music, Cake was sufficient. So it deleted all of my other music. For the rest of that trip, Cake it was.
(I did decide the phone was wrong when I got home, though, and I refilled it.)

Now I have to go rummage through my CDs and find Fashion Nugget...

I totally want to try the pumpkin stuff they make in their video for I Want to Love You Madly. mm pumpkin.
posted by nat at 12:57 PM on March 18, 2011


Comfort Eagle is, indeed, the only music one needs. It's my go-to song when I can't figure out what kind of music I'm in the mood to listen to.

I'm not the only person who sings the trumpet part, right?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2011


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