Telephoned irony

Cake: Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines or Freeport Bakery?

Cake: Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines or Freeport Bakery?

It was a Tuesday night, and Justin Shelton was practically out of his mind with excitement. Shelton is a native of Lincoln, and to him, the whole experience of Sacramento’s Midtown grid was amazing. But perhaps nothing was as incredible to him as what he was witnessing that evening at the Capitol Garage, for he was sitting just a few feet away from one of Sacramento’s most famous musical exports. “I’ve been into this band since I was 17,” Shelton said, his mouth curled up in a toothy smile. “I’m 22 now. To see them like this is …” At an apparent loss for words, Shelton’s mouth dropped open. “I just want all of their signatures on my copy of Fashion Nugget,” he said.

For Shelton and the 142 audience members lucky enough to get through the doors of the Capitol Garage last Tuesday night to witness what was supposed to be a “secret” hometown show, Cake’s return to Sacramento was like Christmas coming just a few days early. Not only did the band treat its fans to a nice selection of familiar songs, but it also offered up some material the band has been recording for its upcoming album (including one new song performed twice).

Bandleader John McCrea seemed in particularly fine form for the evening’s show, proving that he is a master of manipulating his audience. At several points during the performance, this manipulation forced the audience into rather ironic situations, such as when McCrea asked the audience members to hold up their cell phones and chant the refrain of a new song—“no phone”—along with him, after which the audience members dutifully stowed their portable connections back into their jean-jacket pockets. Did the audience get the joke, or does that even matter?

As for the new material, in general, it’s stylistically in line with the band’s previous studio album, 2001’s Comfort Eagle, although it should be noted that some of the songs don’t quite seem finished yet. Particularly shaky was a song about smog that repeated “where’s the air” over and over again and didn’t seem to do much else.

But moments like that were one of the reasons Cake’s Capitol Garage show was so interesting. Cake’s studio releases are clean, polished and perfect. It was therefore fascinating to see the band perform naked, without that polish, with new songs and the same level of terrific musicianship (I maintain that Gabe Nelson is one of the best bass players anywhere on the planet). This was an opportunity to see a band in the process of creating art, and that’s an opportunity audiences are rarely given (at least by national bands).

It also should be noted that the stage last Tuesday night was shared by one of Sacramento’s most interesting local bands, Daisy Spot, whose sound is a mixture of cool Stan Getz-like Latin rhythms and Nico-era Velvet Underground, with just a touch of grinding Black Sabbath-inspired guitar wielding by the always-entertaining Mike Farrell. It took the audience half an hour to warm up to the band, but once Farrell really started playing, even the most Cake-obsessed frat boys took notice. Cool, quietly explosive and musically superb.