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The Return of Cake

After 10 years away, the band performs in Buffalo on Friday

Deeply sardonic and filled with dry, post modern angst, Cake is not your typical pop band. Everything about them screams niche, whether it’s John McCrea’s deadpan speak-sing vocals, Vince Difiore’s Spanish-flavored trumpet, or the band’s hectic combination of jazz, funk, college rock, Californian Americana, and synth. Yet, their rise to fame didn’t come from a zealous underground following (which they’re not lacking), but from regular airplay of a string of hit singles.

As strange and offbeat as they are, Cake know how to juice a good hook or lick to make some memorable pop. And now, after more than 10 years of Cakelessness, Buffalonians can finally get their fill, as the band will be gracing us with their presence this Friday at the Town Ballroom, filling the venue with all sorts of “hey!”s, strange Latin percussion, and skewed rock songs.

Some may decry their jumbling of styles as amateurish, but it takes skill for a pop band to remain unique, and throughout their entire career, from mainstream hits to left-turn excursions, Cake has maintained a style that is distinctly theirs. “Going the Distance” may have been played to the ground back in 1996, but it was still refreshing to hear a band on alternative radio that wasn’t trying to sound like Pearl Jam.

“Distance” may always be their anthem, but luckily the band defied critics and dodged being a one-hit wonder with some great singles. “Sheep Go to Heaven” has to be one of the strangest sing-a-longs to be played on radio, with its twisted nursery-rhyme bridge that opens with “and the grave digger puts on his forceps.” “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” is wonderful display of their quirky pop, proclaiming McCrea’s need for a practical lover with “an uninterrupted prosperity.” “No Phone” shows the band switching gears, complementing McCrea’s frustration with encroaching technology with a tense, yet still catchy riff.

Their take on “I Will Survive” is another Cake classic, and one hell of a cover, successfully twisting the disco hit into rock. But upon its release, many couldn’t tell if the band was being ironic or not, whether behind the whole song and dance was a disrespectful and nefarious smirk. There’s even rumor that it’s Gloria Gaynor’s least favorite cover of the song due to its inclusion of a certain f-word. But Cake attests that in no way was the cover a joke, and that the song is one they admire quite sincerely, which isn’t hard to believe when you listen to their version’s sick bass-line.

As for their live show, it’s solid. Their performances are flawlessly faithful to the recordings, while still keeping an organic feel. And even on more atmospheric numbers like “Frank Sinatra,” the band performs like clockwork. But beware, if you are going to go check them out, keep in mind that McCrea doesn’t tolerate any lethargy in his audience. You will sing, damn you—you will sing.

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