Fans Have Their Cake And Enjoy It Too

Singer John McCrea's indie-rock outfit turns club into theater of the absurd.

SAN FRANCISCO -- John McCrea looked like the Andy Kaufman of indie rock.

The lead singer of Sacramento, Calif.'s trumpet-loving Cake stayed in character for

almost all of his band's hour-and-a-half gig at Slim's nightclub Thursday. Throughout,

he stared impassively at the sold-out, 600-plus crowd from behind his dark,

motorcycle-cop shades and black cowboy hat, holding his hands up at odd angles and

scolding tipsy fans for their loud chattering during songs.

Like the late, offbeat comic Kaufman, McCrea mixed a bit of the absurd into his act -- the

bandmembers were all dressed in black-and-white cowboy gear -- as Cake previewed

six songs from their upcoming album, Prolonging the Magic (Oct. 6).

Meanwhile, the rowdy, vocal crowd seemed intent on egging the singer on, despite his

protestations.

Mixing a pair of their signature cover songs -- a rocked-up version of disco diva Gloria

Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Celia Cruz's slinky bossa nova "Perhaps, Perhaps,

Perhaps" -- with old favorites and as-yet-unreleased songs, Cake presented an

engaging, if sonically unvarying, show.

Working out the musical kinks were new guitarist Xan McCurdy, in only his third live

show with the group, and returning bassist Gabe Nelson, an original member who left

Cake just after the release of the band's 1994 debut, Motorcade of Generosity.

McCrea presented an immediate challenge to the audience by pulling out the new song

"Mexico," a slowpoke, Tijuana Brass-style lament, early in the show. The song, which

features McCrea's hallmark of oblique lyrics, paved the way for another new tune, in

which McCrea continues his lyrical fascination with all things automotive. The singer

crooned the chorus of "Satan Is My Motor" as if the lyrics were not nearly as esoteric as

they sounded.

Owing to Cake's unusual mix of trumpet (Vincent di Fiore), acoustic guitar (McCrea),

electric guitar, bass and drums (Todd Roper), even such new tunes as "Hem of Your

Garment," a sexy, tangoesque song, blended almost seamlessly into the other songs in

the set, distinguishable mostly by McCrea's herky-jerky stage movements and freshly

oddball lyrics.

And then there was his haranguing of the crowd to shut up.

"Shut the f--- up over there by the bar," McCrea said with a straight face after performing

the new, acerbic break-up song "You Turn the Screws," which deals with the band's

inner turmoil. "I'll come over there and pour beer on your head," McCrea threatened,

showing only a hint of a smile as he continued his ridiculous cowboy-cop act.

While it's tempting -- especially during songs such as the group's quirky, car-themed,

pseudo-rap radio hit

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Cake/The_Distance.ram">"The Distance"

(RealAudio excerpt) -- to dismiss Cake as a parody band or novelty act, McCrea's visible

sincerity (apart from the urban-cowboy shtick) and the bandmembers' musical chops

made it seem unlikely that the group is destined for the Bloodhound Gang novelty heap.

Cake ended the set with the new album's first single, the beat-heavy "Never There,"

which was refashioned from the drum-loop sound of the radio version into a more

organic pop-lament with a slightly south-of-the-border feel.

McCrea was leading the audience in a surprisingly effective, 10-minute

call-and-response rendition of the country stomp "Jolene" when 20-year-old, first-time

Cake-show attendee Jennifer Guichard seemed to become suddenly aware of what she

was witnessing.

"I've never seen them live and I thought the new songs sounded really great," the

Berkeley, Calif., resident said. "I really loved the cowboy outfits. I'm from the Central

Valley, too, and they are very appropriate."