Cake :: 2.02.05 :: Manchester Academy :: Manchester, UK

The most difficult task musicians face in today's image-based, unforgiving music industry is creating their own distinctive sound to stay afloat in a cesspool drowning with bands that sound exactly the same. Creativity and experimentation do not translate into financial gain, as creators that silently push the boundaries of modern music can end up well-respected, but ultimately penniless. Yet, cynicism aside, there are flowers growing out of the pile of dirt and Sacramento's Cake is one of them. For nearly a decade, the quintet has created a ubiquitously revered sound, and with the help of clever marketing, they have achieved both artistic and financial success amongst the masses - a task that grows more difficult by every passing indie-rock single. Arguably an anomaly in the industry, their idiosyncratic, lyrically engaging funky pop continues to thrive, reinforcing a sound that has expanded throughout their career.

Fast forward five albums and Cake continue to experiment with the funk, reggae, pop, and hip-hop that has sustained them. In addition, the product that the influences create almost innately suit Jon McCrea's lyrically absorbing diatribes. McCrea's lyrics sop up imagery like a wet sponge, wringing off symbolism and down-home humor in every verse.

Their latest release, Pressure Chief, is yet another McCrea led gem. A subtly political, melodically consistent effort that follows suit with the previous four records, it's tight, eccentric, and scrupulously funky. Fresh off heavy stateside touring in support of the release, February sees the band venturing off the continent, beginning a twelve-date European tour in the UK. On a balmy Wednesday evening, Manchester University II (the Student Union's venues are conveniently named I, II and III) set the scene for the second of three UK dates.

Manchester University is massive and hosts an array of live music every evening. In venue I, Thin Lizzy was supposedly resurrecting themselves while independent music showcased itself in venue III. Basically a standard collegiate gymnasium, venue II by and large is nothing special, but it remains the most suitably-sized venue for mid-level touring bands in the UK's second largest city.

Coming on shortly after 9:30 p.m. to a near sold out and extremely appreciative crowd, Cake immediately began by essentially reinforcing their point, instilling the fact that they like what they do and plan to stick with it. McCrea, the relentless, politically-charged, sarcastic frontman, led the band through samples of their entire catalogue, splitting the set evenly with a few select tunes from each of the five records. His trademark, speech-mimetic vocals, spouting lyrics that are at times cleverly poignant or austerely absurdist, expressively accentuated the fierce, trumpet-led aforementioned funk pop. Throughout the seventy-minute set, one by one Cake provided examples of what a pop band should sound like and how to go about fashioning it together. By relying on the sum more than the individual parts, Cake wielded a quick pop music tutorial, exemplifying the straightforward idea that most pop bands skip over - by keeping things simple and consistent, the product can be accessible and original all at once.

Jon McCrea by George Weiss
Newer tunes like Pressure Chief's opening track, "Wheels," a somber, melancholic jaunt into the difficulties of relationships, were done with trademark quirkiness and smart satirical darkness. "Stick Shifts and Safety Belts," a bluegrass ditty that revolves around the seating arrangement in a car stole the show, providing a healthy backdrop of recent material. Additionally, classics like "Sheep Go To Heaven" and "The Distance" were equally invigorating. Even "Nugget" with the lyrics; "Shut the Fuck Up," a perfect example of how Caucasians can ruin hip-hop was engaging, letting humor salvage sloppiness, turning potential discomfort into pure comedic political satire. In addition, singles "Love You Madly" and "Never There" gleefully entertained alongside surprise breakouts "Comfort Eagle" as well as the gorgeous but often overlooked "Haze of Love." Instead of reeling off their new album in stride, the quintet gave Manchester some bait from both sides of the rainbow, whether one was fishing for aggressive politics or a simple, unadulterated love song.

The show was abridged, lasting a little over an hour, but it facilitated a short escape from the crap encrusting modern pop music. Cake is one of few modern pop bands that continue to push buttons that rarely seem to work, proving that indeed, hopelessness has not launched a full out invasion on the originality of pop music.

Listen to Cake's Pressure Chief on Rhapsody.

Shain Shapiro
JamBase | UK
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[Published on: 2/8/05]

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