March 6, 2007

Noise Pop: “As soon as you’re born you start dying, so you might as well have a good time . . .”

Almost local band (Sacramento) Cake just blew my mind Sunday night, the perfect way to end six craaaazy nights of Noise Pop.

I’ve seen Cake thrice now and they never fail to pull off an excellent show, easily in my top 5 live acts (actually, probably top three). John McCrea is a fearless ringmaster of his own little circus, with a sardonic wit and perfect 800 SAT vocabulary to boot, and the band is tight and ace-rhythmic. The whole crowd was dancing just as hard as we could, and indeed you’d have to be dead not to want to join in. Check how they started their set:

VIDEO: Cake — “Comfort Eagle
(it stabilizes at around 20 seconds – aka I stop jumping)

If you’ve ever been around me while I listen to Cake, you’ll realize that it was a genuine sacrifice for me not to sing and dance my little heart out to this one, in order to hold the video camera (mostly) steady. I usually manage to dance to Cake even if seated.

Cake plays with no setlist, freestylin’ along as they feel the urge (much to the chagrin of some pugilistic and determined audience members, who seemed to think Cake was a jukebox for requests until McCrea shouted several fire-eyed “f*ck you”s in their direction).

We got songs from all the Cake albums, from the vastly underrated ‘You Part The Waters’ off Motorcade of Generosity, to ‘Stickshifts and Safetybelts’ (!!!), ‘The Distance’ and the Willie Nelson cover ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes’ from Fashion Nugget, delightfully lots off Prolonging The Magic and Comfort Eagle (my 2 favorite albums) – ‘Love You Madly,’ ‘Mexico’ (in lamentably forgotten 3/4 time signature) the fantastic ‘Shadow Stabbing,’ ‘Never There’ . . . and a few from the newest one Pressure Chief (‘Wheels’).

They also threw in some non-album tunes like their cover of ‘Excuse Me I Think I’ve Got A Heartache’ by Buck Owens, and mentioned that they finally have a “new” release coming out (independent, now that they are free of the indomitable iron will of the major labels – “You’ll never see us on Conan again!” McCrea defiantly pronounced) called B-Sides and Rarities. It’ll be available shortly via

You think perhaps that you are too cool to sing along at concerts? Not at Cake you aren’t, my friend.

McCrea never fails to lead the crowd in several extremely passionate participatory tunes, including ‘Sheep Go To Heaven’ and, my favorite, the “Na na na na nana, Na na na na naaaaana“s of ‘Short Skirt, Long Jacket.’ He splits the audience down the middle, and pits us against one another in a savage fashion (it’s like Lord of the Flies, really), taunting us (“They’re f*cking LAUGHING at you!”) to whip the crowd to a fever pitch. I think I almost bust a blood vessel in my eye, and probably made up for six days of fitness slackery with all the gleeful pogoing and hip-shaking boogying I could muster. What an evening. If you’ve never seen Cake live, DO IT. Get as close to the front as you can, wear comfortable shoes (I ditched my knee-high boots behind a speaker after about 5 minutes) and prepare to have one of the best times you can legally have in the contiguous 48.

The show was held in fine closing-night soiree fashion at Bimbo’s 365 Club — the classiest live music joint in the city, bar none. It’s a 1930s dinner club that retains all of its elegance and suavity from that era, even down to the grand piano, the wooden dancefloor, and the row of angled make-up tables and attendant in the ladies’ bathroom. The walls are draped with swags of glittery silver fabric, and until recently, they also had the real, live lady-mermaid swimming in a fishtank. McCrea commented on the missing mermaid, and it truly is a crying shame. Not enough ladies swimming in tanks in today’s modern nightlife, I say.

The show was ably opened up by a trio of great bands, San Francisco’s Scrabbel and The Botticellis, plus the effortlessly cool Money Mark. I liked all of them – here are some video clips:

VIDEO: Scrabbel — “Rosamo

VIDEO: The Botticellis — new song

VIDEO: Also from The Botticellis — “Up Against The Glass

Money Mark was rad. I’ve spun his new disc Brand New By Tomorrow several times now and like it more each time. I caught part of his in-store at Amoeba Records earlier in the day:

Despite some keyboard malfunctions which prevented a successful rendition of his great new tune “Pick Up The Pieces” (which was co-authored with Jack Johnson), Money Mark pulled off a really good-spirited and varied set. He invited folks up on the stage to dance along and I almost, almost did. But the guy who actually did climb up and doggedly jogged in place, dropped for push-ups, and did jumping jacks far bested anything I could have come up with.

There was also diminutive curly-haired Hispanic fella standing next to me in a leather bomber jacket, bobbing his head and taking in the show. About halfway through the set, Money Mark notices him and beckons him to join the band up on stage. He climbs up, Money Mark hands him his sweet gold guitar, and dude jumps right in with the melody. Turns out it was Tommy Guerrero, who has collaborated with all those guys on stuff like the Sprout surf film soundtrack. Tres cool.

Here is the rather restrained opening tune – he launched into much more upbeat stuff after this, but I rather enjoy this good-day sunshine pop vibe:

VIDEO: Money Mark, “Color Of Your Blues

They’re calling boarding for my gate now as I type this in the airport, so I should go. I’ve never figured out why everyone is in such a rush to pack onto the plane as soon as boarding is announced — I always wait until the last minute. Less time in the sardine can, the better.

Bon voyage, San Francisco. Thank you for taking such good care of me and entertaining me in fine style. I think this was an absolutely peerless festival experience. I will definitely be back, because as Cake says (and I heartily second), as soon as you’re born you start dying. So you might as well have a good time!

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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