This Cake Stays Fresh

Some things age well. Some things, not so much. Songs we once loved don’t sound quite right when we meet them again years later; while others are just as vital as the first time.

I’d nominate Cake for the latter category: still fresh after all these years.

This alternative rock band hailing from Sacramento, California, has carved an enduring niche. Led by singer John McCrea, Cake’s sound is a bracing blend of wit, sarcasm, and catchy melodies.

The band was born in August 1991 when McCrea, disillusioned with the Sacramento coffeehouse scene, sought a fresh start. He assembled the initial crop of musicians: Vince DiFiore on trumpet, Greg Brown on guitar, Shon Meckfessel on bass, and Frank French on drums. Their debut album, Motorcade of Generosity, self-released, hinted at the group’s quirky sensibilities. But it was their second album that catapulted them into the spotlight.

Trumpet fans might also appreciate Lake Street Dive, whom we profiled several years ago.

Released in 1996, Fashion Nugget achieved platinum status, largely due to its lead single, “The Distance.” McCrea’s deadpan vocals and the infectious guitar riff made it an anthem for the offbeat. The album’s eclectic mix of influences—norteño, country, mariachi, disco, rock, funk, and folk—set Cake apart. The recipe was already well established, and very tasty.

Cake’s journey wasn’t always smooth, as the lineup shifted often. Todd Roper replaced French on drums, and Victor Damiani stepped in for Brown on guitar. The band’s third album, Prolonging the Magic, went platinum; and Comfort Eagle followed suit. The latter featured the hit single “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” which climbed to number 7 on the Billboard Alt chart.

Like any properly road-tested band, they shine live. (Fans of the vibraslap will get their full portion here…)

After a hiatus, Cake returned with Pressure Chief in 2004. Their sound remained distinct, blending rock, funk, and McCrea’s signature sardonic lyrics. But it was their 2011 album, Showroom of Compassion, that fully rose, as it were. Released on their own label, Upbeat Records, it debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. The single “Sick of You” resonated with fans, proving that Cake’s recipe was still appealing.

Cake’s catalog isn’t just about catchy melodies. McCrea’s distinctive voice delivers love songs and cultural commentary alike. Their version of “I Will Survive” is a classic example of a sly choice – where the cover adds a new dimension to the original.

“Let Me Go” is another example of sweet blend of catchy hooks, clever wordplay, smart arranging, and an extra helping of vibe. (Naturally, the vibraslap is back…)

Cake’s brightest moment in the sun may have passed, but the band is still bringing it. They’re back on tour, so if they roll through you town, take the opportunity to grab your slice.

-Al Cattabiani, with an assist from Wikipedia

Photo: Cake in Cleveland. Elizabeth78, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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3 comments on “This Cake Stays Fresh

  1. Andru J Reeve

    I moved to Sacramento in October of 1991, just as CAKE was gearing up. Used to see them at the tiny Press Club bar on Q Street. The last time I saw them was at Memorial Auditorium during Greg Brown’s last tour with them (he, not John McCrea, is the one who wrote “The Distance”, by the way. It went on to to be featured in a film or two, and an episode of “The Simpsons.”) Fantastic band who should be even more well-known than they are.

  2. Barry Baddams

    I became a Cake fan years ago when I heard the Prolonging The Magic album emanating from my teenage son’s room- a welcome relief from the usual heavy metal. I was impressed that his musical tastes were broadening but alas it was just a passing phase and he gave the album to me. These days, his tastes have finally broadened and he concedes that Cake are a “clever’ band.

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