Cake at Sunset Cove Amphitheater, January 14

Sunset Cove Amphitheater, Boca Raton
Friday, January 14, 2010

View a slideshow from the concert here.

Better Than: A Skittles sugar rush

'90s eccentric pop group Cake at Boca Raton's Sunset Cove Amphitheater did not disappoint its suburbanite masses on Friday, with ample saccharine hooks for all to hear and sing along to. This Sacramento band's hodgepodge of new wave, funk, rap and jazz has that kind of universal appeal, with something to offer for just about every demographic.

Cake's lead singer John McCrea's easy-flowing non sequitur verses and marmalade choruses do lend themselves quite nicely to crowd sing-alongs. When the group launched into the feel-good boogie of "Sheep Go to Heaven," with lead guitarist Xan McCurdy's chunky riffs and brass player Vince DiFiore warm trumpet stabs, the audience was yelling the refrain "Sheep go to Heaven, goats go to Hell," at the top of their lungs like it was the most life-affirming lyric they've ever sung. They needed no encouragement from McCrea -- who was outfitted with a '50s style fedora and a three button jacket, giving him the air of a mobster, or a rat pack member.

The group was successful in switching up tempos without waning the crowd's energy. "Haze of Love," one of the first Cake song's penned according to McCrea, began with gentle, lullabying acoustic guitar strums that burst into buoyant carnival-like organs at the hands of DiFiore, who deftly switched from trumpet to keyboards the entire night. "Daria," from Cake's 1996 breakout album Fashion Nugget, was given a slightly more upbeat interpretation this night, with McCrea offering up the night's first legitimate croon, "I Won't be Sued," over a jazzy muffled brass.

 After that McCrea took the show on a county fair side trip with the tree giveaway the band has been doing on its tour. Notoriously chatty, McCrea led the crowd in a guessing game where audience members could win the four-foot tree situated in the front of the band's stage if they guessed the tree type. Perhaps a testament to the environmentally conscious direction that band has taken since recording its sixth album Showroom of Compassion, where it used only solar power to record, McCrea stating that the tree was intended for someone that was "completely adult." Not in an X-rated way quantified McCrea; "adult" meaning someone who could handle the responsibility of planting the tree and taking care of it for 20 years plus. After about 20 minutes of wrong guesses (Orange, Pine, and Mango were some) a lucky winner finally called out the right answer -- Gumbo Limbo.

Moving right along, the group dished out a new number, "Sick of You," which stuck to Cake's magic formula of deadpan vocals and immediately gratifying hooks. Then the frisky bass line to "Never There" began, much to the crowd's delight.

After a short rest, the encore ensued: the pure unadulterated gluttony of "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" and "The Distance" came. These numbers with indulgent hooks and rock 'n' rap drawl delivered the kind of sugarcoated guilty pleasures the audience had come for. After all these year's we have to say McCrea's voice still sounds remarkably the same, but his monotone style cannot be all that draining on his vocal chords after all. And Cake the band, still as infectious as ever.

Critic's Notebook:

Random Detail: McCrea played the vibraslap -- a kooky percussion instrument made of a stiff wire bent in a U shape connecting a wood ball to a hollow box of wood.

The Crowd: Mothers and daughters, stoners and frat guys, guidos and grandmothers.

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Alex Rendon