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The Daily Tar Heel

Cake Saunters Onstage With Anti-Rock Star Stereotype

The alternative rock band drew energetic participation from audience members at its concert in Raleigh.

4 Stars

When someone mentions aviator sunglasses and mesh hats, the words usually don't conjure an image of a rock star. Usually, it's more along the lines of "Bubba" the pig farmer.

After seeing Cake in concert, that might change forever.

Equipped with the aforementioned fashion accessories and an attitude to match, Cake sauntered into the Ritz in Raleigh the night of Feb. 7 and left the audience with one of the best shows of the new year. Cake does not fit the physical stereotype of rock stars, but it certainly plays the role well.

Rock stars are supposed to wear leather pants, smash guitars and womanize. The members of Cake do none of these things -- though they have been known to occasionally incite chants involving Satan. But to watch as the crowd hung on every one of John McCrea's casually spoken lyrics, it certainly seems that Cake has achieved rock star status.

McCrea's monotone delivery carried the group through an eclectic mix of tracks from all four of their albums with an unexpected emphasis on the first, Motorcade of Generosity.

Throughout, McCrea calmly observed the crowd through his aviator sunglasses -- never betraying a bit of emotion as he spoke/sang typically straightforward proclamations such as, "I want a girl/with the right allocations/who's fast and thorough/and sharp as a tack."

McCrea's oddly charismatic lack of emotion is complemented by Vincent Di Fiore's emotive playing style. Whether using the trumpet, keyboard or some sort of recorder-type instrument, the one constant of his style is a passionate sound that couldn't be farther away from McCrea's style.

While Di Fiore might not have the chops to pull of a dynamic improvisational solo, his heart-on-the-sleeve style of playing gets the most out of the simple, supplementary solos which punctuate many of Cake's songs.

Cake's other members aren't nearly as attention-grabbing. After a brief swim in the spotlight near the show's beginning, lead guitarist Xan McCurdy receded to the background, never to be attended to again. The other members met similar fates. Their virtual anonymity may not have been entirely the other members fault -- it's hard to take the spotlight from someone as magnetic as McCrea.

When the crowd wasn't hanging on McCrea's antics, it was singing along with him. One of the most appealing things about Cake is that none of the members are very good singers. Thus, legions of nobodies can be reasonably successful at emulating most songs.

McCrea exploited the crowd's choir-like tendencies throughout the night for his own amusement. If there was ever any doubt that Cake is truly McCrea's band it was removed during the concert. Any time the crowd started mumbling a chorus or even a rough approximation of a baseline, McCrea would silence his accompaniment and urge the crowd on -- occasionally performing as if he were in an a cappella group with a couple of thousand members.

Few bands seem as accessible to their fans as Cake, which might be the reason for its unexpected success in light of consistently lukewarm receptions by critics and the look of a generic college band. Whereas prototypical rock stars like The Rolling Stones tower over their fans like deities complete with holier-than-thou temperament, Cake ambles up to its audience like an equal and encourages them to sing along.

So while the members of Cake might not look or act like rock stars, they certainly sound like them.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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