Friday at the Orpheum: Let them listen to CAKE

by Beacon Staff • December 5, 2007

"We don't put it out there if it's bogus," he said. The trumpet player is talking about the wry, so-left-leaning-it's-almost-falling-over news bits the band posts to its Web site.,Vince DiFiore is standing in an airport in Portland, Ore. and he's talking about politics. Well, he's really talking about his band CAKE, but he doesn't know it yet.

"We don't put it out there if it's bogus," he said. The trumpet player is talking about the wry, so-left-leaning-it's-almost-falling-over news bits the band posts to its Web site. "We give personal advice there, too. Sometimes it's callous advice, and we apologize for that. But we feel we give a humorous but honest answer to things. When you have some credibility with people you don't want to throw it away. Sometimes you've got to take some chances, go out on the edge there. And that's where we feel we try to stay: on the edge."

He wants to keep going, but there's a woman from his airline on a P.A. in the background, so he stops.

He has to go. He's heading to Tremont Street's Orpheum Theatre in Boston on Friday for a stop on the band's self-promoted, self-organized winter-long Unlimited Sunshine Tour. The woman who sounded like Charlie Brown's muffled teacher was telling him that his flight to Portland, Maine, the first East Coast tour stop, was about to leave without him.

"But I guess all of that stuff is within the character of the band, too," he said.

And it is. All of it.

What other 16-year-old band in the pop music industry cares enough about the bogusness -or "quality control," as lead singer John McCrea called it in a press release-of its live album to suspend its release indefinitely? What other band with three platinum albums starts its own record label (Upbeat Records) so it can self-produce its albums again?

Probably just CAKE. And DiFiore realizes that.

"We're never shooting for the bleachers. We're never putting on an attitude that's not truthful to ourselves," said DiFiore, who also provides backup vocals and chant-like hollers. "It has to be a good song to begin with, then everyone gets behind that song. But we're very careful not to have slick production. Our band is still a reaction to a lot of hair bands of the '80s, so our sound is very economical."

That sound, for those who haven't heard CAKE, is John McCrea's gruff, rock roll baritone voice, the standard, lightly-distorted alternapop guitar with its dynamic country/blues/occasional cop show theme riffs, some bouncy drums and DiFiore's often mariachi-infused trumpet. But you probably have heard CAKE before, even if you didn't know it. They're the culprits of seminal '90s rock hit/sports montage music "The Distance," and early 2000s pop staple "Short Skirt/Long Jacket."

The Unlimited Sunshine Tour is a way for CAKE to use its tremendously positive press and direct its loyal fanbase toward bands they think should shape modern rock.

"It's like those old movies where Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland say, 'Hey, let's put on a show!'" DiFiore said.

That show at the Orpheum will include the critically-lauded electronica group Brazilian Girls, along with lesser-knowns Oakley Hall, Agent Ribbons and Detroit-based showstoppers King City in between sets.

"We were just trying to get them a wider audience, but they've been stealing the show," DiFiore said. "And that's why we have this tour."

Just because CAKE is committed to the future of the bands, though, doesn't mean that they're done innovating with their own.

They just released their B-Sides and Rarities album, where the band covers Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," country star Buck Owens' "Excuse Me I Think I've Got A Heartache," Barry White's "Never Never Gonna Give You Up" and The Muppets' far-too-catchy "Mahna Mahna."

And, in the end, it still sounds like rock music. And it still sounds like CAKE wrote it all.

"We had a lot of fun making it," said DiFiore. "It's mostly just a collection of songs from when we were getting our bearings back, being back together and it was our first chance to play something together in the studio. But it came out sounding fun. But I think that the music is pretty honest."

And although an album full of covers doesn't leave much room for the "callous advice" in McCrea's lyrics that helped make CAKE both famous and different-and famous for being different-the sound is still edgy. The music is still humorous and candid. And, even while they're covering The Muppets, they still find a way to tack onto their already trusted credibility.

Because DiFiore and CAKE wouldn't let you hear it otherwise. It wouldn't be politically, or musically, correct.