Pop: A great deal of sympathy for the devil

Live; CAKE LONDON ASTORIA 2
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The Independent Culture
WITH HIS gold-rimmed shades and oversized pork-pie hat, Cake's John McCrea was just a trenchcoat away from being arrested. Indeed, the Sacramento band's singer-guitarist is gloriously out of sync with the current pop-star look and a far cry from the manufactured geekiness of British guitar bands.

Cake belong in one of those backward towns in David Lynch movies, inhabited by sinister people with facial twitches and no teeth. You half expect their guitars to be pick-axes and tumbleweeds to come rolling across the stage. With this palpable weirdness comes a hefty stage presence. From the outset, McCrea commanded authority with muscular vocals that made you want to stand to attention and shout "Sir, yes sir!". When he ferociously chastised a man in the audience for heckling, everybody was shaking in their shoes. The heckler seemed destined never to go out again.

Another thing that separates Cake from their peers is their wonderfully skewed approach to music. Their songs feel modern yet strangely antique, embracing elements of blues, funk, rock and country with melodies that are comfortingly familiar, even though you might never have heard them before. Lyrics unveil a wry, self-deprecating humour with hard-luck stories that are utterly believable. Everyday tales of unrequited love and disillusionment are peppered with stream-of-consciousness lyrics that veer between poetic and downright silly. Their drollness is heightened by McCrea's deadpan facial expression, the occasional twitch of his beard sometimes being the only indication of life behind the Elvis specs.

But even with their delicate melodies and kooky lyrics, Cake would be nothing without their mariachi trumpeter Vince Di Fiore. His insistent flourishes give Cake's songs an emotional depth, providing the rueful sentiments of "You're Never There" and "Ruby Sees All" with a hint of tragedy while affording a carnival atmosphere to the more light-hearted numbers.

Occasionally, McCrea's songwriting lets him down. In the funk-driven "You Part The Waters", the rhyming of the word "piano" four times in the chorus suggests that he has been unable to think of anything else to rhyme it with, and hoped nobody would notice. His frequent bitching about materialistic women with large credit accounts was also tiresome and it was a relief when he asked us "how many of you are in touch with your dark side?" and launched into a song that expressed a healthy fascination with the devil. The ardour with which he sang the words to "Satan Is My Motor", suggested he may have had a few dealings with the man himself.

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