Concert Review: Cake and Paper Lions

By Ændrew Rininsland

If endurance is one indicator of talent, Cake has it locked. Despite a number of excellent hit singles over the last decade and a half, the group seems to perpetually fade in and out of mainstream music without the same sort of presence you’d expect from a band of Cake’s longevity.

Maybe it’s because they’re just too busy focusing on playing kick-ass live shows, such as they did with Paper Lions at Mac Hall on Thursday, May 15.

The PEI-based sounds of Paper Lions were the perfect opener for the eclectic country/ska/funk fusion of Cake. Lead singer John MacPhee started the show in a dramatic fashion by standing to the side of the stage and playing in near-darkness while the rest of the band joined him, before having nearly every piece of musical equipment on his body spontaneously die. To his credit, however, MacPhee didn’t miss a beat and proceeded to lead the band through the rest of an amazing set. Sounding a bit like a combination of classic indie rock and Radiohead before Thom Yorke lost anything resembling testicles, Lions had the crowd nodding and clapping the entire set. The entire room sang along to the group’s recent single, “Travelling,” and made one consider whether the sheriff of Nottingham still exists with the bouncing guitar and storytelling of “The Sheriff.” Other highlights included the entire band playing the same drum kit simultaneously during one song and more energy than a six-year-old on amphetamines. One can only hope the Lions come back to Calgary again as headliners some day-the band would have possibly stolen the show were it not for the exceptional ability of Cake to put on a concert.

Cake played all their hits and then some in a nearly seamless set, punctuated only by the occasional tech change and… a tree. In fact, the only major break in the set was when lead singer John McCrea burst into arborist mode for a solid ten minutes and vowed to give away an apple sapling to whoever could provide the most interesting fact about Calgary (Tellingly, the fact wasn’t about Calgary itself but rather about bears eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. Hmm…). However, despite the momentary lag, the band went on to play a triple-encore set ending with hits “Short Skirt, Long Jacket,” “The Distance” and their cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” complete with all the energy and vibraphone you’d expect from Cake. The set also included some older classics such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle,” “Italian Leather Sofa” and “Comfort Eagle.” McCrea’s ability to feed off the energy of the crowd is tremendous-very few musicians would be able to sustain the chorus of “yeah yeah yeahs” he led for what seemed like ages, and even fewer would be able to go directly from what amounted to an intermission straight into the final songs and encore of the set. The entire set was marked by this sort of bizarro-pacing, but you can’t help the feeling that’s exactly what Cake wanted; the band’s never been one to hurry, whether to superstardom or to a neat guitar riff and, gosh darnit, trees are important too.

In the land of racecar yayas, Cake’s rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle reigns supreme.

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