TVD Live: CAKE at the Aragon Ballroom, 9/6

CAKE is a band that has got it figured out. From the first track off of their 1994 debut, Motorcade of Generosity, to the album closer on last year’s Showroom of Compassion, there is no doubt that CAKE is consistent. That consistency is even more impressive when you consider that their alt-rock sound is regularly combined with country, mariachi, funk, folk, and even hip-hop influences.

Somehow, and much to my chagrin, I have managed to miss out on seeing the group live every single time they’ve come to Chicago. So, when I heard that they would be hitting the Aragon Ballroom for a one-off show last Thursday, I grabbed my camera and headed into the city for my introduction to the experience of CAKE live.

Arriving at the Aragon about thirty minutes before show time, I was able to stand back and watch as CAKE’s impressively eclectic fan base filed in and filled the large ballroom floor. With no opening act on the bill, singer John McCrea announced that the band would be performing two full sets. Much to the surprise of no one, the crowd didn’t seem to mind that one bit.

Kicking off the first set with the Fashion Nugget opening track, “Frank Sinatra,” CAKE quickly established the “full discography” tone for the evening. Over the course of the next two and a half hours or so, CAKE played some of their best tracks from all six of their studio albums as well as the 2007 compilation of b-sides and rarities.

McCrea soon took some time to lament the demise of the ¾ time signature from popular culture in the 20th century before the band launched into their ¾ time track, “Mexico” from 1998’s Prolonging the Magic. After announcing that the band would be taking an intermission between sets, as it’s the “civil thing to do,” they started into the lead single off of last year’s Showroom of Compassion, “Sick of You.”

Just before the last chorus, McCrea divided the room into two halves. Stage right was assigned the role of escapists who use drugs, vampires, and video games to avoid dealing with their issues, and were fittingly assigned the lyric “I want to fly away.” Stage left, on the other hand, represented the hostile, who vent through being angry on the internet and aggressive driving. I ended up on this side – no comment – and we were given the lines, “I’m so sick of you, so sick of me, I don’t want to be with you.”

After an extended, crowd participation outro, CAKE left the stage for their brief, yet civilized, intermission.

On their return to the stage, the group launched into their second set with the Comfort Eagle opening track, “Opera Singer.” After the hurried process of giving away an apple tree to the person in the crowd who could guess what type of tree it was, CAKE ended their second full set of music with the 2001 massive single, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.”

As I made my way to the back of the ballroom for a easy exit, CAKE took the stage for a third time to play two more songs. The encore kicked off with their absolutely incredible cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” and ended with one of the band’s biggest hits, Fashion Nugget’s “The Distance.”

Overall, the band put on an amazing performance that made it easy to remember why I fell in love with them over a decade ago. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait another six years for a CAKE’s next studio release.

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