review and photo by Anna VanHorn, special to The City Wire
FAYETTEVILLE — The 2012 season of live music at the Arkansas Music Pavilion kicked off Thursday evening (April 20) with the Sacramento alternative rock band, CAKE. With no opening act, the band was set to take the stage at 8 p.m. but, citing technical difficulties, they didn’t actually go on until closer to 8:45 p.m.
The delay may have caused some concertgoers to be annoyed but likely delighted the masses stuck in traffic. Some glitches were to be expected for the first show at the AMP’s new location at the Washington County Fairgrounds.
Then the house lights dimmed and the stage lit up, displaying a wooded backdrop scene. An unusually long instrumental track played while the band waited to make its grand entrance. Taking to the stage with much fanfare and gratitude towards the crowd, the band kicked off its distinctive sound and set list. What followed turned out to be a really good show.
Known for his deadpan delivery, lead singer John McCrea, goes back and forth between his unique baritone singing and spoken word delivery of songs. Vinnie DiFiore’s synthesizer and trumpet play is the foundation on which CAKE’s quirky and offbeat sound sits. The percussion and guitar are, of course, essential to the band, but what really sets CAKE apart and defines its signature sound is all from McCrea and DiFiore.
One of the more odd bands to achieve mainstream success in the ‘90s, CAKE’s music is upbeat with lyrical content that is clever yet snarky. Its sound hints at many different influences but manages the near-impossible feat of never fully succumbing to any definable sound or genre. Clearly an alternative rock band, they add elements of county, mariachi, funk, folk and hip-hop into tunes that had the AMP crowd attentive and engaged.
McCrea made note that the performance was “A Night with CAKE,” where they would be performing two sets separated by a short intermission. The sets were varied, with lots of new and old material spread throughout the show. The second set favored the band’s more well-known songs, or at least songs that were recognizable among this particular crowd. While entertaining, it seemed that neither of the sets were particularly lengthy, and there was no obvious need for a break.
Midway into the second set, McCrea stopped the music to give away a baby tree, as is the band’s custom. The giveaway is part of the band’s CAKE Forrest promotion. The idea is to give away a tree to be planted in the areas in which CAKE plays. The recipient of those trees in turn agrees to plant and nurture the seedling and post pictures to CAKE’s website so that everyone can keep up with the growth of each area’s tree. Fayetteville’s recipient was a woman named Nancy, who walked away with a brand new Peach Tree.
It’s a nice idea to give away a seedling, but the halt in music seemed an odd change of pace. Several younger (and perhaps drunker) concertgoers heckled much of the presentation, saying, “We’ve seen this before” and “Get a new gimmick.” While not really a gimmick, it wasn’t difficult to understand what they were saying.
After the tree presentation, CAKE played several more songs and brought the concert to a close with the well-known “Never There.” After much to-do and some rhythmic chanting of the band’s name, CAKE came back for an encore featuring what are probably its two biggest mainstream hits, “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and “The Distance,” ending a pretty great night.
A note about the new location:
While the occasional smell of cow manure did waft through the air, it has to be said that the move to the fairgrounds is a much more pleasant place to see a concert than the parking lot of the Northwest Arkansas Mall. Much of the set-up looks very similar to the previous locale, but with the added benefit of grass and an open sky not marred by street lights and Sears signs.
There were some traffic issues coming into the venue, making one assume that leaving would be a nightmare. Impressively, the crews worked really well together and the exiting process was quick and stress-free.