Sacramento quintet Cake doesn’t exactly follow pop convention. The band’s members dress as if they live in the woods, they use a trumpet instead of keyboards and they inflect their quirky, country-flavored groove-rock with a healthy dose of Frank Zappa-inspired cynical commentary and wry criticism.
Yet the band has parlayed that unorthodox combination into a winning and entertaining hand, with surprising sales of more than 500,000 copies of their latest album to boot.
Playing before a three-quarters-full Palace, Cake sang of disloyal friends, extinct animals, the bewildering power of love, and the apple of singer-lyricist John McCrea’s eye, the American automobile. On such tunes as “Stickshifts and Safetybelts,” “Race Car Ya-Yas” and alt-rock radio hit “The Distance” — all from the band’s 1996 Capricorn album “Fashion Nugget” — the car is seen as both a provider and a destroyer of dreams.
Festooned in his usual fishing hat and goatee, McCrea led the spirited college-age audience through a 90-minute show — part of a brief West Coast tour — that was more low-key than recent area Cake shows, perhaps due to the humid air inside the spacious venue.
Looking like the Lawrence Welk of rock, McCrea orchestrated his bandmates during longtime crowd fave “Mr. Mastodon Farm” with exaggerated arm gestures and head nods that had the kids laughing, even as they were swaying to the tune’s easy-going vibe.
The evening’s biggest cheers, though, were reserved for the band’s cocky update of Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit, “I Will Survive,” which was accentuated by the giant Palace mirrored ball. Second-billed San Francisco pop band the Mommyheads played songs from their recently released self-titled fifth album (DGC/Geffen, co-produced by Don Was), paying Americanized homage to Paul McCartney, whom vocalist Adam Cohen resembles, both as a singer and a songwriter. Silver Lake band Abe Lincoln Story opened the show.