The Sacramento-based Cake performs on a stage filled with jumbled images. Behind the band is a banal mountain landscape; cutouts of Christina Aguilera and David Boreanaz, small fir tress and fake candelabras flank the stage, while a disco ball hangs above them. The band’s music has a similar rag and bone shop quality. Singer John McCrea’s guitar sounds rusted and wheezy, his syncopated strums like an old car sputtering in the cold. Xan McCurdy’s leads can either rumble like a 16-wheeler or lope in a circular, Jerry Garcia fashion, while Vince Di Fiore’s trumpet floats above, lending the whole proceedings a breezy cool-jazz feel.
The result is a lean, airy sound, built from equal amounts Western swing and modern attitude.
But at the Mayan Theater Sunday night (rescheduled from Sept. 12), Cake’s limitations became apparent. McCrea’s songs have a skewed whimsy; “Opera Singer” and “Sheep Go to Heaven” reflect a wryly humorous view of life; “Satan is My Motor” and “Stickshift and Safetybelts” cleverly update the rich vein of California car songs. But the band never really develops its sound.
Songs from its first disc for Columbia, “Comfort Eagle,” cover the same musical territory as those from the 7-year-old “Motorcade of Generosity”; over the course of a two-hour show, ideas that were once charming turn mannered. But that doesn’t stop the young crowd from screaming back lyrics to favorites such as “Frank Sinatra” and newer material like “Opera Singer” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” For them, it’s a way of having their Cake and seeing them too.