(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) – Quirky alternative-rock group CAKE caps MASS MoCA’s daylong celebration of its grand reopening in an outdoor concert at Joe’s Field on Sunday, May 28, at 8pm. For a quarter-century the California-based group has been entertaining bands with its horn-fueled, deadpan, eclectic style that draws equally from 1960s garage rock, mariachi music, hip-hop, country, jazz, funk, and world music.
CAKE was formed in the early 1990s as a somewhat antagonistic answer to grunge-rock, which they saw as just another form of big, dumb American rock. The group was inspired by the independent spirit of artists including the Velvet Underground, Buck Owens, Tom Ze, and Violent Femmes.
Initially, CAKE’s small sound was mostly just mistaken for weakness, and their embrace of non-rock sonic elements was mostly mistaken for humor. Luckily, there were a few people who seemed to understand. The San Francisco Bay Guardian pointed out that “CAKE doesn’t ask you to suck its angst,” and the St. Louis Dispatch described CAKE’s music as “An utterly fresh sound, especially given today’s preponderance of overblown ‘alternative’ bands.”
Somehow a copy of CAKE’s first demo tape even made it all the way to France, where it was completely understood and well received – “The drug dealers do not thank CAKE,” astutely observed French music magazine, Les Inrockuptibles. Thriving in the unglamorous Central Valley of Northern California, where country meets mariachi meets post punk and classic rock, CAKE’s music reflected this diversity, and would eventually lead to collaborations with not only Brazilian cultural hero Tom Ze, but also with American rapper Jay-Z, and to legendary country songwriter Buck Owens choosing CAKE as one of the only non-country artists to play his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, Calif.
Their song “How Do You Afford Your Rock’n’Roll Lifestyle?” from their first self-released album, Motorcade of Generosity, became a minor college radio hit. Eventually, they signed a deal with then-independent label Capricorn Records. The days of riding bikes around town in the middle of the night plastering telephone polls with their own enigmatic band-designed posters and befuddling iconic artwork were soon ending.
CAKE released their second album, Fashion Nugget, in 1996, which featured the radio hits “The Distance” and their jazzy cover of the disco classic, “I Will Survive.”
“Every now and then,” heralded the Washington Times, “a band with actual personality sneaks onto the modern rock radio playlist.” The album presented a multi-purpose array of musical communication that rung refreshingly true in contrast to much of the ponderous, colorless rock of the mid-‘90s.
CAKE’s third album, Prolonging the Magic, included their most successful song, “Never There,” which charted in such distant places as Brazil and Turkey. Founding guitarist Greg Brown was replaced on this album by Chuck Prophet (Green On Red); Tyler Pope; Jim Campilongo; Rusty Miller (Jackpot); and Xan McCurdy (the Loved Ones), who became a permanent member of the band.
Comfort Eagle, CAKE’s fourth and highest-charting album, presented such favorites as “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” “Love You Madly,” and “Shadow Stabbing.” Alternative Press described Comfort Eagle as “infinitely smarter, smarmier, and catchier than Weezer’s green album.”
By maintaining their ideals while continuing to challenge themselves artistically and professionally, CAKE has managed to not only survive, but to thrive. “We still exist,” explains McCrea, “because we’ve always stayed outside of current trends. We’ve watched them inflate and deflate. We’ve never been invited to the party, so we’ve never had to leave the party whether the police arrived or not. It’s a sad and beautiful world.”