About 2,000 people chanted “Satan is my motor” at Crossroads KC on Friday.
The large crowd wasn’t participating in an occult ritual or attending a heavy metal concert. Instead, members of an enthusiastic audience were immersing themselves in the music of the absurdist rock band Cake. The droll dance song “Satan Is My Motor” is representative of the ensemble’s irreverent music.
Marinated in irony, Cake’s songs are the musical equivalent of the political commentary of satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Songs ostensibly about an opera singer, a race car driver and the hallucinogenic effect of Frank Sinatra’s recordings distinguish Cake from most of its peers. The band forged its unique approach in California more than 20 years ago.
A rock band for listeners weary of the genre’s clichés, Cake is largely free of pretense and posturing. Like many members of Friday’s audience, the five members of Cake looked as if they had just arrived from day jobs at an electronics supply store. Their use of instruments including a vibraslap, melodica and trumpet enable the band to successfully incorporate lounge music, vintage country and funk into its whimsical version of indie rock.
Only frontman John McCrea’s deadpan vocals on the gentle sway of “Mexico” and the lush grooves of “Love You Madly” prevented Cake from sounding more like Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass than anything crafted during the past 40 years. The jittery “Stickshifts and Safetybelts” served as an environmentally conscious update of Chuck Berry’s “No Particular Place to Go.” A cheeky deconstruction of “War Pigs” mocked Black Sabbath’s ponderous style while leaving the song’s anti-war message intact.
McCrea oversaw a contest before the second set began. As he called on people to identify a sapling’s species in order to win the tree, McCrea noted that an ardent fan near the front of the stage was complaining that “valuable music time is being wasted.” The anxious man may have had a point. Not including an intermission and the 13 minutes dedicated to the tree contest, Cake performed less than 90 minutes.
For most people in attendance, however, the chance to hear Cake perform its best-known songs “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” and “The Distance,” in addition to engaging in devilish chanting, made for an entirely fulfilling Friday night.