The vast majority of the concerts I go to feature huge, shirtless men with waist-length hair, wielding guitars like weapons and screaming out their inner torment. I like to be in venues that resemble the eighth circle of hell (by Dante’s reckoning) and prefer my percussion to sound like war drums.
But I have a softer side. Even the most calloused eardrums enjoy some tenderness, mine included. When I am in the mood for something with a little less brimstone, Cake are one of my all-time favourite indulgences.
The Sound Academy is one of my least favourite venues to travel to, but now that I have a bike, I found my usual annoyance completely eliminated. With the weather lovely and no vicious wind whipping off the lake to flay me alive, cycling down to the docks is actually pleasant. I showed up a few minutes before the band were scheduled to perform and settled in for what would be quite a long wait. Traffic apparently made getting to the venue a complete disaster, and so the band delayed the start of the show until well after 9:30 p.m. so that the rest of the audience could catch the entire event. Thankfully, the venue was absolutely packed by the time the lights finally dimmed, and everyone in the audience remained responsive, engaged and thoroughly lovely for the whole night.
The first set opened with “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” and from the first few lyrics of this Willie Nelson cover it was clear that the whole night would be a sing-along. Everyone’s voices joined John McCrea’s for the duration of the show, something the frontman actively encouraged. He divided the audience in half to scream-sing the two parts of the final chorus to “Sick of You,” a song from their new, independently released album, Showroom of Compassion. Similar interactive antics occurred during “Sheep Go To Heaven” and “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” in the second set. Whether Cake were playing a smash hit like “Love You Madly” or an older, sweeter, beloved track like “Jolene,” the room was full of raised voices singing along.
I was overjoyed that they played “Satan is my Motor,” a fave of mine, obviously. McCrea lauded the crowd for singing along with such passion to this track. “It’s important to acknowledge your dark side. People who repress their darkness are the scary ones.” While John McCrea chatted and engaged the crowd, heckling the people on the balcony for being too quiet, the rest of the band were completely absorbed in their instruments. There was very little movement on stage beyond some rhythmic, almost meditative swaying, as they were lost in the music. It was easy to focus on the comparatively manic McCrea, but I have to give the rest of the band credit for the flawlessly performed, lovingly played sound.
After a brief intermission, Cake played a second, equally vibrant set. I was particularly pleased to hear “Rock ’n Roll Lifestyle” live, as well as “Jolene,” another favourite of mine. While the energy level was still high, the second set felt even more intimate now that the band and the audience had spent some time together. Also during the second set, a very lucky member of the audience was given a maple tree, under the condition that he promise to plant and tend it, to make a commitment, and send a picture of himself with the happy, healthy tree to the band as soon as possible. It seems perfect to me that somewhere in Toronto a young maple is thriving, a living, growing counterpart to the memory of this concert every audience member is carrying around with them
After applause that demanded an encore, rather than passively accepting that one was coming, the band came back on stage and set the venue on fire with “Never There” and “The Distance.” During the latter, the dancing and jumping in the first few rows became exuberant enough that it almost resembled a mosh pit. It warmed my shrivelled little apple core of a heart.
Biking home a bit after midnight, my head joyfully ringing, still singing, it was quite warm and the city smelled like flowering trees. This night was perfect.