You've heard the music of alternative rock band Cake if you've seen the 1997 movie "An American Werewolf in Paris" or the Powers Whiskey commercial for the Irish Grand National, a horse race. Cake came to Buffalo's Town Ballroom Friday. And if you're a werewolf and/or an Irish Grand National fan, there's a pretty good chance you were there.
Cake's sound is characterized by lead singer John McCrea's cool monotone and heavy hand with the vibraslap (a percussion instrument that produces a rattling noise), Vince DiFiore's trumpet, and the fuzz of Gabe Nelson's bass guitar.
I mentioned Cake's ridiculous media appearances because they somehow epitomize what their music is all about: quirky lyrics, a broad stylistic range, and above all, the ability to laugh at itself.
The band came on at 8:30 to a dramatic overture that sounded like a video game theme song. Cake, well-known for its covers, including Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night," started with a funky rendition of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and continued with an original, ironically titled "Frank Sinatra." DiFiore's jazz trumpet came in mournful bursts as McCrea droned "While Frank Sinatra sings 'Stormy Weather'/ The flies and spiders get along together/ Cobwebs fall on an old skipping record...," creating a perfect alter ego for Sinatra's romantic "Strangers in the Night." Next was "Mexico," a beautifully simple blues tune, and one of Cake's rare slow songs.
But Cake could never make us sad for long, and soon the band moved on to songs that made us dance, like "Stick Shifts and Safety Belts" and "How Do You Afford Your Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle," which featured upbeat, rockabilly-style guitar picking.
However, Cake's whimsy always has an edge. "Rock 'n' Roll Lifestyle" is actually a biting indictment of hipster culture: "How much did you pay for the chunk of his guitar/ The one he ruthlessly smashed at the end of the show?"
Cake is a huge proponent of audience participation, which drew together a diverse crowd of middle-aged people who had listened to Cake in the 1990s, hipsters in their 20s and a large group of 13-year-old boys. For one of the last songs Cake played, called "Guitar," McCrea encouraged concertgoers to substitute in something they wanted to get rid of "like -- a harmful relationship with your brother -- or your new car" for "guitar" as he sang: "If I threw my guitar/ Out the window, so far down / Would I start to regret it? Or would I smile and watch it slowly fall?"
Cake took a break from performing to engage in a tradition: the tree contest. Cake played with an apple tree on stage, and McCrea informed the audience that one lucky person would take it home. After deciding that the tree must go to a schoolteacher, he called all teachers up on stage for a push-up contest to determine the winner. A picture of "Joe," who teaches special ed and who won the tree, can be seen at www.cakemusic.com/gallery.html.
Galia Binder is a senior at Amherst Central High.