Cake at Summerfest

By on August 7, 2013


Intermittent rain storms had Summerfest attendees milling in and out of tented areas throughout the day, which was otherwise humid and sunny.  With the threat of more rain to come, I thought it was safe to assume that the unsheltered Cake show would be sparsely populated.  However, the bleachers were nearly filled as the emcee took the mic, and wouldn’t you know it, the last drops of rain ended just as the lights came up on the forested scrim, just as they did when Cake played Summerfest a year ago.

In fact, there was little difference between this year’s show and last.  From the structure of the set list to the audience participation dialogue, I might have thought I was watching a recorded version of 2012’s Summerfest appearance.  The glaring difference between this year and last, however, was that last year the band played well together; this year they were completely out of sync.

Lead singer John McCrea was distracted and unfocused, and while for the most part he delivered pitch-perfect renditions of each song, there was little presence in his performance.  There was a disconnect that reached far beyond the frontman’s notorious nonchalance.  He lost tempo in the more nimbly worded numbers, and when an equipment malfunction forced him to engage with the audience, he babbled nonsensically, eventually mumbling blame against the local music store that provided the problematic amplifier.

The crowd swelled at the beginning and ending points of the concert, in which the band played some more popular tunes that graced the airwaves in the 90’s: “Opera Singer” to start, and “Never There” to close out before coming back with an uncomfortable encore.  During the bulk of the concert, though, the set list consisted of lesser known tracks with a somewhat insistent focus on down-tempo ballads.  During these songs the bandwagon fans left to get more beer, and the obnoxiously loud bass bled over from the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse.

Perhaps there is something to be said for Cake’s persistence, for despite their apparent refusal to change their lackadaisical persona, they still manage to draw large crowds who buy into the act.  This particular crowd was just drunk enough to ignore McCrea’s stumbling attempts at speech, lighting up with recognition at the only two songs they’d ever heard before.  Cake may have stopped the rain, but they don’t seem to be stopping their shtick any time soon.  Inexplicably, though, it seems to do the trick.


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