CAKE at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Friday (November 9). $39.50. 416-870-8000.
talking to cake frontman john McCrea, you get the feeling you're being mocked. Maybe it's part of the obvious humour that characterizes Cake's music, or an effect of McCrea's encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. Or maybe it's just that he thinks he's smarter than most folks.
McCrea and his band of pomo pranksters -- trumpet virtuoso Vince DiFiore, axeman Xan McCurdy, bassist Gabe Nelson and drummer Pete McNeal -- revel in their cleverness.
Their cryptic lyrics, which rival Pavement's pithy prattle, mask wicked social commentary. For instance, the whimsical-sounding Sheep Go To Heaven is actually about the tension between hedonism and ascetic stoicism. Their newest hit, Short Skirt Long Jacket, deals with more than McCrea's pining for the ideal woman -- it's Cake's commentary on how our society equates sex and success.
"We're being as earnest as we are arch, as sincere as we're being ironic," explains McCrea, calling from a Best Western in Des Moines, Iowa. "Our music isn't a nudge-nudge, wink-wink thing, like we're waiting to see who gets the joke."
Cake cannibalize culture, consuming everything from infomercials to symphonies, spitting it all out in the form of self-consciously ironic pastiches. Take their cover of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive: gender-bending anthem or mere ready-made queer club hit? New track Commissioning A Symphony In C, from Cake's latest Comfort Eagle album, combines Led Zepp guitar riffs with baroque-sounding harpsichords and lyrics about a medieval aristocrat. Huh?
"I didn't just want to write another Foreigner or Nirvana song, the same old bullshit about being in a band," says McCrea. "So I wrote about my life in the context of an Austrian nobleman instead. It was also our way of writing about the label without actually having to say so."
A discussion with McCrea is larded with the well-rehearsed prefab lines that serve to maintain Cake's carefully constructed image. He denies any intellectual posturing and claims celebs are dull, that they're just average joes doing a job.
"Since the industrial revolution, there's a sense of art forms trying to separate themselves from what's come before, like they're creating something entirely new. It's ridiculous. We're just creating another product. I mean, it's all this standard musical geometry that can be combined in different ways, a stylistic trick bag that goes way back, and we just take things from that bag."
Former drummer Todd Roper was so fed up with the touring lifestyle that he left the band after recording Cake's newest disc, citing a need to spend more time with his family. McCrea says being famous is no cakewalk, claiming he'd stay at home if not for pressure from his label.
"Having all these fucking bands driving across the county all the time is just wasteful. When you come back two years later, everything's changed -- people are married, have kids or have moved away. That's why you find so many drug addicts, alcoholics and sex addicts among rock stars. There's not much else to turn to.
"Being in a band is no different from being a medieval jester. Bands take the archetypal role of Dionysus, or Pan with his pipes. There are different versions. You have your Kurt Cobain character who becomes a drug addict and dies, your AC/DC characters who have sex with animals or something. Then there are all the people who restrain themselves and go to work every day, who do the "normal' thing.
"A rock show is the only celebratory outlet in our culture, but it's really shitty to have to do that every day."