Categories: Mario Sanguinet, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Esprit de l’escalier: An Evening with CAKE 

Article by Mario Sanguinet

July 28, 2023

Esprit de l’escalier is a French phrase used to indicate a witty remark or comeback devised after the moment has passed. This piece encapsulates the essence of the phrase, since these thoughts are coming in way after the fact. But are still worth sharing (or so I think).

When I saw CAKE was going to perform at the Rady Shell on June 20, 2023, I made sure to mark my calendar. They have been a band I have been wanting to see for years. My teen self would have been thrilled.


Side A

Since this is the Shell, that means there is rarely an opener. So the show was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. and soon after the clock struck the hour some music started playing. But there was no one on stage yet. It sounded like video game music from the 80s. 

The music continued to play. After about five minutes of (personal) confusion, I decided to ask my phone, “Hey, which song is this?” and to my surprise it worked, despite being at a concert with all the trappings that usually entails. The song in question: “War” by Vince DiCola, which was part of the “Rocky IV” soundtrack. An excellent walk out song, in retrospect. 

As the song reached its waning moments all four members of the band trickled out on stage and the show began. They kicked off things with “Frank Sinatra.” “Sheep Go To Heaven.” “Meanwhile, Rick James…

This last one came with some ancillary commentary by the lead singer, John McCrea, right before they began to play the song, “Rick James did confront me about the song. He needed an explanation. I gave him one. And it was fine we had an understanding,” he said in between sips of an IPA. 

“I’m not gonna waste your time telling you what the explanation was. No, you have things to do. You have all kinds of stuff to worry about. I don’t wanna bother you,” demurred McCrea. 

Coaxed by the audience McCrea finished his anecdote, “I just said that his music really impressed me when I was a 7-year-old … the overwhelming power of the sexuality … totally freaked out this little white kid. And he said ‘Yeah, yeah. I understand exactly what you are saying.’” After which the band went directly into playing the song. 

Songs in the first half of the show also included, “Opera Singer.” “Guitar.” “Stickshifts and Safetybelts.” And “Sick of You,” which was played right before intermission. During the middle of this song, McCrea split the audience in two, right half and left half, and told everyone what they needed to do and when they needed to do it. 

It was also roughly around this part he began to ask folks not to record him because it made him feel uncomfortable. Eventually as the evening progressed this commentary grew and included thoughts on big tech, all vaguely reminiscent of a conspiratorial uncle. 

Intermission: Data Back-Up 

For many of the bands or songs I like, it is a little hard for me to trace back where that affinity came from or where it began. Yet, my introduction to CAKE and my evolving predilection for their music is one of the few I can actually recall. 

While I do not have the full details for when or how it happened exactly, I can say this with certainty: it happened in high school. Now, that might sound trite, banal, and downright unoriginal. 

But, hear me out… 

I was channel surfing (remember those days?) and I stumbled on the show “Chuck,” an action/comedy/spy series, whose introduction sequence was a superb song. It was only later that I learned, the intro featured much of the melody/riff/hooks of CAKE’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” an incredible tune in its own right.  

Generally, that would not be much but given that it happened around when I was in my mid-teens, the show introduced me to the band, exposed me to some of CAKE’s music, and forever cemented my liking for their style. 

As Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, best selling author of “Everybody Lies,” wrote in a 2018 New York Times op-ed, “The most important period for men in forming their adult [musical] tastes were the ages 13 to 16.” Meanwhile, “The most important period for women were the ages 11 to 14.” 

So, it’s not just me saying it, the data backs it up. 

Thus, it was nice to finally get to see them live. 

Side B 

This portion of the concert started with the giveaway of a tree. As you can imagine it was a slightly chaotic endeavor and it did not help that to win the tree a person had to guess which kind of tree it was. However, it did help that a cluster of folks had congregated near the stage, the remnants of early adopters of the call and response from the first half. 

After a few failed attempts someone who was a few seats away from mine got called on and guessed correctly. I didn’t know they were next to us until they arrived back with a tree in their arms, which was a native San Diego (oak?) tree. 

CAKE has done this giveaway at a majority of their shows, the only expectation being: the winner has to provide a picture to confirm the tree has been planted and provide semi-regular updates of its well-being. You can find some of the trees they have given out over the years on their website.

After the tree giveaway, the second half began and this portion of the show features some of their more recognizable songs (or at least ones that I could readily recognize within the first bar or so). “Comanche.” “Never There.” “Italian Leather Sofa.” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle.” “Love You Madly.” 

And of course they played “Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” and “The Distance” to close out the show. Overall, they played roughly a 90 minute show, excluding the intermission. But they left me wanting more, especially since they did not play the one song I was hoping to hear “Let Me Go” others within earshot kept asking for “Jolene” throughout the night. 

As I mentioned before, the early ending time for concerts at the Shell throws me off. This was no different, stage hands were tearing things down by 9:55 p.m. Alas, we both had to let go of Jolene that night, since she never arrived.

As always, when going to the Shell remember to bring a jacket or a blanket. Find out who else is coming to the Rady Shell and take a look at the San Diego Symphony performance calendar

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