February 2, 2002
The Tabernacle-Atlanta, GA


Hackensaw Boys:

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Tonight's show opened with appropriate surprise as the Hackensaw Boys appeared from the wings donning overalls and other hillbilly accoutrements. The large group of young but traditional bluegrass pickers surrounded three mics and performed a set of pure Appalachian acoustic music that transported the sold-out Tabernacle to the mountains. Some of the audience seemed to see the choice of The Hackensaw Boys for the opening slot as a joke from the headliners, but the majority seemed to understand that the Cake-men just wanted to expose a group of great musicians that would otherwise go unheard. After a beautifully executed performance full of exuberance and honesty, the stage was cleared of mandolins and washboards for the NoCal pop to come.

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Cake opened by playing an instrumental with their backs turned to the crowd and the lights off. Following this less than exciting intro, they dashed into their current CD's title track, "Comfort Eagle." It was immediately apparent that this crowd was full of complete Cake-heads as every word was louder from the audience than the stage. Lead vocalist John McCrea appeared to be choosing the song list as he went. When a guy repeatedly yelled for "Mr. Mastodon Farm" early on, the band obliged immediately. New tunes like "Opera Singer" were well received, but took a backseat to the older tunes tonight. Luckily, Cake has a strong backlog of material, because they've got absolutely no stage presence. The show was more like a coffeehouse poet being backed up by a band than a major label corporate rock-pop act. I'm sure that suits Cake just fine. The music volume was low and muddled, but the vocals were clear and the audience sang along all night. Songs like "Comanche," "Pretty Pink Ribbon," "Shut The Fuck Up," and  "Italian Leather Sofa" moved the crowd to dance in their clearly caucasion ways. That was the thing to watch while the band played, because there wasn't really anything to see on the stage.

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While more intimate feeling than most big performances, the distinctly non-traditional rock show still featured a few staples of cliche to wake the audience up whenever they started to murmur amongst themselves more than listen. More often than not, a mirror ball spun and cast bars of light across the venue. It was almost funny how much more action-packed the show seemed when the mirror ball lit up. Especially appealing were the thousands of bubbles that poured from the lighting rig during the more Lawrence Welk-ian moments. One of the strongest points in the show came during the country-tinged early favorite "Jesus Wrote A Blank Check." It led nicely to the later in the evening straight-faced (and very well done) cover of Willie Nelson's "Sad Songs And Waltzes." A lot of the other moments of note came courtesy of Vince DiFiore's marvelous trumpet playing on many of the numbers. He especially lit up "You Part The Waters" and "Jolene" with his contributions. Of course, all the hits were played. Modern rock "classics" such as "Never There," "Sheep Go To Heaven," "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" and "The Distance" were performed note for note to the delirium of the ticket holders. The highlight for me, though, was the pure insight-meets-melody-and-dances vibe of the encore "Satan Is My Motor." Cake is a niche band for sure. They can be (and were for entire sections of the show) painfully dull. However, if you like what Cake does, you've got to get it from them. Tonight, they spoon-fed it to an appreciative crowd. If only there had been some ice cream... (Chris McKay/

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