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Slice of strife 

Despite getting cut up, Cake still is sweetly spare

click to enlarge Dont worry, Cake will save you.
  • Dont worry, Cake will save you.

When guitarist Greg Brown left Cake eight years ago to join forces with former Cake bassist Victor Damiani in forming Deathray, it seemed the band would become singer/guitarist John McCrea's baby.

Before Brown decided Cake wasn't big enough to accommodate two songwriters, he and McCrea split songwriting duties on Cake's first three albums. Many frontmen would welcome the opportunity to take full custody of songwriting, which is exactly what McCrea did for the first post-Brown Cake release, Prolonging the Magic.

But even though he'd formed Cake in 1992 to be a vehicle for his songs, it turned out that kind of dominant songwriting role was something McCrea never wanted.

"I actually found it pretty oppressive at first," McCrea says about taking over songwriting for Prolonging tindhe Magic. "Not only did I have to write the songs, but I had to write the bass lines, other guitar parts. That's a lot of work. So for me, it was sort of overwhelming."

Just as disturbing to McCrea was the notion that the other remaining members of Cake at the time -- trumpet player Vincent DiFiore, bassist Gabriel Nelson and drummer Todd Roper -- didn't seem eager to contribute to song arrangement or other areas of the creative process.

"For a while, I felt like I had to do everything and I just didn't like that at all," McCrea says. "Also, I don't like imposing my ideas onto other people and making them have to play everything I wrote. Sometimes, it's good [for] people to have more of a sense of investment in it."

It's been seven years since Prolonging the Magic was released, and in that time, much has changed within Cake. For one, the band added Xan McCurdy as a full-time guitarist.

Paulo Baldi is playing drums on tour and, according to McCrea, is likely to take over the slot full-time.

Over the course of making 2001's Comfort Eagle, and 2004's Pressure Chief, Cake has become more of a collaborative unit than McCrea ever expected.

"What I thought I had was a band that wasn't all that interested in participating creatively. I'm glad to have been proven wrong," he says. "What I've got is a really, really capable band, and there aren't very many musicians that I think could be in this band. So with that, I guess I have to say we're pretty lucky to have Gabriel Nelson on bass and Xan McCurdy on guitar. They're really the appropriate musicians for what we're doing."

Cake's sound remains spare on Pressure Chief, with Nelson's melodic bass lines often working in tandem with McCrea's decidedly dry vocals. DiFiore's trumpet solos and fills provide many of the melodies. Once again, the band's sound mixes rock and pop with hints of country, lounge jazz and punk.

McCrea says several Pressure Chief songs have been added to Cake's live set, but the concerts continue to survey the band's entire career.

"As much as our record company wants [the live show] to be in the service of just the one album, for us, we're trying to work in the service of the concert performance," McCrea says. "We're trying to choose the best collection of songs to work with, as opposed to just promoting one album.

"I mean, we're not like Pink Floyd, where we feel like we have to play the whole album and nothing else."

-- Alan Sculley

capsule

Cake with Gogol Bordello and Tegan & Sara

Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson St., Denver

Wednesday, Jan. 25, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $25; call 520-9090 or check ticketmaster.com.

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