Although Cake has had its share of alt-rock hits and even platinum successes, the band has somehow forgone the mainstream proper. Nonetheless, at the first of a two-night stand at Midtown's new top-do

Although Cake has had its share of alt-rock hits and even platinum successes, the band has somehow forgone the mainstream proper. Nonetheless, at the first of a two-night stand at Midtown's new top-dollar Terminal 5, the crowd was out in full force for the college-rocking Sacramento natives. But, akin to their floury namesake left basking on a table in the sun, Cake doesn't age very well.

Perhaps something about the air was off-putting that night, or maybe everybody had prematurely capitulated to the holiday season rogue wave -- that weird feeling of stagnation before Christmas. Whatever it was, it was palpable before the end of Cake's opener, a cover of Willie Nelson's "Sad Songs and Waltzes," which was also the last track of the band's 1996 sophomore LP, "Fashion Nugget."

"A true song as real as my tears," it goes, "but you've no need to fear it 'cause no one will hear it." As is the case with the even Cake's most sentimentally wrought ballads, their lyrics consistently reek of irony.

The thing about irony for Cake is that when it falls flat, it redoubles. In other words, Cake's tongue-in-cheek songwriting acquires a sort of meta-irony in the context of a live performance, which on Wednesday was copasetic at best. Take "Opera Singer," for example, which describes the event where "after each performance, people stand around and wait just to tell me that they love my voice." Keenly aware that the crowded sea won't open until the people hear "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" or "The Distance" (both saved for the encore), Cake trudged through a swath of back material.

But the band merits credit where it's due, such as the clockwork tandem of bassist Gabriel Nelson and drummer Paulo Baldi and the jubilant, flourishing horns of multi-instrumentalist Vincent DiFiore. Vocalist/guitarist John McCrea, on the other hand, was simply tardy to tap into the crowd, which eventually riled around him towards the end - even while he flipped fans the bird amidst a chant of "na-na-na-na," a hilariously forged enmity on McCrea's part.

This was more like a visit to Sunshine, Ltd. than the "Unlimited Sunshine Tour" as it had been dubbed - every flicker can't be a fire.

Speaking of, I'd caught more whiffs of marijuana smoke on the walk from the subway station than at the venue itself -- an anomaly, even in New York City. Notwithstanding, lead singer cum nylon guitarist, John McCrea, looked slack jawed and unsure about himself throughout the first couple of songs.

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