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With its funky lyrics and stripped-down sound, Cake is a tasty musical treat.

Have Your Cake...

Cake with Old 97's
Mayo Island
6-10 p.m.
Sunday, June 13
$15 in advance, $20 at the door

John McCrea really gets rolling when he starts talking about those who "misuse" music. The founder-singer-guitarist of Cake, McCrea has no patience with the masses who like a style of music simply because it's trendy.

"Do you know what I'm saying?" McCrea asks rhetorically while dismissing members of a throwaway culture who wear music "as a badge."

"People liking things they're supposed to?" the thirtysomething musician notes incredulously.

Of course, McCrea and his bandmates will accept a certain amount of popularity when their current tour stops on Mayo Island June 13 for a Feed the Future benefit. But as Cake slogs its way through the rock star ranks, the band and McCrea do seem to stick to their creative guns. McCrea cheerfully admits he takes "liberties with things like 'truth,'" when it comes to writing, but he has a wonderful knack for expression.

"Magic," the band's third album, is full of funky commentary about life. McCrea expresses disappointment and loss with a wink and a nod that neither negates the feelings nor shrugs them off. It's almost as if Lou Reed were writing unsettling, yet witty, short scripts for a TV sitcom about failed relationships.

"It's not about 'things' but [about] the way things happen," he says, explaining his approach to his tunes. His songs are meant as expressions of a common human experience, he adds, expressing the simple and direct, while trying to recognize how "people as a group acknowledge just how pathetic it all is."

But if indeed the human experience is pathetic, McCrea's musical world is certainly far from depressing. He easily mixes images of dirt and sunshine and the "fumes from cars/dusty yellow stars" as he ponders beauty through the civilized, modern-day morass. "Mexico," "Walk On By" and "Alpha Beta Parking Lot," are sad tunes, but somehow they make you want to hum along and tap your toes as the bass moves and booms. "Guitar" and "Never There" capture the feelings of a disappointed guy without making him seem na‹ve or ridiculous.

Of course, all of this is clever stuff, but without the entire band's take on the songs, they could be merely the notebook jottings of a frustrated songwriter. Each song is a unique arrangement using primarily the usual bass, drums and guitar lineup; the rhythm section really locks these tunes down. But what makes Cake interesting is how it skews this with the occasional weird South-of-the-Border Herb Alpert trumpet without sounding overly cocktail-lounge cool.

"Saxophones reminded me of beer commercials," McCrea says of the decision to add a trumpet to the band's lineup when it was formed six years ago. "I wanted a clear and direct way ... something that played melodies."

But there's also much more. Oddball backup choruses and the holy whine of the musical saw keep the sound interesting. Each component of the California-based band is a clear contributor to the overall stripped-down sound. There's no wall of guitar thrash or hodgepodge of instruments fighting one another for a place in the mix. McCrea's voice is placed up front and he sings like a regular Joe; there's no whiny angst going on. The whole project is a curious wonder; a listener has no idea what's coming down the musical pike from cut to cut.

While McCrea admits to being "damaged by the same rock everybody else has," and he cites influences from AC/DC to Barry White's rhythm section to Ella Fitzgerald, much of his direct style comes from his recent interest in country music. The negativity of some popular music disturbed McCrea, but in country music he says he found a style that says "everyone come to the party … which I think is just so much more real."

"I'm a big proponent of the 'less is more' aesthetic," he continues. "There's only a limited amount of information the human ear can decipher" and the "dryness … almost a matte finish" of traditional country music currently informs his work.

McCrea describes the band's live show as "louder, sloppier … more frenetic" than a controlled studio sound. But touring is not McCrea's idea of a good time. Playing and writing are great, he says, but the road routine gets old. "I wouldn't recommend it," he says of a traveling musician's life. "It can lead to … a feeling of disappointment. I feel a lot more like a truck driver than a

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