The Sea and Cake & The Zincs @ Troubadour, 5/19/07
The Sea and Cake is one of those bands that bridge the gap between those casual music listeners who buy, maybe, 10 CDs a year and the music geeks who dip into their rent money on records every month. You know the difference. Say, you go over to some girl’s apartment in Sherman Oaks and she has all of 50 CDs in her life but one of these CDs will curiously be a Sea and Cake album. (You can probably guess what the other 49 are–Nevermind, A Rush of Blood to the Head, Garden State soundtrack, etc.) You immediately wonder if she is cool or if an ex got her into them. Then there’s the guy who has 4,000 CDs and has every single Sea and Cake release, even the weird Japanese ones, the compilations and the EPs. (Maybe even he’s the guy that gave that girl in Sherman Oaks her one Sea and Cake CD.) In any case, the Venn diagram of these two groups came happily together Saturday night in West Hollywood to see The Sea and Cake.
Whether or not the “jazzy” adjective that gets habitually affixed to their sound is useful or even accurate, it really doesn’t apply to their live incarnation, which definitely leans towards straight ahead pop and even, at times–gasp!–rocks. As is well known, they boast an all-star at every position. Sam, Archer, Eric and John all have their moments tonight. They stretch out a bit live. John and Eric may be the tightest rhythm section the Troubadour has seen in a long while. Sam ostensibly is the leader, as the songs are his, but on stage, he’s egoless in the best way, charmingly even reading lyrics and chords from scattered sheets at his feet every now and them.
When they break out with “Jacking the Ball,” the very first song from the very first record, early in the set, it is clear that the blueprint for the sound was established at the outset in 1994. These are catchy, catchy tunes, up-tempo numbers with melodic riffs that weave themselves around your thoughts hours after hearing them. Sometimes unwillingly. Some of the more ethereal electronic textures of, say The Fawn, are eschewed for a more direct stripped down presentation; a good thing in the setting of the Troubadour. As they work through an hour-plus set, at various times one is reminded that there are no Shins without The Sea and Cake coming first. And, less obviously, one might notice that no less than Radiohead took a few of their moves around the time of Kid A/Amnesiac.
While a certain critical and underground acclaim has always been there for them it is nice to see a sold out crowd receive them so enthusiastically. A mainstream success probably isn’t in the cards for them, but that’s not what they’re after anyhow. Sea and Cake records are evergreen pop albums, not tied to the day’s trends, and will not fizzle out over time. Once in while you dig it out and are reminded how much you like them. And maybe once in a while you will flip to their section in Virgin and pick up another CD, one by one completing their collection over years. By then, that same girl has moved from Sherman Oaks to Studio City and her apartment now has 100 CDs. Two of them will be Sea and Cake CDs.
Openers The Zincs , are Thrill Jockey Chicagoan kinsmen to The Sea and Cake. J. McEntire produced their latest, Black Pompadour, an album title which singer James Elkington joked on stage may have been ill advised. Points for self effacing humor (and English accent). Their range of sound is a fairly expansive rock that can get really quiet and really loud. Some mellow finger picked numbers set off James’s bassy crooning nicely. They close with a storming sort of electric country tune that conjures Nick Cake covering Johnny Cash, on which the guitarist plays a Morricone-style muted trumpet solo–on his guitar. More points. One wants to see them open it up more within a song and freak out a bit more in the instrumental passages and maybe lay off the phaser pedal a bit. This will come I’m sure; a solid foundation for some future exploration and experimentation is in place; keep an eye on these guys.