Cake Fort York, Toronto ON, September 19

Cake Fort York, Toronto ON, September 19
Photo: Shane Parent
Like most people, I haven't paid any attention to Cake since the early 2000s. But since for a while there in the mid-to-late 1990s they were inescapably part of my alt-rock universe, I wandered over to catch their set feeling a kind of indifferent nostalgia. Pretty well everyone I talked to during the lead-up to their 8 p.m. slot said something similar. (Okay, everyone I talked to who was a greybeard like me.) And most of the younger folks I asked didn't really know who the hell Cake was at all. A 20-something woman told me that her friend had informed her Cake played "'90s dad rock, like Beck". 
This random non-scientific polling is only relevant because — holy smokes — did Cake slay out there on Saturday night. They took these generally low expectations and obliterated them with a blazing set full of party jams, tightly constructed rhythmic arrangements, and a weirdly affecting combo of brash confidence and slacker shrug. Lit up by the broken light from an enormous disco ball, the crowd was repeatedly invited to chant along with lead vocalist John McCrea and, in large part, they did.
Their modest college chart hit "Sheep Go To Heaven" wound up in a kind of stoner round. Later, their rather less modest hits "Going the Distance" and "Short Skirt, Long Jacket" (the latter featuring Choir! Choir! Choir!) hit like megaton bombs, the now-jubilant crowd chanting along with every line. It was all a little goofy, but after the insufferable earnestness of Passenger's set on the same stage a few hours before, it was like the water of life.
"I'm just a puppet," proclaimed McCrae towards the end of the set. "A catalyst for releasing endorphins into your bloodstream." And so he was, and so were they.