Post-rock veterans The Sea and Cake glided into New York’s Webster Hall on Thursday, June 7th, to groove a diverse mix of fans, from uptown yuppies to kids that you can’t believe would be let into an 18+ show. Touring in support of their latest album, Everybody (QRO review), The Sea and Cake did not skimp on their older material, which actually composed over half the set, and they drew at least one piece from every one of their six prior albums. The only things marring the night were repeated tuning breaks that halted the show’s flow, and perhaps peaking a bit too early.
In appearance, The Sea and Cake were definitely much more similar to the elder portion of the crowd. Drummer John McEntire (of Tortoise) and guitarist Archer Prewitt are both balding; McEntire looks like a less-cool version of MTV News’ been-there-seemingly-forever John Norris, and Prewitt like the more straight-laced older brother of Weezer frontman River Cuomo. Guitarist/singer Sam Prekop seemingly needed to have his lyrics in front of him while performing. Even bearded and longhaired bassist Eric Claridge, the most ‘rock’-looking of the group, is more ‘rock roadie’-looking. But the most surprising thing about seeing the band in-person is that they’re ‘just’ a standard guitar-bass-and-drums set-up, without the keyboards, Korgs, drum machines, and what have you that one usually associates with post-rock. The Sea and Cake’s mature appearance really reflects their mature sound, a mix of expansive indie rock and seventies easy listening, that is all very easy to listen to.
The Chicago quartet opened their set with Everybody’s opener, “Up On Crutches”, a bright, flowing number that really washes over you. It was followed by Everybody’s more straightforward “Crossing Line”, and then “The Biz” (the opening track on its 1995 eponymous release), a more relaxed, even beach-going, tune. But this otherwise-strong opening gambit was hurt by what would be the night’s major flaw: tuning breaks. After every piece in the set, Prekop and Prewitt would take about a minute to retune their guitars, for the next one. A minute may not sound like very long, but when most of the songs average out about three or four minutes in length, you end up spending something like one-fifth of the concert just standing around, waiting for the next song. An odd new configuration to Webster Hall (QRO venue review), with stage extensions on either end serving mainly as bumpers, didn’t help either, as it herded the front of the crowd into a tighter pack, less able during the breaks to move to and fro, or just switch positions.
This all upset the audience somewhat. Early on, Prekop was motioning to the soundboarder on the side, some fan in the back shouted, “Sound guy, fix it!” (possibly said ironically, but still…). Even The Sea and Cake knew it, with Prewitt remarking during the post-“Crossing Line” tuning break that they had “devised this first three-song ‘touchdown’” (definitely said ironically…). It was all very reminiscent of when the eternally tune-breaking Sebadoh played Webster (QRO review), but while not as extreme, in some ways it hurt The Sea and Cake more. Their music’s appeal is based on getting the listener into a groove, and keeping him or her there while they then add in indie-rock hooks. So effective on their gapless CDs, the stop-start when live means that for virtually every song, one has to first get back into the groove again.
While this prevented the still-good opening from being a ‘touchdown’, the middle half of the set was so great (and the breaks relatively smaller), that one probably didn’t notice. Starting with conversationally upbeat “Jacking The Ball” (from their 1994 self-titled debut), The Sea and Cake largely had the crowd where they wanted them. The ‘Mid’ combo of “Midtown” (off of 2000’s Oui) and Everybody’s “Middlenight” went particularly well together, ‘a summer day in the city’ song meeting ‘a summer night in the city’ song, all in the summery City. An unfamiliar and possibly new song, “Bonus”, followed, and it kept the summer lovin’ going, with more of an up-tempo beat, right into the darker ‘death by a thousand little notes’ “Exact To Me”. “Exact” actually exceeded its performance on Everybody, but not by as much as the subsequent “The Argument” did, over its delivery on 1997’s The Fawn. Easily the biggest crowd-pleaser of the night, the driving post-rock jam had the audience right from its opening instrumental build-up. Along with the growing and winning “Too Strong” (one of the best pieces off of Everybody), the highpoint of the evening had been reached.
While good, the rest of the night felt a little much (especially with the tuning breaks now a bit longer). The eight-minute-long jam “Leeora” (roughly twice its length on The Biz) didn’t have any breaks, but felt a tad indulgent. It also left the air a little drained for the initial set-ender, “Parasol” (off of yet another, different, record, 1995’s Nassau). The Sea and Cake did spend surprisingly little time offstage during the encore break, perhaps energizing Webster Hall for their returning post-krautrock “Left On” from Everybody, though following that up with the even longer “Do Now Fairly Well” did not impress as much as fellow Fawn track “The Argument” had.
But saying that The Sea and Cake took too long with their tuning breaks, or took too long in general, is kind of missing the point. This is a band that’s been around for over a decade, putting together solid album after solid album (all seven, curiously, exactly ten tracks in length), and they delivered a very solid show at Webster Hall. Peppering their newer material with a fair amount of the old, the senior post-rockers had it going for all the fans, whether ‘post’ or ‘rock’.