The Sea and Cake leave Middle East tranquil

A review of The Sea and Cake at the Middle East Downstairs on November 13

, Staff

The Sea and Cake has been bopping around the music scene since the mid-90s, and during their time in the business they have developed nine albums and formed a devoted fan following with their soft, airy, indie rock sound. The foursome graced the Middle East in Cambridge with their presence on Wednesday night, and inside the club fans waited feverishly for the band to appear. The clock struck eleven and the wait was over — several cult followers made their way to the front of the stage to get in their fill of mellow, jazz-influenced soft rock.

The chattering patrons quickly became silent as all attention became focused on the band standing center stage.& Bassist Eric Claridge took a swig of his beer, the guitarist, Archer Prewitt, played a few warm up notes and they didn’t waste any time, getting directly in to the set after a few seconds of enthusiastic clapping from the crowd.

The band started with "Aerial," a track off their recently released Car Alarm album. Sam Prekop’s soft, breathy vocals combined with poppy, jazzy beats produced a melodic, relaxing sound. The sea of fans seemed to be in a trace, softly swaying their heads to the music, closing their eyes and seemingly becoming engulfed in the sound.&

As the show went on the sound remained the same, and while it was delivering a gentle, whimsical vibe, I started to get déjà vu when the fifth song consisted of a collaboration of gentle tones backing murmured vocals – yet again. The smooth sounds lacked distinction; there weren’t many interesting pitches or memorable solos to break up the soothing groove.

The rest of the set list consisted of several songs from their new album, including "On a Letter" and "Car Alarm," as well as several older jams, such as "The Argument," which was off of their ’97 album The Fawn, and was the most intriguing song of the night, adding a little funk and much-needed contrast with a more upbeat tempo and speedy drum beat.

The hypnotic state of the crowd inspired by the music carried on to the stage as Prepkop, Claridge, John McEntire on drums and Prewitt calmly played their separate roles, rarely interacting with the crowd or each other, and showing little emotion — most of them keeping their eyes closed for the majority of the set. It seemed like the raw emotion and excitement you normally get from a live show was replaced by a display of the band’s ability to become entranced with their music. Both displays are appreciated, but the latter is less adrenalin inducing or appealing for the eyes.

At the stroke of midnight the whimsical indie-rock experience was over; the band played their final song and exited the stage, but a few dozen devoted fans hadn’t had their full Sea and Cake fix, and encouraged an encore. The band complied, reappearing to deliver three more jazzy, mellow numbers as the remaining fans quietly swayed their heads and stared on in approval.&

In general, Sea and Cake is capable of delivering an interesting and calming experience with their music, but I would recommend buying the CD and listening from the comfort of your own home. Skip the live version; you won’t be missing much.

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