By: Ashley Berry
When Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, John McEntire and a fill-in bassist whose name I did not catch take the stage at the Bootleg Theatre, they don’t greet the audience or spend time warming up the room; they just start playing. The din of the crowd comes to an immediate halt as the audience becomes rapt with a laser-like attention to the stage. There is no mistaking the fact that this is a Sea and Cake crowd.
The Sea and Cake has been producing music for almost 20 years, they have release 13 albums if you include their 7″ collaboration with Broken Social Scene, and the show at the Bootleg is not their first rodeo. They perform as a mature group of musicians, with no need for flirting with the crowd, not that they were ever that kind of band. Their music is cerebral with a jazz-inspired, ambient inclination and an occasional hint of indie pop.
As the band settles into their set, I notice that, not only do they not interact with the crowd, they don’t interact with each other much at all either. Each band member plays their part without the youthful fraternity so often seen in younger bands. They are professionals. “The Invitations” is the first song of their set and it is a track from their newest album, Runners, which was released in September 2012. As soon as the first song comes to a close, they move immediately into “On and On” (Runners 2012), a noticeably more intense and up-tempo, percussion-driven song.
Even though I am standing directly in front of Prekop, I can’t quite make out the lyrics. It’s as though the lyrics are meant to be a subtle accompaniment to the rest of the music, instead of being a focal point, and this is mirrored by the way the players are arranged on stage. Prekop, who fronts the band with lead vocals and guitar, is actually stationed off to the left of the stage, while Prewitt (guitar and vocals) is positioned dead center. The mysterious bassist flanks Prewitt on the right and McEntire is back center on the drum kit. Despite the fact that Prekop leads with vocals through the whole set, it’s McEntire and Prewitt who seem to compel the most attention as they give the most expressive performances.
It’s obvious that the members of the Sea and Cake are not on stage to be admired or lusted after. They are there to play music, and they do just that, almost non-stop for the entirety of their set. While many bands will stop between songs to engage with the crowd as they tweak their instruments, the members of the Sea and Cake make no attempt to pull the audience in; it’s clear, however, that they don’t have to. As one song blends seamlessly into another, the shifts are noted by the audience’s cheers.
The fifth song of the set is “Jacking the Ball” and it is the first Sea and Cake song that I ever heard. It is an old favorite of many from the Sea and Cake’s self-titled debut album, and it seems that the song is still a favorite of Prewitt’s as he starts to rock out, albeit in a relatively contained manner, for the first time during the show.
It is during the sixth song of the set, “Weekend” (Car Alarm 2008) that the energy of the music begins to rise. It’s as though a mammoth butterfly is fluttering its wings sending sweeping waves of energy through the room. Prekop and Prewitt must feel it too, as they tap their feet simultaneously, perfectly in synch. As the song comes to a sudden end, I feel like I have been given just the tiniest taste of some great adventure and I am left wanting more, but only for a moment.
With a “5-6-7-8”, the drums of “The Staircase” (Car Alarm 2008) begin, followed immediately by an interlude of guitars that is either a duet or a duel between Prekop and Prewitt. The show continues on in this way with rolling build-ups and then sudden wave-like close outs. There is the occasional jazzy interlude and each song melts into the next. The drums maintain a steady foundation for the guitars and vocals and it feels like I have been listening to one epic and dynamic song.
The final song of the set, “Leeora”, (The Biz 1995) features a marathon from Prekop on the guitar. The crowd calls out to him as he grounds the song until the percussion and supporting guitars come charging in to create the undeniable pinnacle of the show. The song explodes like a firework blossoming in glistening cascades of flame and then comes to an end.
Prekop addresses the crowd directly for the first time in the show saying, “Thank you, ladies and gentlemen”, before exiting the stage with the rest of the band. The crowd claps and waits, with no uncertainty about the impending encore. When the band reclaims the stage, they don’t waste any time getting back to the music.
The encore consists of two songs and picks up right where the first set left off. The title track of their new release, “Runner” (Runner 2012), is a rippling pulse that moves out over the crowd and then shifts into a delicate trickle. The sound moves slowly, gracefully, and slightly erratically, like a raindrop sliding down a window. The true final song of the night is “Parasol” (Nassau 1995) and it is a revelation. It is a first kiss: new, strange, and mesmerizing. It pulls you in to discover more and even as Prekop screams out some of the lyrics, it feels soft and subdued. It is the perfect way to end the night.