For more than ten years, the Sea and Cake have gone to great lengths to inhabit their moniker, creating music that actually calls to mind the sound of waves effortlessly crashing into jagged rocks. The Chicago quartet is a tumultuous ocean—its sound a myriad of waves created via clever, wistful, bubblegum-laced arrangements based around jazzy improvisation. With so much talent, it’s no surprise that each band member rotates in and out of side projects, producing solo albums, photography, paintings, and recording studios. Did I mention side projects?
The individual members of the Sea and Cake are so skilled in their own right that they really have nothing to prove, yet they play as if the opposite was true. And the meticulousness that goes into recording their albums translates live: each note is a whisper into reawakening, a ripple of water that becomes a river before slowly expanding into a full lake and, soon thereafter, a larger body of water.
John McEntire’s legend comes to life in his confident, playful demeanor behind a cymbal-festooned drum kit. Singer Sam Prekop’s animal yelp—a Sea and Cake signature—reminds the listener that nothing is ever what it sounds like at first. Lead guitarist Archer Prewitt and bass guitarist Erik Claridge apply methodical fingers to each layer, and, with Sea and Cake, there is never any shortage of layers.
“Pleasure to be here, as always,” says Prekop early on in the evening. He gives the impression that he’s someone who you’d be more than willing to waste time with. Though his lyrics have always teetered on the unintelligible, we catch the occasional important discovery: “Some… body… deliver me.” As the band works its way through “Parasol,” an old favorite of mine, I remember how effectively his murky lyrics guided my college years: “We are the ghost/ They rest the sugar/ They rest the parasol/ Real long time.” The blue resonance is present in every syllable, every chord, and every unraveling of a John McEntire drum rattle.
The crowd, a healthy amalgam of tender, bespectacled, Hawaiian shirt-wearing heroes, stands entranced by the songs’ ingredients, as the band explores nearly every album in its seven-disc catalog, with the new one, Everybody, receiving the most attention. This is for good reason: the tracks from Everybody showcase the band’s great elevation since their last release.
The Sea and Cake remain a band that disqualifies conventional song structure, finding contentment in a post-meditative angle on a non-linear and thereby radio-unfriendly form. Yet the sound ultimately, catches your ears—and, in this case, eyes. By the seventh song, the previously minimalist backdrop has turned into a twinkling sky with active, moving stars—a reminder that, as much as we don’t relate on varying wavelengths, when the sun goes down, we remain under the same sky. And, fittingly, the band has an almost condensed jam band vibe to it tonight, an organic reaction to sound without the drown of excess—terse expressions of bona fide sentiment.
After the main set, the aquatic rattlesnake that is the Sea and Cake returns for a couple more gems. Prekop (a name that, I must admit, sounds like a Jurassic-era dinosaur) delivers his appreciation to the crowd through Beatnik vocabulary: “Man. Cool. Right on.” A feel-good frontman is always welcome in contemporary indie rock—mix that with some of Archer Prewitt’s freestyle slide guitar, and everybody wins.
A girl approaches me during the last song and says, “Isn’t it a shame? This band deserves ten thousand people in the audience, not one thousand.” I ask her what she thinks makes the band so special. “An artist doesn’t feel the art in their back or their head. It’s in their chest, their heart.” As the sea-blue lights dance in time to the music emanating from the stage, I can’t find a better answer than the moment itself.