The Sea and Cake Sound Like No Other

November 10th, 2011

The Sea and Cake – The Bowery Ballroom – November 8, 2011

You can look at the miracles of Mother Nature and either search for a scientific explanation or just let their beauty astound you. Some people look at a seashell and see a Fibonacci series while others only see a beautiful seashell. In the same way, some at The Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night watched the Sea and Cake and tried their best to work through the pop calculus of rhythms and melodies generated by Sam Prekop (guitar and vocals), Archer Prewitt (lead guitar), John McEntire (drums) and Eric Claridge (bass) while the rest of the crowd just bobbed along appreciating the pure beauty of the music.

Without a proper new album to push, the band was free to work through its catalog, playing well-polished versions of material from the last few years and a couple of dips into the earlier stuff. It’s a unique pleasure to watch a band and not be constantly thinking about which other groups they sound like. With Pekoe’s ephemeral vocals floating over cumulus guitars and restless drumming, this band sounded like no other. The consistent sound guarantees that if you like one song, you’re going to love it, and if you love one, you’re going to love them all. The crowd reacted to single presong chords from Prewitt or Precept with excitement each and every time, whether it was “Up on the North Shore,” from this year’s Moonlight Butterfly EP, or “Afternoon Speaker,” off 2000’s Oui.

Prekop’s strumming was quick and fleet while Prewitt’s guitar work contrasted— deliberately picked or summoned with an e-bow. Impossibly, Claridge kept things from running away with long, velvety bass notes. And as the set grew deeper, the buttons on McEntire’s shirt came undone and the music became looser and easier, with the crowd growing more and more vocal. A four-song encore proved not to be quite enough to work through the math. So the Sea and Cake returned a second time for a quick instrumental, leaving half the crowd reaching for their slide rules and everyone smiling. —A. Stein