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The Sea and Cake @ Troubadour 12/4/08

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Venerable Chicago-based band The Sea and Cake hit the Troubadour this week for a pair of shows in support of their October release Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey). Playing together since 1993, core members Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt--along with drummer John McEntire and bassist Eric Claridge--proved in their almost 2-hour set Thursday night that rocking out isn't just for the young.

What is most amazing about The Sea and Cake is their almost-tangible synchronicity when they play together. Small head tilts and nods seemed to communicate entire thoughts, and when deeply engrossed in the act of creating rich, rapidly shifting segments of sounds, their enmeshment was palpable.

Car Alarm follows up their more pared-down 2007 release Everybody, and moves the band towards a more intense rock sound than on some previous albums. A fondness for what plays as more "ambient" on albums like Oui (2000) and One Bedroom (2003) made me wonder how they would translate live. The result: Phenomenal. The complexity of their compositions seen up close in personal through adept fingers flying over strings of guitars and bass and gripping drumsticks was staggering. Their frequent use of electronic beats took a back seat, despite the presence of the musician's ubiquitous right-hand man of late--the Apple laptop--which was only employed a couple of times in the set.

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As they moved through their vast catalog the intensity of their performance seemed to grow exponentially; Prekop, deeply embedded in a bridge, would drop his head slightly and shake it rapidly almost as if saying "no" as visible evidence of his connection to the notes he was playing. When things got raucous Prewitt would kick his leg up like a jiving rocker or bow deeply as he pressed his fingers to his instrument. To the right of the fray stood Claridge, humbly providing the core bass notes that steadied the melodies, while in back McEntire gave his whole being to each song--as drummers tend to do--contorting his face and throwing his upper body into the rhythms they were creating.

You'll forgive me for not naming the full set list, although I can say with surety they played "Car Alarm," "A Fuller Moon," "Aerial," and "Nature Boy," to mention a scant few. As a side-effect of the digital era of music I notice I listen to more songs and know fewer of their names, perhaps because I don't spend hours poring over liner notes. Liner notes might actually enhance one's appreciation for The Sea and Cake, chiefly because Prekop, and in some songs, Prewitt, have the vocal habit of making words somewhat indistinguishable. This might be problematic with a band whose sound was common or average, but oddly, for someone who sometimes loves music because of the lyrics, this makes me appreciate The Sea and Cake more because the spotlight remains fixed on their incredible musicality.

The audience Thursday night was enchanted by the band, and many seemed not to have my issue with knowing the lyrics; a quick scan of the packed floor of the Troubadour showed that many devotees could mouth every word and knowingly sync a head or hand with every fast switch of beat produced. The show lacked the expected small-venue frenzy of fans shouting claims of worship and love, and rarely did a voice pop up between songs with a request. Instead we were all transfixed--appreciative of fine musicians doing what they do best.

Here's the band doing "Afternoon Speaker" live (not from this show, though!)

Photo of Sam Prekop (left) and Archer Prewitt (right) playing live with The Sea and Cake by Lindsay William-Ross/LAist