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Tour Profile: Cake


To outsiders, it seems like Chris Bailey should be pushing 11 on the stress-o-meter. He’s handling front-of-house duties and tour managing for Cake’s club circuit. The band is relying on house gear and rented P.A.s — including outboard and mics — at each venue. On the night Mix caught up with the band (mid-November at San Francisco’s sold-out Warfield Theater), Bailey and monitor mixer Bobby Mack show nary a hint of stress. “The nice thing is this band sounds great coming out of the box,” Bailey reports. “So we’re not necessarily requiring a certain sound out of the equipment. The sound is in the band.”

This leg of Cake’s winter tour was played in 1,200 and 2,500 seaters, with the crew only carrying backline. Tonight, Bailey and Mack are relying on a Meyer Sound MILO line array system and a pair of Yamaha PM4000 consoles (one at FOH, one at monitor) rented from Pro Media/UltraSound. A total of 16 MILO cabinets — four flown and four onstage per side — are used at the show, with a pair of Meyer MSL-2s front-fills and a two M3D subs carrying the bottom end.

Front-of-house engineer >
Chris Bailey

The Meyer monitor rig is powered by Crest amps, a crucial choice for Cake, as the band relies on audience participation during their set with call-and-response interaction. According to Mack, Cake uses wedges, as personal monitors aren’t needed. “These guys play at a really decent volume onstage. You can stand with them onstage without plugs in and your ears feel good after a show. We don’t even use sidefills, so everyone has their own particular mix.”

At FOH, Bailey approaches the band as a rhythmic entity. “These guys are not big low-end guys,” he reports. “There are a lot of rhythmic things going on, but it’s not all about the drums. A lot of the warmth on the bottom is coming from the bass guitar.” Bailey mikes the kit with a pair of overheads and lets those channels drive the mix. “I’m going for that ’60s drum sound, not that pointy, clicky drum sound,” he says. “Paulo [Baldi] knows how to tune his drums and they sound great, so any mic that’s in good condition over the drums sounds pretty good.” On this night, Bailey used a pair of Shure 81s as overheads, a Shure 52 on the kick, a 57 on the snare and a tight condensers on the hi-hat and toms.

Vocalist John McCrea sings into a Shure 58, while his Goya classical guitar runs through a Fender practice amp miked with an SM57. Tonight, 57s handle most everything from Gabe Nelson’s Ampeg SVT 8×10 bass cab to Xan McCurdy’s Fender Blues Deville amp to Vincent di Fiore’s Bach trumpet. “A lot of these guys have used 57s for years and they freak out if they see a different mic in front of them,” Mack says.

Monitor engineer Bobby Mack

A signature sound of many a Cake song is the trumpet-blowing. “It is very dynamic and [di Fiore] knows when to stay on the mic,” Bailey reports. “I do compress it a little bit to warm it up and smooth it out.” He also watches di Fiore’s keyboard channels. “There are some different keyboard patches that are the trickiest things for me because they are different in perceived level. Some of them are more pointed and others are really soft and warm. I gain-ride that quite a bit.

“The bottom line is that it’s about the music,” Bailey concludes. “If you become too anal about the other stuff, you lose sight of what you’re doing.”

David John Farinella is a writer based in San Francisco.