REVIEW: Cake and Ben Folds at the BMO Harris Pavilion


Photo by Melissa Miller

Ben Folds

The weather was a cool, breezy 70 degrees as Mr. Ben Folds took the stage on the eve of Aug. 23rd. With a charismatic walk to the stage he promptly sat down and began playing Annie Waits to the warming crowd and the evening began. Since I wrote an in-depth review of Ben Folds a few months back, which you need to check out here, I won’t be delving too deep into his show. But know this, it doesn’t matter where Ben Folds is, he is sure to make the crowd sway back in forth with amusement. The music veteran “who has been teaching children to curse since 1995” (I saw it on a t-shirt so I can’t claim credit), played hit after hit for the next hour leaving fans and showgoers warmed up for the upcoming show.

Ben Folds, accompanied by the opening band, Tall Heights played a little ode to Milwaukee after the classic Levi Johnson Blues. The ditty was a welcome treat to those that have seen him before and a reminder that Ben really enjoys this city. As I mentioned before he went on to play his crowd favorites, appealing directly to his fans who I felt were mostly there to see CAKE. After 15 songs sprinkled with some Ben Folds Five hits, Ben Folds departed with the stage and the crowd took their intermission.  



The fans got up and they cried with the excitement that was CAKE as they took the stage. “It has been too long since CAKE took the stage. I hope they get the crowd going.” I said to myself. Sad Songs and Waltzes. That’s what CAKE opened with and I’ll be damned if that didn’t set the tone for the rest of the night.

I need to get my little rant out of the way before I continue this review. I know when you’re a band that’s been around for 27 years you can’t keep playing the same shit. I get it, I really do. But when you are a band that has an entire album dedicated to B-sides that people love, how do you go on to play your C-sides and new songs? I’ve seen CAKE before and absolutely loved them. This show last night was not that night. It lacked the certain pazazz I’ve come to expect from such a reputable band and seemed completely phoned in. Now I can step down off my soapbox and continue with my review.

Following the worst opening song in the history of time, lead singer John McCrea greeted the crowd and proceeded to talk about the weather I referenced in the first sentence of this review. I bet you didn’t think that would come up again. Like a bad date with nothing to talk about, John proceeded to reference the weather NINE MORE TIMES THROUGHOUT THE SHOW. The band then went on to play Opera Singer followed by Long Time which went over fairly well. I don’t know if John just hit the point of his tour where he goes “I just don’t want to play the stuff I always play.” He addressed the crowd asking them if they wanted to hear and I quote “the new songs.” Of course, we don’t want to hear the new songs and we sure as hell don’t want you to ask the crowd if we want to hear it. Just play it, don’t give us an option! Since when did this become an audience participation show?

They went on and played their new unreleased song Sinking Ship, a politically charged CAKE song that may or may not have been an allegory about our current political system. Unlike Roger Water’s extravagant and distracting anti-Trump themed shows, John simply asked people to register to vote which you could do next to the t-shirt kiosk. Following their new song, they decided to kick it old school and played Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps. Much to their surprise, the crowd absolutely loved it and everyone was moving and grooving back with the band.

Following up with their new momentum, CAKE went on to play some deeper cut tracks off their prolific albums such as Meanwhile, Rick James, Stick Shifts and Safetybelts, Mexico, and Shadow Stabbing. If these don’t sound familiar to you, don’t worry, half the crowd had no idea what they were either.  I feel like that was really the theme of the night. Let’s play to our die-hard fans and only them because those are the people that are here right? WRONG. As I surveyed the crowd as I often do at shows, I saw a multitude of people sitting down and on their phones. And I’m not talking bored teenagers dragged by their parents, but middle-aged people that have listened to the band for years just bored out of their mind.

A band with such a vast discography spanning over 27 years could’ve done so much more to keep the crowd entertained. I wasn’t expecting a hits tour, but I definitely wasn’t expecting a show featuring the 4th, 5th and 6th best songs from famous albums. It’s also one thing if I didn’t like the setlist, but I didn’t think they even sounded great. The guitars were their iconic sound and did perform as expected, but that’s it. The horn was faint and nowhere near as prominent as one would expect, John sounded tone deaf and maybe sick? I don’t know. It definitely was not a memorable CAKE show, except for one thing. They gave away a tree. Now I am definitely downplaying this, but I thought it was really cool. They make a random person in the crowd guess what kind of tree it was and they get to take home a sapling. I have never seen anything like it before and genuinely thought it was neat. In exchange, she has to send the band emails with tree updates. Maybe, it’s because I’m getting older, but I couldn’t help thinking about how good that tree would’ve looked in my backyard. I will for sure see CAKE again and I hope to God they are feeling it because last night shook my faith a little bit. Now excuse me while I go and listen to the B-sides that are worth a shit.

Maybe I’m being too critical, maybe I’m not, fight me in the comments below.


Photo by Melissa Miller

Ben Folds:

Annie Waits
Battle of Who Could Care Less
Levi Johnston’s Blues
So There
You Don’t Know Me
Still Fighting It
Do It Anyway
The Luckiest
Zak and Sara
Rockin’ the Suburbs

Sad Songs and Waltzes
Opera Singer
Long Time
Sinking Ship
Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps
Meanwhile, Rick James
Stick Shifts and Safetybelts
Shadow Stabbing
Walk On By
Ruby Sees All
Sick Of You
Never There
The Distance

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  • You are a fucking garbage idiot. Fuck your thoughts.

  • I saw the show in Indy and he took 20 minutes to give away the tree and bitch about politics. Way too much crowd interaction! Ruined at least 3 songs trying to harmonize sections in the crowd. When they just played a few songs they rocked it out! I’ve seen them 3 times and got duped twice. Sucks when your favorite band just blows in front of you…

  • FYI they give a tree away at every show. It sounds like you’ve never seen CAKE before.

  • I’m a year late…. But you were right. Cake fucking sucked and John had no desire to be there. You could tell from the moment he got on stage he had no desire to be there. The crowd sucked too because they sat on their hands while Ben played a hell of a set and acted like tweens seeing One Direction when Cake took the stage. You morons missed a hell of a concert from Ben Folds and John shat all over the stage.

  • Completely agree! I finally got to see one of my favorite get funky bands and seriously had to try to love it. Ben Folds, whom we also appreciate his talent and music, left with our hearts that night. We continually talk about going to see Ben again, but Cake has left a bad taste in our mouth. Political rantings, too many C-side songs, too much new stuff, and more rants proved to be a dead end, boring show. Yep, I’m middle-aged mom who likes to rock!

  • Clare, you seem amazing!

  • Just got back from the Austin show and I couldn’t agree more with this review except for one thing, fuck that tree! Yeah, I get that they do that at every show but when you have to sit through a 5-minute synth intro, boring rants that go on too long, forced and cliche audience participation (to new songs!), and like 2 hits, stopping the show for that segment really killed the little momentum they had. He then kind of said some stupid shit about the girl who won the tree, like “if she doesn’t send pictures then everyone here knows her face and should hunt her down at the grocery store or coffee shops and attack her…with your disappointment” (paraphrasing). I know he didn’t mean it, but come on man, don’t do that shit. Felt like McCrea stalled for time the entire night so they didn’t have to play. He stated “we don’t have much time so lets get to the music” then ranted more! We started walking out the last labored audience singalong. Final song was a rushed “Never There”, then “we’re out of time, good night”. This was the Ben Folds and Tall Heights show with monologues by John McCrea.

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