Denver Cake performance brings joy and a headache

by Carl Burnett | 1/4/02 6:00am

Last month I bought some last-minute tickets to a Cake concert in Denver, a two-hour drive from my current residence in Winter Park, Colo. My friend Nick is also a fan of the Sacramento-based band that's always referred to in the media as "quirky," so I invited him along. The show was memorable, and the night as a whole was altogether more so -- and not for good reasons. By way of explanation, I present the following chronology:

Friday, Dec. 14, 7:03 p.m.: Arrival at the Fillmore Auditorium at the corner of Colfax and Clarkson Streets in Denver. Parking for concert is expensive and scarce; fortunately, there are plenty of empty parking spots in the lot at a nearby Pizza Hut.

7:30 p.m.: The first opening band, a local act called Tinker's Punishment, comes on. They turn out to be a great young emo-core/punk type of outfit. They tell us this is the biggest show of their careers, and they are obviously pumped. I buy their CD.

8:30 p.m.: The second opening band, Flickerstick, comes on (they are one of the bands that won a major-label record deal from VH1's "Bands on the Run" reality show). From the opening number, they are awful: predictable power-pop and cringe-inducing ballads. I don't clap.

9:45 pm: After Flickerstick's guitarist has smashed his guitar and the drummer has thrown his sticks into the crowd, and while the crew is setting up the stage for Cake, two unattractive, scantily clad women in their late thirties approach Nick and apparently begin to hit on him, buying him a beer. Nick and I exchange not-so-subtle looks of bewilderment and disgust.

10:00 pm: Cake takes the stage and gives a rousing performance that includes all their greatest hits, plus personal favorites of mine like "Nugget" and "Italian Leather Sofa." On several songs, lead singer John McCrea gets the crowd to sing backup: "Sheep Go to Heaven," "Meanwhile Rick James," "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" (we sing the "na na na" part) and "Nugget" (a.k.a. "Shut the F-- Up;" we sing the chorus; McCrea threatens to walk off the stage if people don't stop singing "up" after, in his words, "the 'F--' part").

Another highlight is "The Distance": McCrea approaches the mic and it seems like he's about to say something to the crowd, when out comes "Reluctantly crouched at the starting line..." People crowd surf, but only, strangely, during this song. The two women previously mentioned, now very drunk, continue to try to talk to both of us and try to buy us drinks, and it becomes apparent that their primary motive is to be able to watch the show from our table, which is a nice spot right up next to the side of the stage.

11:45 p.m.: After the concert ends, we make our way outside to discover that my van is gone from the Pizza Hut parking lot. It's painfully obvious what happened; how could I have been such an idiot? There was $5 parking right next door, and now it's going to cost me God knows how much. I call the towing company on my cell phone, and they tell me it will take $135, in cash, to get my car back. They're at 2222 Lawrence Ave. (wherever that is; I've been to Denver exactly once before), and they will close at 12:30 a.m.

12:30 a.m.: We arrive at the place. Nick pays the driver while I race to the guy standing out front, tell him which car is mine, and ask him if I have time to go to an ATM. He's actually a nice guy, despite the fly-by-night nature of the place (there's no office, just a tow truck, tiny parking area, and a couple guys standing around taking cash payments on a poorly lit sidewalk.

He tells me the nearest ATM is two blocks away at a brew pub, and that we're lucky we got towed by them instead of another company, because the others would be closed by now, wouldn't reopen until Monday morning, and would charge us two days' storage.

12:50 a.m.: We finally find the place, which is really three blocks away and around a corner, and we've been racing around taking wrong turns for 20 minutes. I'm exhausted and cold. I go in while Nick waits outside.

1:10 a.m.: Back at the towing company, I put seven 20s in the guy's hand and ask if he has change: "Nope." So I take one back, and Nick and I dig out $15 in fives and singles. We get in the van and get the hell out of there

3:00 a.m.: I'm home in bed.

6:45 a.m.: My alarm rings to get me up.

8:00 a.m.: At work, I park and get out of the van. Going around the back, my roommate notices "TOW" written on my rear window with some kind of white marker. It doesn't wipe or scrape off. Just to be safe, he suggests we turn the van around so the writing's not visible. We do.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions from this sad and sordid tale. But one thing's for sure: at all costs, avoid parking in the Pizza Hut lot on Colfax in Denver unless you're going to buy something there.