The Roxy, Atlanta, GA • November 18, 1998
The Roxy is the worst place to see a band in Atlanta. No wait, the worst place is Variety Playhouse. The Roxy is the second worst place. A friend of mine who hadn’t been to the Roxy since before it was remodeled said it used to be better. Apparently, there used to be a tiered floor so you could stand flat on your feet and see above the people’s heads in front of you. Now the floor just slants, so you get a good view of a bunch of heads if you’re in the back, or soggy shoes full of rolled-down-the-hill-beer if you’re in the front. The security was an issue, too. The place was absolutely packed, so to get a good view you had to stand in the aisles. There simply wasn’t room inside the aisles, yet security made it a point to come around every five minutes and gather up us stragglers like we were a herd of cattle. They’d walk us around and eventually we’d end up back where we were in the first place: the aisles.
It’s been a while since I’ve been to the Roxy. Last show I saw was Big Star, where all the energy from the band floated up into the rafters and disappeared. All I remember of previous trips was giving up my ticket and walking through the front door. This time, they had a little obstacle course set up. First you had to stand in line outside the theater — this after the warm-up band already finished playing. You had to stand in line and they’d let three to five people in at a time, like the fire marshal was there or something. When you got to the door they’d ask for your driver’s license. You showed your driver’s license and moved on to the next guy who put a bracelet on your wrist. The next guy made a mark on your ticket and the final guy ripped your ticket stub off. After all that, another guy let you in. I guess it was more like an assembly line than an obstacle course.
Once inside, the assembly line concept continued as we drifted past a girl by a tub selling beers. We hung out in the lobby for about ten minutes before we realized Cake was even playing. There was absolutely no noise coming from the theater! Once inside the theater you had to hold your breath in order to hear anything. If someone whispered to the person next to you, it would totally drown out the band. At first, it was kind of nice to have the volume down low. It was nice to not have to shout to be heard and to be free of earplugs, but it wasn’t long until people gave up and started talking. There was so much talking at the end of the theater that by the middle of the show you felt like you were at the annual bake sale at the Veteran’s Hall, and somewhere, a quiet radio was playing. People had to stop talking and put their hands up to their ears to hear the opening chords for each song. If it weren’t for people singing along, there’s no way you would have known what they were playing.
Cake had a western theme going on. Ten-gallon hats, belt buckles and, spurs. Behind them hung a giant mural of the Grand Tetons. Everywhere, the spirit of Wyoming. Candles blazing on the sides of the stage and bookcases stacked to the back gave the impression that Cake was performing in your living room (that and the fact that you couldn’t hear them — most living rooms don’t have a P.A. system, so the silence was very authentic). Seeing them done up in their cowboy garb while strumming out their more twangy numbers (tunes like “Mexico”) was a vision. Long shadows drawn over their faces, laid by the shame of their hats. Cake baked, there’s no doubt about that. They played with restraint, putting more melody into some of their more obnoxious hits, (tunes like “You’re Not There” and “The Distance”). I’d go as far as to say they were better live than they are on record. The fact that they played all my favorites (leaving out only “She’s No Good”) only helped.
In a word, Cake Baked. It’s too bad the volume was so low and people were talking so much, because there really was some great musicianship happening on stage. Last time I saw Cake was at the horrible Music Midtown venue, where I spent the show sniffing the armpit of the guy who was standing in front of me. Next time, let’s hope they play at a venue more suitable for them.