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Tha Liks with Defari and Justice League
Friday, Feb. 8
Cat's Cradle, Carrboro

The X.O. Straight, No Chaser tour, featuring Tha Liks and Likwit crewmate Defari, is sailing across the intoxicated U.S. of A. in a little less than a month. But the X.O. made room to get caught up at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro last week, and opening the show was the Triangle's very own Justice League. Like most large crews, JL had an enormous amount of energy but also had lab quality chemistry. Then the beginning of the X.O. came through with The Living Legends. "We create music under the guides of intelligent music," says Aesop, a comment that represents the LL Crew onstage and off. LL is a unique crew that is ever changing and ever evolving. Next up was West Coast assassin Defari, who kept heads nodding with his deadly attack. Defari is currently working on a new album with executive producer E-Swift.

Liks' member Swift, who has produced almost every single track for the band, has said that "it's only right to teach kids about MP3s and digital format music because that is where the world is going. ... I think it's good for the youth to become well-rounded." Does this mean that Tha Alkaholiks are growing into their less-prohibited name, "Tha Liks"? Well, maybe. Surprisingly, they didn't get the crowd wet, except maybe for the contestants of the 101st dance-off. But there wasn't anything dry about the veterans' performance. Tha Liks, as usual, were drunk, but since they apologized to us all a long time ago with "But Only When I am Drunk," any foul drunktion was excusable. They performed all the favorites as well as cuts from X.O. Experience, leaving North Carolina with a top-shelf experience. Tha 9-year-old Liks make a show into a party. Which leaves me asking one question: How banging would it be to have Tha Liks wit ya at your 21st birthday? I'll spring for a cab.
--Kate Erwin

Thursday, Feb. 7
The Ritz, Raleigh

One gets the idea that Cake front man John McCrea watched a little too much Mitch Miller as a kid. Miller, who popularized the sing-along (and, oddly enough, was a driving force behind the forming of Columbia Records, Cake's label), often had entire families sitting in front of the television, following the bouncing ball and wailing along with his band at the top of their lungs. McCrea, too, enjoys these moments of cohesion, often rallying his audience to echo the choruses of Cake's songs or some other odd phrase. His followers couldn't be happier, parroting verses like "Satan is my motor" and "Sheep go to heaven/Goats go to hell." This is what you get at a Cake show. The band, famous for monotone hits like "Going The Distance" and their update of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," had the Raleigh crowd right in the lifeline of their sweaty palms last Thursday. The show, which reportedly hadn't been a hot ticket at the box office earlier in the week, was packed to the gills with college kids craning for a glimpse of McCrea and crew. The singer, bearing a striking resemblance to former Saturday Night Live writer/actor Michael O'Donoghue (the creepy "Mr. Mike" from the show's early years) ambled up onstage in a truck stop baseball hat and thrift store mechanic's shirt, a bone handle hunting knife strapped to his belt and a dour look on his face. McCrea is one of the least flamboyant rock stars in the biz, preferring instead to let his irony-laden lyrics do the talking.

As the band hit their stride, they unveiled hits like "Opera Singer," "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" and "Never There." The kids went nuts when "Going The Distance" kicked off, most of them shouting every single word. Guitarist Xan McCurdy somberly lit up his hollow-body guitar with funky jazz licks as well as cornpone country riffs straight out of the Chet Atkins catalog. Drummer Todd Roper and bassist Gabe Nelson hooked up some fat bass lines and beats to create grandiose arena rhythms as well as hip-hop scented, metronomic clicks. Other than McCrea's nasal delivery, perhaps the one thing that separates Cake from other radio-friendly bands is Vince Di Fiore's trumpet. Not since the days of Herb Alpert has a horn player's contribution so vastly influenced a band's sound, and Di Fiore carried the flag for band geeks worldwide in this show, proving that sometimes the nerd does indeed become the star.

McCrea proved to be a man in love with the sound of his own vibra-slap (the odd looking ball-and-cowbell instrument that creates a rattlesnake rattle), rocking the poor percussion instrument within an inch of its life. As the band returned for an encore, the noise level in the room reached absurd levels. However, the best compliment that you could give this combo is that they refuse to play their music too loudly. Having left many a show with ringing eardrums (despite wearing earplugs), it was sublime to hear a band playing at just the right volume. Knocking out their new single "Love You Madly" first, they then segued into "Haze of Love" from their debut, Motorcade of Generosity, ending the evening, much to the delight of fans, with "Jolene." McCrea, during one of his ubiquitous sing-alongs, stated, "One simple sound is all it takes to transform this room into a strange and mystical place." And, as a wry smile crossed his normally stoic lips, you could truly feel that magic, if only for a moment.
--Zach Hanner

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