Delicious Cakes of Light

by Gus Lubin

If you lived in a warehouse penthouse among a dozen progressive thinkers and friends with a coffee-shop/bar, stage and garden downstairs and a massive basement beneath, what kind of music would you play? It would be loud. Inventive. Indifferent. You’d play whatever the hell you wanted.

Last Friday night at the Werehouse in Winston-Salem, four local bands shared that mentality. Apathy Like You Mean It consisted of one man with several instruments, a loop pedal and lots of distortion. Invisible States performed a multimedia dance about a mad scientist and her captive creation. The closing band, Pregnancies, included John Appleton from Apathy and, consequently, more distorted music. In this milieu, one band seemed right at home. And indeed, for three of the four members of Cakes of Light, the Werehouse really is home. Cakes of Light formed in faraway Brooklyn, NY and then moved through space and time to the commune in Winston-Salem. Lead singer and songwriter Jay Dunbar first played here in 2001, with the George Steeltoe Ensemble. He returned several times and, eventually, in 2006 with his own band, Cakes of Light. The band was in the middle of several transformations, from an acoustic folk band, to a solo project, to a performance-art duo with Dunbar’s girlfriend at the time. Dunbar became enamored with the Werehouse. “It seemed like a place where anything goes, where anything can happen,” Dunbar said in an interview. In the fall of 2007, he moved down to Winston-Salem and the Werehouse. At the commune, he encountered John Bryan, Eric Jackson and Brian Daub. After playing a cover-band version of the Stooges at a Halloween party in 2008, the four men formed a band as Cakes of Light. Although Dunbar plays first fiddle in the band, Bryan, Jackson and Daub have guided his entry into the local community. The three have played together since attending North Forsyth High School in the mid-’90s and were involved with the Werehouse and its many projects from the start. “Playing with them gets real psychic,” Dunbar said. Through versions of Cakes of Light, the common threads are Dunbar’s songwriting and Dunbar himself, along with an attitude of free-expression. It is “gnosticism, not narcissism” — as they say on the Cakes of Light MySpace page, with characteristic mystic bluster. The list of influences on their website includes “puspawarma, dionysius, burroughs, hakim bey” and “the left-eye of horus.” Don’t feel bad if you don’t recognize all the names, as most are esoteric and some, according to a Google search, are invented by the band. At the Werehouse, Cakes of Light perform for a crowd of about 50. The music is a rich, electric, alt-folk mesh. Jackson shakes and rocks out on guitar, his eyes closed in trance. Bryan plays drums with intensity, occasionally staring at the other musicians or the audience with a knowing smile. Daub sits on an amplifier in the dark perimeter of the stage, plucking at his bass guitar like a front-porch banjo player. Dunbar’s strident off-key singing gives musical contrast to the “psychic” blur. Tall with black jeans and a tight “Legalize Ag” T-shirt, Dunbar has charisma that spills over the stage. Between each song, he holds the audience at attention with comments into the mic. “Y’all should consider farming as a career,” Dunbar says, explaining that his T-shirt refers to agriculture. “Seriously, get a garden, grow some food, and feed yourself, because no one else is going to feed you.” Dunbar’s idealism is serious, though playful. An artist — and also a summer camp counselor — he is a man who likes to soapbox and perform. “Our sailboat is all fucked up,” he says, strangely, at the beginning of the show. And later: “I had something important to say, but I forgot.” The band starts playing, then suddenly Dunbar interrupts them. “Okay I remember what it was. This Sunday is Z-Day [a documentary film screening] here at the Werehouse.” Cakes of Light plays again at home on Tuesday, March 31.

CHECK ‘EM OUT! Cakes of Light will play the Werehouse in Winston-Salem on Tuesday, March 31