Cupcakes formed in the mid-’90s and seemed destined for superstardom. They were signed to DreamWorks near the tail end of the initial label feeding frenzy that swept through Chicago during that period, and paired up with Stephen Street—the producer behind the signature sounds of both Blur and The Smiths—to create their self-titled debut. It was a perfect set-up for a long career, right?
Cupcakes was a collection of post-apocalyptic pop, with stories set in the not-too-far future; a future which, in retrospect, ended up being even scarier in real life, if you can believe it. The quartet put their all into the album and created an intriguing mix of heavy guitars, glam swagger, and operatic ambitions that sounded outside its own time, fittingly pairing with the lyrical narratives. But there was also a strong current of mainstream accessibility that ran through the disc, making the album a sort of sleeper attack on the casual listener. Cupcakes drew you in with the hooks before trying to frighten you half to death.
Cupcakes was released in 2000, perfectly times to coincide with the growing tumult on the business side of the music industry as prior marketing paradigms changed and the suits grew less and less sure how to function in this new environment. This meant resources getting thrown at bands who seemed like easy wins, and withdrawing support from groups that weren’t willing to play nice or be easily categorized. Cupcakes were willing to do neither, so eventually the band drifted away on a long hiatus.
Here’s a good place to note that the band wasn’t done, per se. There exists an entire second album’s-worth of shelved tracks, so it’s not like Cupcakes weren’t willing to keep up the good fight and get their sound out there. But, alas, aside from close friends and a handful of music nerds like me, that music remains unheard and in the vault.
As the band split apart and across the country, Cupcakes’ members stayed busy. Drummer Matt Walker has played with a number of groups, including Filter, The Smashing Pumpkins, Morrissey, and Garbage. Guitarist Greg Suran became a sought after session musician based in L.A., playing with everyone from Liz Phair and Avril Lavigne to The Goo Goo Dolls and his hometown pals Local H. Solomon Walker also moved out west and has played with Morrissey and Bryan Adams, among others. And singer Preston Graves stuck around Chicago for a while before hightailing to Austin where he still records his own music, most recently as Stuttgart (also featuring Matt Walker).
Since Cupcakes was released 20 years ago, that seemed as good a time as any to break their hiatus (they did play a show at Double Door in 2008 that was bonkers good) and they’ll do just that Saturday night, February 29, at The Metro. Opening the evening are The Life and Times, Atmospheric Audiochair, and Spies Who Surf.
So if you missed Cupcakes the first time around, prepare to get schooled this Saturday. It’s gonna be unforgettable.