Seeing both Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker on the same bill was a perplexing experience. On the one hand, it was two of my favorite bands, each one responsible for a (different) decade's worth of quality alternative rock. On the other hand, since David Lowery fronts both bands, the show had the feel of a musical autobiography; a Broadway production entitled the David Lowery Experience.
But such certainly didn't distract from the value of the music. Or did it?
At least with Camper Van Beethoven's opening set, the experienced interplay between the musicians was clearly apparent, but the best moments were reserved for cover songs. Opening with Status Quo's "Pictures of Matchstick Men" and peaking with The Clash's "White Riot" and Black Flag's "Wasted," Camper's trip through '80s indie nostalgia was better in execution than it was in spirit.
Sadly, songs from the recently released La Costa Perdida didn't fare much better than the older "hits." Lowery introduced "Too High for the Love-In" as one of several of the new album's prog-rock epics. The collective audience moan was audible for miles. Supposedly the tale of violinist Jonathan Segel being bitten by a snake, "Too High" ends (finally) with the Lowery and crew chanting "Make me a sandwich."
One of the best original numbers was "All Her Favorite Fruit" (from 1989's Key Lime Pie). Slow and brooding, the song carries a romantic intensity that belies much of Camper's back catalog. Live, Lowery's urgent vocals create an even darker vibe. Interestingly, "Fruit" and the aforementioned "Matchstick Men" were recorded when Segel was out of the band, adding to the notion of both Camper and Cracker simply being vehicles for Lowery's presentation of his own musical history.
After Camper ended its set, Lowery took a quick fifteen minute break and then reemerged with Cracker, his more conventional indie rock band. Frankly, Lowery seems to put more of an effort into the Cracker material. Songs like "Low," "Teen Angst" and "Euro-Trash Girl" were delivered with focus and fierce musicianship. Kudos to guitarist Johnny Hickman whose ferocious soloing kept the crowd engaged for the entire set.
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Even the Grateful Dead's "Loser" gained some much needed momentum in the hands of Cracker. Better yet was "Big Dipper," another great slow number from 1996's The Golden Age. Again, Lowery delivers the best goods when the songs are not burdened with some ridiculous theme or inside joke. A simple love story well told, "Big Dipper" encapsulates every great about Cracker when the fluff is eliminated.
By evening's end, Lowery looked pretty beat. Hell, the guy had been singing for just about three hours straight. My advice would be to fire a couple people from both bands and just tour as Camper Van Cracker. Seeing that both bands share a couple of members, this RIF shouldn't be too difficult. And consolidating the songs of Camper and Cracker should create one hell of a set list.
BTW: Camper did do "Take the Skinheads Bowling," a song they neglected to play when the original incarnation played the late great Bronco Bowl all those years ago. Lord knows you wouldn't want to play a song about bowling in a bowling alley.