Saturday night’s show at Time Square’s B.B. King’s was a cosmic convergence and duality disorder for both the audience as well as for singer, guitarist, and master insurgent David Lowery. He was pulling double duty fronting his two archetypal alternative rock bands; Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, and showed off two distinctly opposing (yet surprisingly complimentary) sides of his broad musical genius.
Camper Van Beethoven was Lowery’s childhood project that was far more of an art collective experiment than a proper rock band in many respects. In the spirit of classic radical surrealist artists, their approach often seemed more stream of consciousness laced with a cynical pathos. The radical diversity that poured out was nothing short of confounding, mixing elements like skater punk (which they often simultaneously mocked and glorified), skanky ska, trippy progressive and psychedelic rock, dirty hillbilly and hippie classic rock, and folksy alt-country often with a bluegrass swing, all of which was draped in heavy doses of Romanian and Eastern European folk romping of all things. Although seemingly unlikely with all these crazy tastes in music philosophies, Camper would make it big in the music industry (especially before they got beat into the morgue by skinhead punks). They managed to score a number of alternative hits in the mid 80’s despite lingering in the badlands of minor label obscurity long before such DIY shanty chic was considered fashionable. Although they enjoyed being the defining anti-alternative outfit, they eventually followed in the footsteps of contemporaries like R.E.M. (who I first saw Camper open for back in my high school daze), and they signed with Virgin for their breakthrough Key Lime Pie album just before the end of the 80’s, which sadly spelled out the end of CVB as well. Lowery was clearly moving away from the free-form experimentalism of their earlier work and was centering more on his witty and hyper-cynical lyricism, a feel which he ended up taking into his next collaboration.
Cracker was essentially a duo project between Lowery and another childhood compadre, guitarist and vocalist Johnny Hickman, who had a far more brazen and show-off southern rock allure than you’d expect to hear in a modern alt-rock band, but he somehow fit into the anti-rockers of the new 90’s grunge-loving scene perfectly. They scored a big hit with their self-titled debut, and thusly had some serious fuel for their following opus hit album Kerosene Hat in ’93. However, Lowery’s genre-mocking nihilism ran into some blowback on their follow-up, and putting out subsequent sad blues and honky tonk country efforts did little to bring their alt-buzz groove back. He then managed to revive his previous project CVB with founding bassist Victor Krummenacher and turned out a superb new concept album in 2004 called New Roman Times. He also followed that with an impressive Cracker comeback in the very full Greenland LP in 2006. Since those successful revivals, Lowery has often been touring these two opposite ends of the same dynamite, fused together in one glorious show. He has also been an outspoken political figure, as he’s railed against the unfair practices by the digital musical industry (namely Spotify and piracy).
Camper opened the show with Lowery and Krummenacher being accompanied by violinist Jonathan Segel and guitarist Greg Lisher, both of whom have been with the band on and off since the early days of the group. After opening with their gypsy ska instrumental “Waka,” they wasted no time delving into some of their favorite covers, like their legendary version of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” The Clash’s “White Riot,” and even Black Flag’s “Wasted.” In between some more wacky instrumental interludes, they played many of their career highlights like “Shut Us Down” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling” as well as a few from their last LP La Costa Perdida. I expected to hear some from their post-apocalyptic political piece New Roman Times, but Lowery was strangely mum on political matters this night, although Victor did make a joke at one point that they may not be able to get on a plane for the next tour, but then quipped that we should all try to “stay positive.” They finished up with a massive instrumental that touched on everything from classic rock riffs like Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” to an almost mosh-worthy “Hava Nagila” swing.
When Lowery and precios de la viagra en andorra Hickman came on stage they broke out a cover of Jerry Garcia’s “Loser” with Krummenacher on violin, they were building definite fresh urgency to rock out. Their sound was brash and direct with both of them never missing a note. They then broke into a number more recent songs from as far back as one of my favs “Gimme One More Chance” from Greenland, but obviously also including several from their newest release called Berkeley to Bakersfield. Then they broke into a lot of songs from their first two, like their big 120 Minutes breakthrough “Teen Angst,” their massive ode to stonerhood “Low,” there was that funky call-out to New York City in “Sweet Potato,” the absolutely pumping “This Is Cracker Soul,” and one of my faves “Euro-Trash Girl” with a deliciously long opening. I don’t think there is any clear winner within his battle of bands, as they both have their own distinctive appeal despite having familiar voices. Both have strong sentimental value to me, Camper reminding me of my high school days and Cracker recalling my college days through my time working at a record store.
Article: Dean Keim