Let Me Entertain You: Camper Van Beethoven & Cracker @ World Cafe Live 1.13.10

I already know what you’re thinking.  In fact, up until 7:30 last night, I was thinking the exact same thing.  How can one person’s band be on the same bill as that same person’s other band?  Apparently, when you’re David Lowery, conundrums like these aren’t really that complicated.  Now, I’ve seen both Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker a number of times in the past, and each time the band has done a handful of the other band’s songs.  What could the sold-out crowd be in store for?  An insight into the many sides of David Lowery, that’s what.

Camper Van Beethoven took the stage first, with bassist Victor Krummenacher, guitarist Greg Lisher, drummer Frank Funaro and, most distinctively, violinist/keyboardist Jonathan Segel joining Lowery on the stage.  The violin has always been a defining characteristic of Camper’s global/slacker/outsider kind of music.  From drones to loops to stabs, the strings have added an unusual element to Camper’s albums for the past 25 years.  Lowery was also aided by another member of the band: his Mac laptop, ostensibly containing the night’s setlist and lyrics to some of his more densely-written songs.  Like their show last year, Camper provided a fluid show, tying together favorites like “Good Guys & Band Guys” and “The Long Plastic Hallway” with short interludes of Balkan/ska instrumentals.  Though these fragments mostly come from the band’s eclectic debut, they fit right alongside later material from Key Lime Pie and New Roman Times.  Of course they played their two more recognized songs, “Take The Skinheads Bowling” and their cover of The Status Quo‘s “Pictures Of Matchstick Men,” but the real appeal is the band’s versatility.  Rounding out their set with another cover, The Clash‘s “White Riot” (which is technically a Cracker cover), Lowery announced that they would be taking a short break before returning as their roots-rock alter egos.

There was actually a lot that changed when Cracker came to the stage.  Lowery, Funaro and the laptop remained and were joined by bassist Sal Maida and guitarist/co-frontman “Lonesome” Johnny Hickman.  Hickman took a good portion of the spotlight during the set, possibly to give Lowery a bit of a break after singing lead on a whole set just prior.  Still, the interplay between Lowery and Hickman gave Cracker a dynamic that Camper doesn’t feature as strongly.  Since Cracker has been the more productive project in recent years, many of the songs were from their most recent album, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey.  Of course, they all sound like Cracker songs, so the audience didn’t have to wade through any drastic new directions before they got to raise their beers for a chorus of “Happy Birthday To Me.”  Another thing that Lowery did during the Cracker set that he didn’t do in the Camper one was tell stories.  One involved a Santa Cruz grandma demanding to hear “Eurotrash Girl,” and another found the band being sent to the Middle East to make good on their sentiments in “Yalla Yalla (Let’s Go).”  Again, the band’s best known songs were showcased, with everyone singing along to “Low” and “Mr. Wrong.”  Despite the fact that “Teen Angst” was absent, the Cracker set showed off the more controlled, if not mature side of Lowery’s muse.  Bringing both bands on stage for an encore of “Interstellar Overdrive” was an unexpected choice (though Camper did cover it in 1987), but the composed madness of the psychedelic sprawl was an apt metaphor for Lowery and both of his bands.

Click the picture above to see more pictures of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker in concert!!

~ by E. on January 14, 2010.

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