As I was listening to Camper Van Beethoven at the 9:30 Club recently, I was reminded of the title of a Spotify playlist of ’80s alternative rock: Left of the Dial. To the crowd’s delight, the band opened with their delightfully odd cult hit “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” from their 1985 debut LP, Telephone Free Landslide Victory.
CVB’s songs were full of offbeat references and humor: Communist Russia (“Good Guys & Bad Buys”), the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia (“We Saw Jerry’s Daughter”), ice cream trucks (“Surprise Truck”), and a “Bad Trip.” In addition on Jan. 18, the band played a medley of the Jewish folk song “Havah Nagilah” (instrumental), “A Very Good Year” (with vocals), and the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” (instrumental).
The set also included “She Divines Water,” “The History of Utah,” a cover of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” “Seven Languages,” “Eye of Fatima,” and ended with “All Her Favorite Fruits.”
After Camper Van Beethoven broke up in the early ’90s, frontman David Lowery started Cracker with guitarist Johnny Hickman. While some see Cracker as big change from CVB, there are as many continuities as differences. The roots element was always there in CVB — they had a fiddle! Both bands owe a debt to the Grateful Dead, who popped up again when Cracker opened with a cover of Jerry Garcia’s “Loser.”
Like the Grateful Dead, Cracker has explored country rock. For their last album, the double record Berkeley to Bakersfield, the band added a pedal steel player (he goes by “Pistol,” which, David noted, he is careful to never say at the airport). Half the tracks (the Berkeley half) are straight rockers, while the other half, like “King of Bakersfield” and “Where Have Those Days Gone” could be labelled alt-country.
Steam Berkeley to Bakersfield by Cracker on Spotify:
Cracker played their biggest hits: “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now),” which topped the modern rock chart, and “Low,” another top-five single. Johnny, who came out before the set to play “The Killer of Highway” from his new album Dear John, sang lead on what might be my favorite Cracker tune, “Another Song About the Rain.”
The set also included “St. Cajetan,” “Let’s Go for a Ride,” “I Want Everything,” “Happy Birthday to Me,” and ended with “Sweet Thistle Pie.” For their encore, Cracker played “Been Around the World” and sent the audience home with “Gimme Me One More Chance.”
David Lowery ingenuously tours both bands as a double bill on practically an annual basis in recent years, and we would not be surprised to see them share a bill at 9:30 Club again in the near future. Meanwhile, visit the website of Camper Van Beethoven for more on that band, and get the latest news on Cracker from their website.
Here are some pictures of Camper Van Beethoven performing at 9:30 Club on Jan. 18, 2020. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.
Here are some photos of Johnny Hickman performing solo at 9:30 Club on Jan. 18, 2020, all courtesy David LaMason.
Here are some photos of Cracker performing at 9:30 Club on Jan. 18, 2020 — thanks, David LaMason!