Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven @ Echoplex 9/9/10

As published by LA RECORD:

Cracker by Linda Rapka

In a rare L.A. appearance on the eve before their annual campout in Pioneertown, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker stopped by the Echoplex on Sept. 9. The two strikingly different bands, both fronted by David Lowery, played to an atypically hipsterless crowd with their respective obscure psychedelic-folk rock favorites and 1990s alternative hits.

For the uninitiated, CVB formed in the reefer clouds of 1980s Santa Cruz, gaining a sizable cult following with their violin-infused psychedelic and Celtic folk-punk style. After the band split in 1990, Lowery founded Cracker with Johnny Hickman, a childhood friend from his desert hometown of Redlands. This band’s more traditional and harder alt-country rock leanings gave Cracker major-label success on Virgin, scoring them a couple radio and MTV hits before the inevitable head-on collision of label versus band. Camper Van Beethoven didn’t see the light of day again for almost a decade, but after testing the waters in 1999 with an experimental reunion in the studio, the band decided they could finally get along with each other. CVB started playing live again in 2002, becoming a staple co-headliner with Cracker, and in 2005 the bands began their annual tradition of co-headlining a three-night campout music fest at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Throughout the years the members of both groups have sometimes overlapped (Frank Funaro currently drums in both bands), and on tour members often hop on stage joining one another’s band.

Camper Van Beethoven by Linda Rapka

Nebulous crossovers aside, both bands are, in their own right, wicked (they say that out in the desert, right?)—but man, are their fans scary. Spotted in the Echoplex swell: Hawaiian shirts, black socks and white sneakers; pseudo biker chicks with small leather skirts and big ’80s hair; overgrown men thrusting metal devil horns stageward un-ironically. I was able to avoid being trampled by overly excited 40somethings and had a great time rocking out to CVB’s insanely righteous Status Quo cover of “Pictures of Matchstick Men” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” a taste from their ska-influenced days. Toward the end of Camper’s set Jonathan Segel swapped his trademark fiddle for a theremin, for which Lowery explained, “Over the years Jonathan’s violin playing has actually been getting more and more in tune. So we had to bring out the theremin; to get some of that weirdness back.” After the hour and a half long set, Cracker took the stage for just as long, cranking out rollicking fan favorites like country bromance ballad “Friends,” the chorus-chanting anthem “Euro-Trash Girl,” and my all-time favorite, “Low,” the pinnacle of Gen-X pessimistic love songs. Members from both CVB and Cracker joined on stage for the final encore, a playful cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me,” solidifying their awesomeness in both performance and cover song selection.

—Linda Rapka

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