[photo by Lynn Kestenbaum of the excellent lynnguppy blog]
This recording is the first submitted by our newest nyctaper staff recorder, “mrsaureus”, who we hope will become a regular contributor!
“Like an old testament prophet, or a Morman elder, or (all right, what do I know about it?) like that guy on Big Love, our favorite openly practicing musical polygamist David Lowery brought both of his bands to NYC for back to back performances at the Highline Ballroom on January 14. I’ve been reading the Keith Richards book, which has me all in a lather for rock and roll tell-all, so I couldn’t help but wonder what the dynamic on the bus is. One big happy family? Hmm. Maybe, but the mind is inevitably drawn to the sordid. Is it Cracker in the front, wearing their greater commercial success like a warm parka, loud and cheerful game of 20 questions, Camper Van Beethoven in the back, sullen and pissy, answering in monosyllables? Or is it CVB the first and truest love, despite Cracker’s headline position on the bill, serenely confident of favor, irritatingly aloof in the face of drunken, bitter Cracker histrionics? I guess we’ll have to wait for the Immergluck book to find out. In the meantime, I marvel at what an absolute delight this pair of shows proved to be. I liked so many things about them I hardly know where to begin. I should say that I was a fan back in the nineties but I’d completely lost touch with this music: all I knew is that I used to like it. As often as not, things you used to love come back to embarrass you (just give me a second to queue up this episode of Lost in Space on Hulu . . . OK, I’m back now), and so I was gratified and relieved to find that in this case my taste was vindicated by strong performances of a jaw droppingly rich musical smorgasbord. It’s a brilliant format, playing consecutively as CVB and Cracker, and it gives the concert goer some real insights into the different approaches taken by these two successful projects. I found myself about to use the word “evolution” back there, but that isn’t it: CVB didn’t evolve into Cracker anymore than the Beatles evolved into Wings. Two bands. Some similarities. Some differences. Both draw on a rich California compost heap of musical influences (the Dead, Bakersfield, Cali ska) and have a sound founded on solid musicianship and terrific guitar work. I was struck by how really well both Greg Lisher and Johnny Hickman played. CVB is fermented longer and a little bit tangier and is in some ways more interesting musically, where Cracker is more buffed up alpha pop, steroids sure, but hits the home runs fair enough. Both bands sounded absolutely fresh: no taint of the nostalgia act here despite playing sets consisting almost wholly of albums recorded 20 years ago.
So, yeah, this show was constructed around the “play the whole album” gimmick, which is becoming increasingly common, and about which I have a certain shallow ambivalence. Upside, you know you’ll hear songs you like. Downside, it panders to a lack of faith in the fanbase. It’s the same impulse that’s turning Broadway into a recycling center for popular middlebrow movies. It seeks to assure the public that even if they are disappointed, at least they won’t be surprised. A concert can be a revelation. A live show allows a band to play their songs reworked in interesting ways, to add intros and codas and fool with the mix of instruments and the tempo, to play covers and obscure tracks. They can petulantly refuse to play their big hit, or play it so flaccidly it’s like a big contemptuous finger to the audience (this I don’t like), or going the other way they can play their big hit twice: once early and once again at the end. I’ve seen all that and every time it makes me glad I didn’t just stay home and listen to the album. Or they can just play the album, which in general teaches me less. Gosh, I’m whining and I don’t like it, and it strikes me that in this case at least, I’m being a bit of a bad sport. Having to listen to Key Lime Pie and Kerosene Hat, both in my top ten list of all time favorites, is really nothing to complain about.
Final interesting tidbit. All the CVB musicians come back onstage to stage to join Cracker for an incendiary, orgasmic “Interstellar Overdrive”, except that Cracker bass player heads backstage. Then it hit me: I’ve never seen a band with two bass players. I actually had never thought about it before, but there it is. Every single other instrument is often doubled or tripled. CVB used four guitars on some songs and southern rock bands have two or three of everything except . . . bass guitar. So it’s my assumption that there must be a reason that two bass guitars simply undoes a rhythm section. There would be no reason in the world not to have everybody in the (OK, the evidence points to it) big happy CVB/Cracker family onstage at the end, no reason to send poor Sal off to a lonely backstage exile with nothing but scads of coked up matchstick model groupies to keep him company (whoa, I think that’s the Keef book talking), except that having two bass players is musical suicide. I’d like to hear peoples thoughts about this.”
Recorded and minimally produced by mrsaureus, standing center floor five feet back from the stage, Core-Sound High End Binaurals to Sony PCM-M10 (48 kHZ, 24 bit), WavePad Sound Editor to chop and FLAC only. Some crowd noise but sounds nice.
The Cracker recording will posted shortly in a separate post, with reference to the same review.
Stream “All Her Favorite Fruit / Interlude”:
This Recording is now available to Download in FLAC and MP3 at Archive.org [HERE].
Camper Van Beethoven
Highline Ballroom, NYC
January 14, 2011
01-Key Lime Pie Opening Theme
04-When I Win the Lottery
07-The Light from a Cake
09-All Her Favorite Fruit – Interlude
11-The Humid Press of Days
12-Pictures of Matchstick Men
13-Come on Darkness
14-Eye of Fatima 1 & 2
15-Take the Skinheads Bowling
If you email nyctaper for access to this recording, we expect that you will PLEASE SUPPORT Camper Van Beethoven, visit their website, and purchase their official releases directly from the store at their website [HERE].