Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven performed a unique acoustic show at Fairfield’s intimate Stageone , which seats about 250 on July 15, 2014. I was particularly interested to see how the whole acoustic format would play out. In fact, it wasn’t actually all that acoustic although David Lowery did play a banjo and an acoustic guitar, Johnny Hickman and Greg Lisher both went electric. What was missing, however, was the rest of each band. But that proved to be the best part.
The show was divided into two parts. The first half was the Cracker portion, with Johnny Hickman and David Lowery playing Cracker. It then shifted midway through, with Greg Lisher joining Johnny and David onstage for Camper Van Beethoven. Greg assumed the lead guitar duties for the most part, and Johnny played a supporting role.
David and Johnny came out first (after the delightful Lydia Loveless opened), Dave sporting a banjo and Johnny his ripping guitar. The first song was an excellent, “I Need Better Friends” off the somewhat under appreciated Greenland Album of 2006. (Thanks to Matt Frederick, who posted the pictures on FB and videos on YouTube.) With just the banjo and lead guitar, Dave’s vocals were emphasized. His voice still sounds great, his sarcasm fully intact. The knowledgeable crowd was well past its college years, when they likely picked up Cracker and Camper Van. Johnny’s killer guitar was a highlight here and throughout the show.
The following song, “Hey Brett” was an upbeat, rousing rocker from the 2009 Land of Milk and Honey album. It’s one of the more recent albums but the fans were rocking along and obviously familiar with it. Lowery wailed, “We live life serfs in this new feudal land…..Hey Brett do you what time it is”. The crowd loved it.
Next up was “Been All Around the World” from 1998’s “Gentleman’s Blues”. Dave brought out the acoustic guitar for this one. The crowd was fully engaged even though this was one of the mellower tunes of the night. They even began clapping which seemed to surprise Dave, who said “the clapping is cool”. Cracker mixes upbeat and the slower songs, all of which are great. True fans appreciate both.
They then got the crowd going wild with “Teen Angst” off of their 1992 debut self-titled album. He started off on his acoustic guitar and the version quickly turned into a sing along – a clear crowd favorite. Johnny’s crunched the lead and Dave pounded the acoustic on rhythm. Although Lowery’s vocals were spot on the lack of a back up band, left this song somewhat punchless, although still quite enjoyable. It’s nice to hear different versions of the old classics. That’s what was great about this tour, just guitars and vocals.
Next, “St. Cajetan” was the highlight of the night for me. It’s one of my favorite Cracker songs. It’s laid back groove fit perfectly into the two guitar format, Again, the crowd was on it from the opening riff. It’s classic Cracker, Dave wailing with his nasally, whining complaint filled vocals, begging for ‘some water”. Johnny even filled in with excellent backing vocals. This is also off their debut album. It was nice to be in a room filed with others equally happy to hear one of Cracker’s best. Johnny’s guitar and Dave’s wailing make a perfect combination here. “Can you hear me, St. Cajetan, All I want is a cool drink of water?”. For sure most of us felt thirsty after this one. Fortunately, there was a bar right behind me. Johnny’s guitar work excelled as he fell into one of the best solos of the night.
Then came the ultimate classic off 1993’s Kerosene Hat, “Eurotrash Girl“. It’s a hidden track, way down on track 69. Again the crowd quickly noticed another favorite was on the way. It began with a solo by Johnny and quickly blended with Dave’s sardonic musings of a backpacker’s nightmare trip through Europe. With just Dave and Johnny, the songs were presented in a fresh and lively manner. It didn’t have the sad, retro feel of an oldies show. Far from it. Johnny’s guitar was crisp and really the best part. Although this is one of their funniest songs and Dave delivered it perfectly.
“Dr. Bernice”, a throwback to their first album rounded out the Cracker set. This was another truly masterful performance with Johnny absolutely crushing it with guitar work. Sadly there’s no video for this song. But the crowd really appreciated it.
The Camper Van set started when Greg Lisher took the stage. I am far more of a Cracker fan than CVB but am still familiar with most of their work. I think songs like Pictures of Match Stick Men and Take the Skinheads Bowling have pretty much crossed into Indie legend so it’s hard to have missed them. I also liked the songs off the newer albums which were featured as well.
The first song is “Grasshopper”. Lowery is excited to announce that it will be great to hear Greg Lisher, as opposed the usual swirl of violins and other instruments. This song is one from one of their newer albums (Costa Perdido and El Camino Real) As David Lowery described them, Costa Perdido or the Red Album is about Northern California and El Camino Real or the Blue Album is Southern California/Baja themed. Grasshopper is from El Camino Real. Johnny slides over and plays the Mandolin, while Greg plays the electric and Dave the acoustic guitar. It’s very catchy and soulful tune and although not yet a crowd favorite, it was well received.
Next up was the classic “Pictures of Matchstick Men”. This is the sad story of someone who is haunted by the images of a friend and his match stick men. This had great interplay between Greg, Johnny and Dave’s vocals. The guitar work is well worth a listen. Greg’s work is outstanding, in spite of his unassuming demeanor. The crowd clapped and stomped their feet, adding a measure of beat.
Northern California Girls followed, which provided a bit of karoake for the somewhat rowdy crowd. It’s also another new CVB song, this one off the Costa Perdido album. It has received some airplay and I’ve heard it before and like it. It’s perfectly catchy, breezy summer song and ode to the friendliness and loyalty of Northern California Girls. It’s also a mild play on the Beach Boys’ “California Girls”. Unfortunately there is no video available for this song as performed on Stageone but it can be easily found on the Web.
“Come Down the Coast” is another new CVB song off La Costa Perdida. It’s a sing song, lightweight song. In stark contrast to some of the quirkier more acerbic classic CVB, this is more a straightforward plea to different women to “Come down and see me sometime…Come down the coast”. Another excellent addition to the CVB canon and great driving music.
“All Her Favorite Fruit” is a throwback to 1989’s Key Lime Pie. This was also the point in the show when some of the rowdier audience members led Dave to go on a bit of rant against soccer – “As Americans we can all pretty agree that Soccer sucks”. Go Dave! This song was originally taken from a story in Gravity’s Rainbow. In truth most the crowd was really into it and relaxed (and over 40) and there just couple of yahoos that screamed out ridiculous things, but so goes rock and roll. This is an excellent song and sounds even better stripped down with Johnny on harmonica. The crowd enjoyed this soulful version of one of their favorites. This was probably the highlight of CVB portion of the show. Johnny’s bluesy harmonica stole the show.
“I drive alone from work but I think of her, Late night at I call her and never say a word”
Next up was possibly the world’s record holder for the shortest “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” Although no less enjoyable it was definitely the lightening version. The crowd, as always, adored it. I remember when I lived in Seattle a friend who was really into CVB played this in someone’s living room, to much perplexed bemusement. At this point, it’s an unquestioned classic and the crowd reacted accordingly.
Cracker performed the last two songs. First was a cover of the “Grateful Dead’s Loser”, which proved to be another crowd favorite. This was originally on Kerosene hat. It was another great jam with Johnny. Unfortunately the video cuts out after 45 seconds but you get the idea.
They reached a crescendo with the crowd favorite Low also off Kerosene Hat. This was the rocking end of show and sing along. The combination of David’s acoustic guitar and lyrics with Johnny’s electric crushed it. The crow rose to its feet as the show, began clapping and the band returned for one encore. The encore was a slightly obscure “One Fine Day” off the 2002’s little known Forever. Greg Lisher also joined them on this ripping end to the show. It is a great song by any measure and it was a tight jam with both Johnny and Greg taking turns in between Dave’s biting vocals.
“All you liars you come and all you whores you come and walk into the light one fine day’.
The crowd wanted more, but after a couple minutes of clapping and stomping the house lights were flipped on. Thanks Cracker and CVB it was nice to have you here in our little town. Hope you swing by again. Fortunately for us Stageone is expanding so maybe we will be seeing similar excellence in the future.
The official set list, as provided by Cracker’s Facebook page is below.
Set List from Last Night CRACKER – CVB Show: Thanks CT!
I need better friends
Been around the world
Euro Trash Girl
Camper Van Beethoven
Norther California Girls
Come Down the Coast
All Her Favorite Fruit
One Fine Day (all)