Cracker / Camper Van Beethoven

This December Cracker will be releasing their tenth studio effort, entitled Berkeley To Bakersfield, a double-album that finds this uniquely American band traversing two different sides of the California landscape – the northern Bay area and further down-state in Bakersfield.


Despite being less than a five-hour drive from city to city, musically, these two regions couldn’t be further apart from one another. In the late ‘70s and ‘80s a harder-edged style of rock music emerged from the Bay area, while Bakersfield is renowned for its own iconic twangy country music popularized, most famously, by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Yet despite these differences, they are both elements that Cracker’s two cofounders, David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, have embraced to some degree on nearly every one of their studio albums over the last two decades. On Berkeley To Bakersfield, however, instead of integrating these two genres together within one disc, they’ve neatly compartmentalized them onto their own respective regionally-titled LPs.


As Lowery explains, “On the Berkeley disc the band is the original Cracker lineup - Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny and myself. This is the first time this lineup has recorded together in almost 20 years. We began recording this album at East Bay Recorders in Berkeley, CA. For this reason we chose to stylistically focus this disc on the music we most associate with the East Bay: Punk and Garage with some funky undertones. To further match our sense of place we often took an overtly political tone in the lyrics.”


“This Bakersfield disc represents the ‘California country’ side of the band. Throughout the band’s 24-year history we’ve dabbled in Country and Americana but this time we wanted to pay homage to the particular strain of Country and Country-Rock music that emerges from the inland valleys of California.”


Cracker has been described as a lot of things over the years: alt-rock, Americana, insurgent-country, and have even had the terms punk and classic-rock thrown at them. But more than anything Cracker are survivors. Cofounders Lowery and Hickman have been at it for almost a quarter of a century – amassing ten studio albums, multiple gold records, thousands of live performances, hit songs that are still in current radio rotation around the globe ("Low," "Euro-Trash Girl,” "Get Off This" and “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out With Me” to name just a few), and a worldwide fan base - that despite the major sea-changes within the music industry - continues to grow each year.

Camper Van Beethoven

At the time of their 1985 debut, Camper Van Beethoven's merging of punk, folk, ska, and world musics was truly a revelation. Self-described as "surrealist absurdist folk," the band formed in Santa Cruz, CA, after singer/songwriter David Lowery of Redlands, CA, with his dry humor and valley-boy voice (sometimes confused for a faux English accent), and boyhood friends Chris Molla and Chris Pedersen disbanded Box o' Laffs. Victor Krummenacher was added on bass and soon they were joined by Greg Lisher (guitar) and Jonathan Segel (violins, keyboards, mandolin). It was Segel's violin that would prove to be the band's hallmark at a time when alternative rock had yet to be invented, and indie rock was still shy of roots music or traditional elements.
The 1985 re-release of their debut, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, made the Top Ten in the 1986 Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll, as did their second album, II & III, and Camper Van Beethoven, both released in 1986. On II & III, they went for a purer indie rock sound with touches of country, as evidenced in their "Sad Lovers Waltz" and their cover of Sonic Youth's "I Love Her All the Time." The band deftly switched modes from punk to ska to rock on alternate takes, but by this time Molla had left the fold. The third album, confusingly titled Camper Van Beethoven, continued the thread, but outstanding tracks like "Joe Stalin's Cadillac" were in the more straight-ahead indie rock vein. However, the band would consistently blow people's minds by tossing around things like a reverent version of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive." For its Virgin Records debut, coinciding with the label's U.S. re-launch in 1988, the band took a more serious tack on Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, and the group that had once been confined to low budgets and small studio facilities stretched out perhaps a little too aggressively.

For Key Lime Pie, Camper Van Beethoven's final release in 1989, the band took it as far as it could go. Morgan Fichter had replaced Segel by this time. Krummenacher, Pedersen, and Lisher continued to play together in what began as a side project in 1985, Monks of Doom, which turned into a full-time job for them, with four albums and an EP to their credit. Though no longer working as the Monks, the trio, along with Segel and Camper touring guitarist David Immergluck, continue to play together in various formations. Jonathan Segel released three albums as Hieronymous Firebrain from 1990-1994 and two with Jack & Jill for the Magnetic label, followed by a a couple rock cds under his own name and several electronic music cds under his own name and as a duo with Dina Emerson called Chaos Butterfly. Krummenacher has released several solo records, (Out in the Heat, St. John's Mercy, Bittersweet, Sans Soleil and Nocturne), also for Magnetic, worked with members of Tarnation in Lava, and continues to work with Bruce Kaphan on various projects. Immergluck and Fichter continue to tour and play sessions with bands of considerable renown (Counting Crows and Natalie Merchant respectively, among others); Lowery took some time off before forming Cracker, but didn't commingle with his former bandmates until reuniting with Krummenacher and Segel in late 1999 to assemble the bizarre rarities collection Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead: Long Live Camper Van Beethoven.


In 2002, Camper Van Beethoven reunited for a nationwide tour on what seemed like a whim, occasioned by a closet-cleaning belated issue of a song-by-song cover of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, an album they'd recorded as a joke back in 1987. The tour must have gone really well, because unexpectedly, the full band -- the original lineup of David Lowery on vocals and guitar, violinist Jonathan Segel, guitarist Greg Lisher, bassist Victor Krummenacher, and drummer Chris Pedersen, with alumni Chris Molla and Monks of Doom cohort David Immergl

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Cracker / Camper Van Beethoven

Saturday, January 18 · Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at World Cafe Live Philadelphia

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