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Concert Review: Cracker / Camper Van Beethoven

Concert Review: Cracker / Camper Van Beethoven

It is interesting to see which bands will crawl out of an era and which fall by the wayside.

As the 2010s march towards whatever we call the next decade, the ‘80s-revival we saw in the oughties has given way to an appreciation for the sounds of the ‘90s. Day-glo for grunge, goth for emo. For those of us who can remember the ‘90s, it’s hard to believe that songs such as “Losing My Religion” and “You Oughta Know” are old enough to drink. Some bands still carry on, bolstered by the cyclical nature of style. Hell, Blink-182 and Weezer have released new albums in the past year. For every Weezer, there’s a Gin Blossoms or Third Eye Blind that had their moment in the sun, but remain little more than a curio or a one-hit footnote today.

One of those bands that continues to soldier on is Cracker. Frontman David Lowery may be more famous in recent years for suing Spotify and lecturing at the University of Georgia than his songwriting, but there was a time in the mid-‘90s when Cracker dominated radio stations with songs like “Low” and packed moshing fans into large theaters. These days, Cracker tours with Lowery’s other project, Camper Van Beethoven, playing to aging fans in mid-sized clubs, their high-powered rock riffage giving way to the alt-country sounds of their most recent album Berkeley to Bakersfield (2014).

Although Cracker has employed a revolving cast in its rhythm section, guitarist Johnny Hickman has consistently been by Lowery’s side since the band’s inception. The band tours steadily and landed in Portland for New Year’s Eve at the Aladdin Theater. Although they sold the same venue out last January, a moderate crowd of mostly older people filled the Aladdin this time. Couple a busy holiday with the same tour in less than a year, and a second capacity crowd is unlikely, especially for a mid-level legacy band.

A New Year’s show is a reason to vary a setlist, drop some surprise covers or deep cuts, but Cracker played it safe while ringing in 2017. Opening the show with an acoustic version of “Dr. Bernice” was a nice treat for old fans (well, we’re all old fans most likely), but the setlist didn’t really yield anything too exciting. We got dutiful versions of “Low,” “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” and “Eurotrash Girl.” The set-closing version of “Another Song About the Rain,” dripping with all the trappings of a ‘90s ballad, was quite epic and the last-minute punt of “King of Bakersfield” for the crowd-pleasing “Get Off This” ended the night on a nostalgic note.

In contrast, Camper Van Beethoven warmed up the crowd with a mix of favorites (“Take the Skinheads Bowling”), deep cuts (“All Her Favorite Fruit”) and covers (“White Riot” and “Wasted”). Lowery wasn’t as jovial as last January when Camper played Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart from front to back, plowing through songs this time without addressing the audience. It didn’t lend to a festive mood, though the medley of Klezmer and Led Zeppelin songs, led by Jonathan Segel on the violin, was the closest things came to a party.

It is interesting to see which bands will crawl out of an era and which fall by the wayside. Although Lowery and Hickman are no longer making popular music, it is comforting that they are marching on. At least one guy tried to recapture Cracker’s ‘90s heyday that night. Towards the end of the show, he clambered up the lip of the stage and fell back onto the crowd. He lingered there, supported in a slow, half-hearted crowd surf for a moment, before falling to the ground.

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