David Lowery is a busy man these days. Not only is his first solo recording coming out next month, he's currently touring with both of his bands, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, with each group performing one of their classic albums. At the Middle East on Sunday night, Camper Van Beethoven will go on first and perform my favorite album of all time, Key Lime Pie, followed by Cracker playing their best-selling album of their career, Kerosene Hat.
"Key Lime Pie" was CVB's prettiest and darkest disc. Recorded as the band slowly and acrimoniously broke up, its bittersweet portraits of decline and decay are probably more relevant today than they were when it was released 22 years ago. A typical line from "June": "There is nothing in this world more bitter than love... there is nothing in this world more bitter than spring."
But it wasn't just love that was decaying on Key Lime Pie, it was also politics ("'cause in the mind of Ronald Reagan, wheels they turn and gears they grind, buildings collapse in slow motion, and trains collide") nature ("And we are rotting like a fruit underneath a rusting roof") the American Dream ("I got me a shack at the bottom of the road, fixin' cars and givin' tows, spend all my money on the lottery") and even reality itself ("It feels like this calm is decaying, it's collapsing under its own weight, and I think it's your friend the hangman coming, choking back a laugh, drunk and swaggering to your door... all our heroes are bastards... all our heroes are thieves").
After Camper Van Beethoven broke up, Lowery resurfaced a couple of years later with Cracker, a more straight-ahead rock band that delivered a few radio hits, including "Low" and Eurotrash Girl" from Kerosene Hat.
As with most good albums, on repeated listenings, the deep cuts on Kerosene Hat hold up as well or better than the overplayed radio songs. Ranging from charging power-chord rave-ups ("Movie Star" and the hidden track "I Ride My Bike") to spacy, whispered dream-dirges "Kerosene Hat," "Take Me Down to the Infirmary," and the Grateful Dead cover "Loser") with a few classic-guitar-pop-but-just-slightly-too-weird-to-get-on-the-radio sizzlers mixed in ("Nostalgia" and "Sweet Potato") Kerosene Hat stands as one of the lost gems of the 1990's.
Cracker had its run in the Alternative Rock days, and continues to tour and record solid records. Camper Van Beethoven reunited around the turn of the century and in 2004 released New Roman Times, which touched on some of the same themes as Key Lime Pie, updating them from one president Bush era to the next. Which makes Lowery one busy man, even before his solo record The Palace Guards comes out on February 2.
Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, at the Middle East downstairs, this Sunday January 16th. 8:00 doors. 18+. $18 advance, $20 day of show.
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