David Lowery brought both of his bands, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, to the 9:30 Club Saturday night for a mellow night of clever wordplay and occasional social jabs that form the crux of the music in the two outfits.
Billed as the “Come Down the Coast” tour, Lowery’s double bill came very close to selling out the 9:30 Club, which was comfortably full of high-spirited concert-goers, nodding their heads along to very full sets of alt-country ruminations and reflections. Camper Van Beethoven played 18 songs, beginning with the oddly titled instrumental “ZZ Top Goes to Egypt.” It was a good way to set the tone actually, introducing the audience to quirky titles and various musical textures that go into Camper Van Beethoven compositions
As Lowery sang and strummed along softly, drummer Frank Funaro added some punk-flavored kick, and violinist Jonathan Segel filled out many of the songs with classical flourishes. Funaro, who also is in Cracker, was the only person in the five-member Camper Van Beethoven who was not in the original lineup. Nevertheless, Camper Van Beethoven classics like “Take the Skinheads Bowling” now have less of a jangly sound to them when performed live these days and more layers and sophistication instrumentally.
Lyrically, Camper Van Beethoven compositions still carry the same gently satirical bite. That bite ranges from light in “Northern California Girls” to darker in “Too High for the Love-In,” both songs from the band’s 2013 album La Costa Perdida. While these songs occasionally run together quite harmoniously in a alt-country stew, Camper Van Beethoven remind you that they blend quite a few influences from across genres with their cover of The Clash’s “White Riot.”
After a break, Lowery returns to the stage to introduce Cracker, but first performs “Come Down the Coast,” a Camper Van Beethoven song, solo on a banjo. It’s a welcome transition, as it sets the town of the tour and puts the focus back on band leader Lowery, who after all is the sole co-founder of both bands.
Soon, Cracker plays “I Need Better Friends,” which sets the tone for Cracker’s greater country rock leanings, and it allows for some fun interplay between friends and founders Lowery and Johnny Hickman, who wrote the song. Hickman’s easy-going manner and courser voice complement Lowery very well, and you can see how they must have a lot of fun working and writing together.
Cracker played their 1993 hit “Low” relatively early in the set to my surprise, as I suspected they might hold it for the encore. It’s placement before the midpoint of the set was fitting, however, as the band played the very recognizable song as just another number in the lineup, and the song’s grunge-influenced downer lyrics and beat remind the audience that Cracker, like Camper Van Beethoven, also often can be difficult to typecast musically.
Over the next few days, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker work their way more “up the coast” with dates in Cambridge, Mass., Philadelphia and New York City. Then they camp out for a long weekend at the 40-Watt Club in Athens, Ga., on Jan. 23-25. All in all, both bands were solidly entertaining and well worth checking out as they make the rounds on this tour.