Show Review: Cracker & Camper Van Beethoven at The Independent, 12/28/09

by Marie Carney on December 30, 2009

I got there too late to really see the band...

Cracker is a good band.  They have nice fun upbeat songs, all the musicians are more than capable, their songs don’t all sound the same, and there is decent stage banter.  The music is pretty straight forward likable rock.  Much the same could be said about Cracker’s counterpart Camper Van Beethoven, especially since they basically have the same band members (take Camper Van Beethoven, subtract a violinist/guitarist and add a female back up singer to get Cracker).  There really is no logical reason not to enjoy their live show, yet somehow, I spent the entire evening vaguely wanting to die.  Why?

Truthfully, a lot of it was personal.  I did not want to go to the show.  I wanted to stay at the podcast recording and have fun with my friends, not go see a band I haven’t cared about since approximately 1994 by myself.  But I take my Spinning Platters life, as some would say, a little too seriously, so off I went, all Grouchy McGroucherson, into the night.  My mood was not improved when I got there and could hear Camper Van Beethoven already playing.  Then at the box office they tell me I had a plus one and a photo pass, but the rep didn’t tell me that, so I had no friend or camera.  Boo!  *please insert #firstworldproblems here*

Once I make it in, I find The Independent is packed like I’ve never seen it before.  The crowd was pretty laid back and mellow though, so I managed to make my way up to the front on the right side of the stage.  The band was in full swing and looked as though they were enjoying themselves, but I can’t say the same for the audience.  Except for a few fans in the front, everyone else seemed kind of bewildered.  Eventually, I realized that they were here to see Cracker, not Camper Van Beethoven, even though in my mind it was the same thing.  The gentleman standing next to me even asked me who the band playing was!  Now, I knew Cracker had a new album come out this year, but really, there are Cracker fans that know so little about the band’s history to not even recognize Camper Van Beethoven?  Appalling.

The highlight of the Camper Van Beethoven set was by far “Take the Skinheads Bowling.”  The crowd finally livened up and danced around a bit, while the band moved up right to the edge of the stage like they were trying to get closer to the energy the audience was finally giving them.  But once the song was over the band went into a long instrumental of countrified rock show-boating and the excitement was over, not to return for the rest of their set.

At this point I was surprised to find out that I hadn’t missed the opener, Ashwin Batish, and that Camper was the first band up.  Craziness.  It was a perfect change of pace to hear Ashwin Batish’s sitar playing.  His son played with him on tabla.  It was very fun.  In typical sitar fashion the songs were very long and intricate, so we only heard four.  The last two were accompanied by a backing track of funk/dance beats.  A little strange, but it worked.   I was loving it, but the audience was not with me.  Even when he did the requisite “This is my last song, then up next, Cracker!” it was like crickets.  Sad.

When Cracker came on there was enthusiastic applause, but not as much as I expected.  Maybe because it was an older crowd at 11 on a Monday night?  No matter, because halfway through the first song the audience was bobbing along happy as can be.  The first two songs were short and fun, and I started to enjoy myself, but then the long, slow “Eurotrash Girl” began with some guitar soloing and I deflated.  This was, of course, my favorite Cracker song back in the day, but here it was, in the longest, most boring incarnation I could imagine.  All energy and momentum stalled completely.

This was the problem throughout the evening.  David Lowery and the band couldn’t seem to hold on to enough energy to keep the crowd focused for more than a couple songs at a time.  Of course, many of the fans seemed to be having a great time, but the ones I was standing next to were watching with more of a mild enjoyment than a enthusiastic rapture.  The energy never built, though there were good moments, and we were left going home with a big “meh” on the whole evening.  I would see Ashwin Batish again, though I shouldn’t be leaving a rock show thinking “man, that sitar player and his son rocked!”

Cracker did not have a setlist on paper, but here’s Camper Van Beethoven’s:

Camper Van Beethoven setlist

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