Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker brought an exciting double bill to the Middle East Nightclub in Cambridge Friday night in a near perfect show, which was unfortunately slightly tarnished by several belligerent middle-aged drunks.
Camper Van Beethoven
Camper Van Beethoven opened the night illustrating exactly why they’re one of the most important alternative rock bands to emerge from 1980s. Led by singer and songwriter David Lowery, Camper Van Beethoven’s set list managed to encapsulate thirty years of material in an energetic and efficient 75-minute set.
Playing a mix of classic songs like “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” “All Her Favorite Fruit,” and their cover of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” as well as newer material from their latest albums La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real, Camper Van Beethoven’s stirring set kept the audience (young and old) moving and singing along continuously.
Other highlights included the gypsy-esque instrumental “Balalaika Gap,” which was just one of many songs from the night showcasing the talents of violinist Jonathan Segel; lead guitarist Greg Lisher; and bassist Victor Krummenacher. Drummer Frank Funaro was missing in action, but his replacement, a man that the band affectionately referred to as “Coco,” suitably filled in.
After a short break, guitarist Johnny Hickman and members of Camper Van Beethoven, minus Lisher, returned to the stage as Cracker. Formed by Lowery and Hickman after the break-up of Camper Van Beethoven in 1990, Cracker’s eclectic mix of rock, county, blues, and psychedelia made them a hit on alternative radio in the early ‘90s and led to a devout following which still exists today.
Friday night’s rich set primarily consisted of tracks from the band’s new double album Berkeley to Bakersfield, but also included well-known singles like “Low” and “Eurotrash Girl” from the band’s 1993 album Kerosene Hat.
Although new material from a well established band can often stop a show in its tracks, the songs from Berkeley to Bakersfield sounded oddly familiar yet entirely fresh. Highlights from the new album, which chronicles the growing divide between the rich and the poor in California, were the punk-tinged “El Cerrito” and the sweet ballad “Waited My Whole Life.”
Despite an amazing double bill, several belligerent middle-aged drunks near the front row tainted what was otherwise a perfect evening. Towards the end of Camper Van Beethoven’s set and throughout the majority of Cracker’s show, a few drunks started inappropriately touching concertgoers. This included aggressively pushing, drunkenly falling, and even nauseatingly stroking the hair of a female without permission.
Sober audience members, this writer included, attempted to quell the commotion on countless occasions, but the drunks persisted until the conclusion of the concert. Unfortunately the lone visible security guard was leaning against a wall the entire night with his head down glued at his phone. After the show was over, the beer can-ridden floor of the venue told the tale. While I’m not advocated for dry concerts, surely the bartenders can exercise better discretion when it comes to serving an already drunk man his umpteenth can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Ironically, the highlight of the night did not occur during the actual concert, but rather during the sound check. After arriving to the venue about an hour before doors were set to open at 8pm, this writer decided to explore the downstairs area where the concert was set to take place.
To my surprise, Lowery and Hickman were performing a sound check in front of a Comcast camera crew. I decided to stick around, and to my great pleasure, Lowery and Hickman played stripped-down versions of “Low” and “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now).” There was truly something special about seeing a couple rock legends jamming in front of a handful of people.
In the end, the stellar concert and a memorable sound check will leave lasting memories, while the behavior of several clowns will hopefully, soon be a distant memory.