CHICAGO -- Cracker looked back and gazed ahead at their recent
show at the Metro. The result was a rocking, bluesy performance that
highlighted many sides of the eclectic rock band and gave fans a hint of what's
to come on Cracker's new album, Gentleman's Blues.
They began their show at the comfortably full venue with one of the new songs,
"Around the World in Seven Days," and proceeded to shake out the cobwebs
from Cracker hits along with classics from leader David Lowery's previous
band, Camper Van Beethoven.
Lowery, dressed casually with his red hair now cropped short on the sides
and in back, led the band as it traveled back through a host of older material,
from "Euro-Trash Girl" (RealAudio excerpt) to
(RealAudio excerpt) to "Mr. Wrong," while skipping over some of their most
radio-friendly songs such as "Happy Birthday To Me."
"This is sort-of a rehearsal for us," Lowery told the crowd, adding that, "we
haven't really played since January. But Chicago audiences are always 'no
bullshit' so we thought you could handle it." And with that, he led Cracker into
"Useless Stuff," a song about bullshit.
Given the nature of the show, Cracker proved to be remarkably tight. But every
now and then there was a, ah, crack. At one point, guitarist Johnny Hickman
took an extended solo on "Low" while Lowery tried to remember the second
Cracker's sound has always been a well-hyphenated one: blues-rock,
roots-rock, country-rock. But with their forthcoming fourth album, the
foursome wants no part of a certain hyphen anymore. "The new album is a
summing up of the three records, but it's a lot more rock. It's like
alt-rock doesn't exist," frontman David Lowery told SonicNet Music
News, pausing to add with a chuckle, "but I think that's really good."
Cracker proved it with the show. The renditions they churned out were tinged
with the various flavors of Cracker's musical history. Some songs, like the
new track, "Get Ahold of Myself" (with Hickman on vocals), were very bluesy.
Others had a little more twang, and one even leaned toward a gypsy polka. Yet
all of the songs were buttressed by a solid, basic rock sound.
Judging by the reactions from the crowd throughout the 90-minute set, fans
seemed to like Cracker's rock sans alt. Christian Griener, a student at
nearby DePaul University who has been following Lowery since the early
Camper Van Beethoven days, certainly did. "I saw the new stuff as more bluesy
and I liked that. Cracker has always had blues roots; they just seemed afraid to
show them," he said. "Golden Age was a bit more country, and hopefully
this album will be back to blues."
Cracker, who play without set lists, kept some of the best songs to
themselves. They shied away from the suspected singles from
the new album. "We played the songs that we needed to rehearse the most.
There are two songs that Virgin like for singles," Lowery said of "The Good Life"
and "I'm Gonna Make you a Star." "But we didn't do 'em," he added.
Lowery, interviewed after the show, said he turned in the tapes to Virgin
last week. The album is scheduled to be released Aug. 25. He said people at
Virgin have characterized it as "very commercially viable."
"It's a long record," he said. "Maybe 70 minutes. We figured it was my 10th
album and it wasn't so much 'it's time' but that we could get away with it."
Lowery, who says that everyone seems to hear his albums differently than he
does, said simply, "It's a rock record. It's roots-ier maybe. A little
more bluesy than the last record, but not that much different than the
first two. Two tracks are definite blues-rock. The title track and the
hidden track, 'Cinderella.' "
"Some people these days see rock as somehow less dangerous than, say,
Green Day," he said. "Punk and rock are old enough to date each other.
They're both, like, really old."
But as Cracker continue to re-energize the traditional guitar-bass-drums
approach with their latest offerings, they help keep that old sound young.