SAN FRANCISCO They snapped up every available ticket at $30 a pop, and so, after coming in out of the fiercest rainstorm of the year, the crowd at Slim's on Friday wasn't shy about making demands.
Fans of Cracker frontman David Lowery's former band, Camper Van Beethoven, were excited by the presence of four of the group's five members onstage and the promise of at least a partial reunion. They encouraged Lowery to revisit a past he seemed all too eager to forget. But Lowery gave every bit as good as he got.
Following an opening set by former Camper Van Beethoven members Greg Lisher on guitar and Victor Krummenacher on bass, Cracker kept the audience entertained for two solid hours with rock, ska, a taste of country, some juggling, professional-wrestling shtick and plenty of acid-tongued commentary.
"We're going to try to make this as much like WWF wrestling as possible," Lowery announced after opening with "You Could Be My Lover." He then traded verbal jabs and a headlock with Cracker guitarist Johnny Hickman, whose sinewy leads were a highlight of the set.
Following a ska instrumental and a waltz-time song featuring former Camper violin player Jonathan Segel and keyboardist Kenny Margolis on accordion, Lowery taunted the Camper loyalists in the crowd.
"I'm the big sell-out. I started Cracker and made a million," he said before introducing "the true sell-out" among Camper alumni, David Immergluck of Counting Crows, whose This Desert Life (1999) Lowery produced. Immergluck sat in on guitar and pedal steel on various tunes during Cracker's set.
The band moved into a ringing version of the psychedelic-era hit "Pictures of Matchstick Men" (RealAudio excerpt of Camper Van Beethoven version), originally by the Status Quo and covered by Camper on their swan song, Key Lime Pie (1989). Next came "I Ride My Bike," a road song off Cracker's Gentleman's Blues (1998) that describes stops up and down the Central California coast, from Santa Cruz, where Camper was based in its '80s infancy, up to San Francisco.
About then, Lowery turned the sell-out theme on the crowd, chiding the audience for its dot-com affluence. "We'll try to do our best but ... the audience really sold out," he started, and went on to berate the audience's evolution from Camper's days as college-crowd favorites.
After a solo number, Lowery brought the band back for the hardest-rocking segment of the set, starting with the 1994 single "Euro-Trash Girl" (RealAudio excerpt), which had the audience singing along on the chorus. "Lonesome Johnny Blues" and "Mr. Wrong" followed, then the band rolled out its biggest hit, "Low" (RealAudio excerpt), a song it had declined to play the night before.
"This show is ribbed for our pleasure," Lowery jeered following another ska number. The band brought a guest singer onstage for a version of country singer George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care."
As the set approached the two-hour mark, Lowery took one more extended jab at Camper fans. "It's been a hard 10 years," he said with false sympathy, before suggesting they try drinking, traveling or a new job. "It was really great it's just a whole different time now."
"Just play the song so we can go home!" Shawna Wolverton, 26, of San Francisco shouted.
And indeed, after leaving the stage briefly, the band returned to roll out the song that put Camper on the map, "Take the Skinheads Bowling" (RealAudio excerpt), from their debut, Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985). Krummenacher, on bass, knelt down to encourage Lowery's 7-year-old nephew, who'd had several turns onstage doing a juggling routine, in singing the chorus.
"Thanks for letting us give you sh--," Lowery said before closing the set with one more ska-tinged number, featuring Margolis' calliope-sounding keyboard work. "It was really great."