Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cracker - They're An American Band ( And One Of The Best) - Gig Report

Photo by Kristie Brown Gripp

Cracker w/ Victor Krummenacher
Palms Playhouse
July 7, 2015

Cracker is one of those rare and few bands that can get their audience to come from near and far on a weekday evening, fill a room with rock 'n' roll lovers in an ancient room in a relatively sleepy town, and create the party of the week just days after a big party holiday.

The band's fans call themselves the Cracker Crumbs, and when they gather it's always a joyous celebration. Every band has its fans, but the Crumbs are a special lot. They know the words to all the songs, they sing and dance the whole night through, and it resembles a high school reunion (at least the way we wish they were) as much as a rock show.

Victor Krummenacher, a regular co-conspirator with the Cracker bunch and original member of Camper Van Beethoven (Cracker's David Lowery's other regular band) opened the show, and he really blew the folks away with his stunning songwriting skills, stellar band, and very confident and competent talents as a guitarist and frontman. Greg Lisher, another CVB stalwart was especially notable on lead guitar - his tones and chops are impeccable, and he's a legend to those who know. Krummenacher is supporting his latest solo record, Hard To See Trouble Coming, and it is a wall to wall solid sender. He had a very enthusiastic crowd in the palms of his very able hands, and he kept them there until he left the stage to thunderous applause.

What can I tell you about Cracker that you don't already know? Maybe that I think they are head to head and toe to toe with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers as America's best rock band. The band has been startlingly consistent since their 1992 debut, and while radio got lost along the way, they have never stopped delivering their message of Cracker soul to adoring audiences. They've made a great noise with their latest release, Berkeley To Bakersfield (a brilliant double album at a time when many acts are hesitant to spend more than a week in a recording studio), and David Lowery has become the voice of reason in the battle for fair pay for recording artists.

Another thing that maybe people haven't quite figured out (I'm not including the Crumbs, they are in the k.n.o.w. on this) is that David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, the band's founders and steady members, are as formidable a music making team as you can find. The band would not be the band in either's absence, and they share the workload brilliantly. Lowery is quite clearly the frontman, and Hickman the guitar star, but the guitarist's tunes are stellar and the singer is as good a right hand rhythm guitarist as any currently stalking the planet.

The band is famed for their huge nineties hits "Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)", and "Low", and as great as both songs are, there are many more in the band's catalogue that transcend these smash hits in scope and depth. This is one of those acts where there is just no filler - from the moment they take to the stage with fan classic, "One Fine Day" until two encores later we have found ourselves singing and dancing for a couple of truly blissful hours. A great night to fall in love once again.

How many classic rock aged acts can truly say that their newest material is as good, and often better than the tunes on which they originally made their name? I can tell you that there are not a lot, but I can also gleefully state that Cracker is one of those bands.

Lowery and Hickman were not alone. They have Bryan Howard back on bass, and he's a magician - Cracker has always featured stellar bass players, and it's a tougher job than Mr. Howard makes it look. Thayer Sarrano is along on keyboards and vocals, and she looked like she was enjoying her birthday just fine. "Pistol" plays some of the finest steel guitar out there, and Matt Stoessel filled the air with solos and fills that were dazzling, and they are worth their weight in gold to see the smile his licks put on the face of Mr. Hickman, who gives the steeler as much space as he grants himself. Coco Owens rounds out the band on drums, and he's a powerhouse with plenty of finesse. This is one great band.

You know I love this band. I was talking to Johnny Hickman before the show, and he was plenty tired from several days of grueling long drives from town to town, but the glee in his eyes as we discussed horse trading guitars, and the intricate details and difference between Gretschs, Starts, and Les Pauls would have been enough to convince me of his unbridled passion, but when I heard him uncoiling some of the most melodic and 'perfect for the song' lead lines throughout the night, I knew exactly what he feels for what he calls, "My beloved band."

When you hear a musician say that, well, it just may bring a tear to your eye. This is why we love this thing. Support our bands, support our music, and if you have any chance at all, get out to a Cracker show just as soon as you can. It will do your soul great good.

Very special thanks and love to the Cracker Crumbs - I adore you guys.  You're the greatest.


JoeKroger said...

Great write-up Tony!! Every word is fact.

teggenberger said...

...what he said!