Camper Van Beethoven is a California band and were somewhat big in the ’80s. CVB integrates country rock, psychedelic, and faux ethnic things with violin. Imagine the Grateful Dead doing a Strawberry Alarm Clock retrospective with a little ska beat here and there. I sat in radio-programming meetings back in the 1980s in which we openly made fun of CVB and groups like them. What they did to earn our disdain I don’t recall because Camper Van Beethoven had had the kind of chart success with a cult following that cannot be denied (or explained).
Their cover of “Pictures of Matchstick Men” was a radio hit and smart going at that. No better band for them to cover than Status Quo, a forgotten British garage band from the 1960s with more hit records in their day than just about anyone. But that was the high-water mark for the first decade of Camper Van Beethoven. They went missing in the early ’90s, with bassist-founder David Lowry having gone on to form a more popular band called Cracker.
Twenty-five years older now, the members of CVB are back out on the road. Revived in 2000 (they recorded their first studio CD in 15 years in 2004), they’ve all grown up. Yet Camper Van Beethoven seems locked in step with their original charter, which apparently has not changed much since the band launched out of Santa Cruz in 1985. Witness lyrics from the new CD: “Who could be calling waking me from my dreams/ Of John, Paul, and Ringo with Keenan Wynn/ (or George)/ That gum you like is back in style, again,” compared to lyrics from the ’80s: “I had a dream about you, my friend/ I had a dream I wanted to sleep next to plastic.” So, did we underestimate Camper Van Beethoven? I don’t think so.
Cracker also performs.
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN: Belly Up, Tuesday, December 29, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20; $22 day of show.