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Cracker Van Beethoven Is Important to Indie Rock

There were a number of bands that were important to American indie rock at the turn of the ’90s but broke up just before the alternative-rock boom. People who were too young to see the Pixies, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, or Galaxie 500 can listen to their CDs (or in some cases, go to the reunion show) and understand the appeal. But it’s hard to explain Camper Van Beethoven to those who weren’t there at the time. In fact, even at the time people had a hard time understanding what Camper Van was about.

The Santa Cruz band veered between classic rock, ska, country, and quasi-Eastern European instrumentals, and singer David Lowery’s lyrics were even harder to pin down. The band’s career-defining college-radio hit “Take the Skinheads Bowling” contained lines such as, “Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes/ Some people say that bowling alleys all look the same/ There’s not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything.” What made the song great was the backing vocals repeating, “Got big lanes! Got big lanes!” Again, maybe you had to be there.

Camper Van split up in 1990, and Lowery had success with his next band, the somewhat more-straightforward Cracker. But Camper Van got back together in 1999 and has since been touring more or less annually, usually along with Cracker. CVB also released a song-by-song cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk (rendering familiar tracks like “Sara” virtually unrecognizable) and a political-concept album. When you think about it, the new stuff doesn’t sound dated at all. The world is as weird as it ever was. Camper Van Beethoven fits right in.

Cracker also performs.

CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN: Belly Up Tavern, Tuesday, December 28, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20; $22 day of show.

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There were a number of bands that were important to American indie rock at the turn of the ’90s but broke up just before the alternative-rock boom. People who were too young to see the Pixies, the Replacements, Hüsker Dü, or Galaxie 500 can listen to their CDs (or in some cases, go to the reunion show) and understand the appeal. But it’s hard to explain Camper Van Beethoven to those who weren’t there at the time. In fact, even at the time people had a hard time understanding what Camper Van was about.

The Santa Cruz band veered between classic rock, ska, country, and quasi-Eastern European instrumentals, and singer David Lowery’s lyrics were even harder to pin down. The band’s career-defining college-radio hit “Take the Skinheads Bowling” contained lines such as, “Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes/ Some people say that bowling alleys all look the same/ There’s not a line that goes here that rhymes with anything.” What made the song great was the backing vocals repeating, “Got big lanes! Got big lanes!” Again, maybe you had to be there.

Camper Van split up in 1990, and Lowery had success with his next band, the somewhat more-straightforward Cracker. But Camper Van got back together in 1999 and has since been touring more or less annually, usually along with Cracker. CVB also released a song-by-song cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk (rendering familiar tracks like “Sara” virtually unrecognizable) and a political-concept album. When you think about it, the new stuff doesn’t sound dated at all. The world is as weird as it ever was. Camper Van Beethoven fits right in.

Cracker also performs.

CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN: Belly Up Tavern, Tuesday, December 28, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20; $22 day of show.

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Singer: "Let's all wear jeans for the photo!"

Drummer: "Why? Are we on our way to a rodeo?"

Singer: "No! Just 'cause it's cool! We'll look young!"

Dec. 23, 2010

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