You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven promise fresh takes on old faves

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 1/10/2020 Brett Milano
David Lowery holding a guitar: David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven performs at the 2nd Annual BottleRock Napa Festival at Napa Valley Expo on June 1, 2014, in Napa, Calif. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP) © Provided by Boston Herald David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven performs at the 2nd Annual BottleRock Napa Festival at Napa Valley Expo on June 1, 2014, in Napa, Calif. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

During one of their recent winter shows at the Middle East, Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowery accurately sized up his audience: “We’re still a college band. Only now our fans are the faculty and the staff.”

Both bands were among the brainiest and wittiest of their time: Camper Van Beethoven perfected their punk/psychedelic/worldbeat mix in the ’80s, then Cracker came along after Lowery gravitated to country-rock in the ’90s (Both had memorable college-radio hits, Camper with “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and Cracker with “Low” and “Eurotrash Girl”). In recent decades both bands have been doing winter tours together, and the double bill hits the Middle East on Thursday — for either the 16th or 17th January in a row; even Lowery’s lost count.

Though neither band has new material this year (they both did double concept albums in 2015), Lowery promises some fresh takes on the old. “Between the two bands there are 400 songs we could do, and fans are always going to ask why you didn’t play songs from one album or another. With Camper, this year we’re concentrating on the early albums — our garage period if you will —  with songs we haven’t done in years. And Cracker is doing just the opposite, leaning toward our softer acoustic stuff. I have no idea how this happened, but we sort of sound like the Grateful Dead now.”

Lowery has lately joined the faculty himself. He’s now a lecturer on the music business at the University of Georgia, where he completed his Ph.D. two years ago. So he’s now teaching in the same town of Athens, Ga., where the college-rock explosion took root with R.E.M. and the B-52’s and in the ’80s. “There’s still an underground, countercultural scene here, but it’s more the townies than the students that drive it. You can still go out to see some weirdo indie-rock band on one hand, and a country act with no pretense of being hipster on the other.”

Many of Lowery’s current students are also hoping to break into the music business. “I’m in the business college so a lot of them are in finance or accounting; they know what the reality of the business is. I have a few students in bands that sell out theaters in the southeast, so I think that it’s still possible to become successful. There’s still a vital club and bar scene in the southeast — I have a friend who believes that the strength of a music scene is inversely connected to property values. The bigger problem right now is for songwriters to get properly compensated.”

Lowery has long been an advocate for musicians’ rights; in 2015 he famously initiated a class-action lawsuit against Spotify that resulted in millions of dollars being added to royalty payments. The state of the industry, he says, is one reason his bands don’t make more albums. “Record labels now want to split all the profits 50/50, and that doesn’t seem fair to me if they’re not going to do anything. I think my skills are more for writing and recording than for being a venture capitalist, but I have to object to the unfairness of the structure right now.”

Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, at the Middle East, Cambridge, Thursday, 7 p.m. Tickets $22; mideastoffers.com.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Boston Herald

Boston Herald
Boston Herald
AdChoices
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon