Cracker | 07.05.07

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 Lowery and Hickman are looking a bit older, a bit wiser, but time hasn't diminished their musical talents in the slightest. Lowery still has the voice for the more raucous numbers, and Hickman's guitar is on the verge of legendary.

 

 

 

w/ Magnolia Summer

Duck Room, St. Louis

Nineteen ninety-three was a great year for me. I was 16, I had just gotten my first car, and I was becoming cognizant of the enormous world of music around me that didn't get its stamp of approval from Top 40 Radio. This was also was the year that I first became exposed to Cracker, a band fronted by David Lowery, formerly of Camper van Beethoven. I was only slightly aware of CVB and their seminal late-1980s hit "Take the Skinheads Bowling," and of this new group's modest success with the song "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)."

At the time, Top 40 radio formats were being replaced across the country by new "alternative" rock formats that took what the college crowd was already hip to and exposed it to a wider audience. In St. Louis, 105.7 "The Point" had recently taken over the airwaves and one day, as I drove home from Belleville West High School, I heard a song on that station I had never heard before. It began with a sonic assault on the ears, but was still melodic. This was Cracker's "Low", and it turned out to be one of the bigger hits of 1993. Needless to say, instead of going home that afternoon, I went straight to the record store to pick up a copy of the album, Kerosene Hat. I was officially a Cracker fan.

Fast forward fourteen years. Entering Blueberry Hill's fabled Duck Room, it was obvious everyone was expecting a great show. The crowd's excitement was palpable. In the crush of people, you could find fans that lost track of Cracker after ‘93, but still loved their sound and were giddy to be back in the fold after an extended time. Then you had the loyal fans that had followed Lowery and his rotating line-up of musicians over the past decade and a half. Being of the former persuasion, I was excited to reestablish contact with a band that I had loved all those years ago. Fortunately, when Lowery, guitarist Johnny Hickman, drummer Frank Funaro, and bassist Sal Maida took the stage to a thunderous applause, they not only took me back to 1993, but brought me up to speed on their impressive catalogue.

Cracker kicked the show off with "St. Cajetan," a somewhat languid number from their first album that eased the crowd into the show while at the same time establishing their musical prowess. Lowery and Hickman (the only two original members) are looking a bit older, a bit wiser, but time hasn't diminished their musical talents in the slightest. Lowery still has the voice for the more raucous numbers, and Hickman's guitar is on the verge of legendary.

Second up was a new song from Cracker's recently released CD Greenland called "Everyone Gets One For Free," followed by one of my personal favorites from Kerosene Hat, "Movie Star." Going back to their 1992 album, they then did the song that put them on the map, "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)." As I listened to Lowery sing about how the world needs another pop singer like he needs a hole in his head, I couldn't help but think how this song is even more apropos in 2007 than in 1992 when it first hit the airwaves. Thank you, American Idol.

The band tore through a nearly two-hour set containing all the fan favorites, including "Let's Go For A Ride," "Lonesome Johnny Blues," "Take Me Down To The Infirmary," and the crowd sing-along "Euro Trash Girl." Late in the set, the band mixed their "alternative sound" (really, what does that mean anymore?) with the pop-country sound that they embraced on their albums O Cracker Where Art Thou? and Countrysides. The result was something akin to alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Son Volt, but with its own unique spin. What is really refreshing is that, although Cracker's sound has hardly changed since their inception, it still sounds fresh and invigorating, a welcome respite from artists like Gwen Stefani or Nickleback.

The last five songs of the set were a Cracker fan's dream. After slowing things down a bit, they ran through "Happy Birthday," "Sweet Potato," which segued flawlessly into "This Is Cracker Soul," then eased into the beautiful "Big Dipper." To close the set, they played their big hit, "Low," and I'll be damned if it didn't give me goose-bumps hearing it live for the first time, Lowery's voice hitting every strained note of the chorus.

After a short break, the band returned to the stage and played an amazing, three-song encore that began with one of the best covers of a Grateful Dead song I think I've ever heard, "Loser." They then turned out an inspired rendition of "Maggie," a track from their latest CD. The last song of the evening was actually my favorite Cracker song, "Get Off This," which had the audience hopping up and down, gleefully cheering the final rounds of "nah-na-na-na-na-naaaaah, nah-na-na-na-na-naaaaah" over and over again until the band gave the indication that it was time to end things for the night.

Afterward, the band stuck around to chat with the audience and sign autographs, but the crowd was anything but rowdy. I gave Lowery a head nod and mouthed the words, "Great show!" as he passed in front of me on his way back to the green room.

Opening the show was St. Louis-based Magnolia Summer, a band comprised of various members of other St. Louis bands such as Bottle Rockets and Waterloo. Their sound was inoffensive, yet wasn't really inspiring. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Chris Grabau has some interesting songs, but the mood was almost morose as they found their way through their forty-five minute set. Grabau's voice is like a melding of Michael Stipe and Jeff Tweedy, but he was having trouble staying in key. Though none of the tunes really stood out, they weren't bad by any means. They certainly did their job – by the time Cracker took the stage, the crowd was well lubed and ready for some great music. They asked, and they received. | Tyson Blanquart

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