Since Ol' Dirty Curty McCrary has our bases covered on the Sebadoh angle in this issue (he won the right to interview Lou Barlow over three other writers--myself included--based on a literal roll of the die), let us now play devil's advocate and extol the virtues of Camper Van Beethoven.
Originally based in that bastion of hippiedom and leftist thinking that is Santa Cruz, Calif., Camper Van Beethoven was a unique entity when the band's releases, on its own Pitch a Tent label, began hitting hipper record stores back in 1985. What the Pixies--who have mounted a far more high-profile reunion than CVB's--were to the proliferation of the soft-loud dynamic, which is now de rigeur in rock across the board, Camper was to culling influences from wherever they could find them and molding something completely new out of the various lumps. Ska, punk, folk, anything remotely ethnic, and an absurdist lyrical bent--all found their way into Camper Van Beethoven's songwriting. And they were also the coolest rock band since Kansas to feature a violinist. Oh, wait. Aside from "Carry On Wayward Son" (which kicks much ass), Kansas sucked. Scratch that, 'cause Camper ruled.
But we all know what happens to all good things, and that fate befell the mighty CVB as the '80s came to a close, leaving five albums and a pair of EPs--none of which sounds dated today--in its wake. The band's members scattered in various musical directions, with singer/guitarist David Lowery enjoying the most commercial success with his subsequent band, Cracker.
But a few years ago, when the group reconvened to tie up some loose ends on what was intended to be an archival album, they soon found themselves recording some new material. Since then, the train's been pumping out considerable steam. The band released that "archival" album, the not-so-cryptically-titled-in-retrospect Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead: Long Live Camper Van Beethoven, a box set called Cigarettes & Carrot Juice: The Santa Cruz Years, and its song-by-song reinterpretation of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. And surely the high-profile inclusion of their "Take the Skinheads Bowling" in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine didn't hinder matters, nor did the corresponding reunion tours, which allowed those who had missed them the first time around to finally get their chance, and let those who had seen them back in the day bask in the beatific glow of nostalgia.
But nostalgia will only get you so far, for so long (though we've seen three of the reunion shows and we're not complaining yet), so it comes as welcome news indeed that, come October, the first album of new Camper material in 15 years will be released. New Roman Times (Vanguard) is said to be a concept album about a boy who grew up in Texas, joins the military following a catastrophic event, and eventually becomes disillusioned and joins a militia group. Lowery, whose father served in the Navy, has been outspoken in his opposition to the war in Iraq, and it's not to tough to distill what he's getting at here. In keeping with the fact that CVB's show earlier this year at Club Congress was one of the best we've seen in town so far this year, early reviews of New Roman Times are pretty unanimous in calling the album one of the best in their catalog.
Camper Van Beethoven return to Tucson on Friday, Aug. 27 at City Limits, 6350 E. Tanque Verde Road. L.P. (not to be confused with rapper El-P) opens the show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $16 and may be purchased at the venue, all Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 321-1000. For more information, call 733-6262.
Taking a cue from Bob Log III, Al Foul has been performing many shows Shakes-less recently, opting instead for the more fiscally lucrative one-man band set-up. This week's gig doubles as a release party for his first solo album, which goes down at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., on Saturday, Aug. 28. Things should get rolling around 9 p.m. and you can call the club at 622-3535 for further details.
The very same night, Nowhere Man will release their second album, Love Asphyxia (I Like Red), over at Plush. Their debut, Considered to Tears (actually a solo album by frontman Vikas Pawa, who formed a full band following its release), picked up the prestigious critic's choice award for Best New Release at this year's TAMMIES. Where the debut sorta sounded like the work of one guy and incorporated pretty much every musical genre under that big ball of fire in the sky, the follow-up is clearly the product of a full-fledged collaboration, even though Pawa still wrote the bulk of songs himself. Though there's definite stylistic variation among the songs--a ska break on "Courtesy Is Contagious," new wave synths on "Satin Smile"--the band establishes itself as a pure pop machine here. Pawa's intuitive sense of melody and arrangement is still intact, and he's got a crack batch of players--Beth Holub (bass, viola, violin), Michael Hummer (drums, percussion), Michelle Kushner (synths, vocals), Merritt Jacob (guitar, vocals)--to execute it. In other words, there's a certain cohesion here that wasn't found on Considered to Tears (not to take anything away from the debut--that seemed like part of the point).
Unfortunately, following the recording of Love Asphyxia, Jacob has since relocated to Connecticut, leaving the band a four-piece. Though we haven't seen 'em since they've become Merritt-less, word on the street has it that they're adapting just fine.
Nowhere Man's CD release party hits the stage at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Saturday, Aug. 28. Things kick off at 9:45 p.m. with opening sets from Las Vegas' Zero One Amazement and Portland, Ore.'s Viva Voce (see this week's Rhythm & Views, page 66, for a review of their new album). Admission is $3. For more 411 call 798-1298.
Jason Webley performs at Flash Gallery, 310 E. Congress St., on Saturday, Aug. 28. Amy Rude opens around 9:30 p.m., and entry will set you back a fiver. Questions? Find out what happens when you call 628-2944.
Check 'em all out at 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 27. 7 Black Cats is located at 260 E. Congress St., and you can ring them up for more info at 670-9202.