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Cracker, Camper van Beethoven a perfect pairing at Belly Up

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Cracker, Camper van Beethoven a perfect pairing at Belly Up

Cracker lead singer David Lowery performs with the band Dec. 30 at Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. (Photo by Layla Marino)

Cracker lead singer David Lowery performs with the band Dec. 30 at Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. (Photo by Layla Marino)

Cracker lead singer David Lowery performs with the band Dec. 30 at Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. (Photo by Layla Marino)

Cracker lead singer David Lowery performs with the band Dec. 30 at Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. (Photo by Layla Marino)

Layla Marino

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n_review_2014_webThe Belly Up has done it again. You’d think this venue would be slowing down after having celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2014, but December saw another fabulous lineup of shows, parties and charity events. Each month, the venue has at least one if not many huge headliners, and the last month in 2014 was no exception. In fact, 2014 closed out with a crack on Dec. 30 when the Belly Up hosted two bands who became famous in the 1990s — Cracker and Camper van Beethoven.

Both bands on the bill for the end of December bash became famous in the early ’90s, and now share management, which is why the two alternative heavy-hitters are touring together. Camper van Beethoven are most famously known for their 1986 hit “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and is considered to have been a defining force for college radio and post-punk in the early ’90s, even though their releases were sparse during that decade, only including a b-side release called “Camper Vanquities.” The band reunited in 2000 to release “Tusk,” a full-album cover of the Fleetwood Mac album of the same name.

Since then, CVB has released two greatest hits albums and three of new material, including 2013’s “La Costa Perdida” and last year’s “El Camino Real,” which they were touring to support.

Cracker came onto the alternative scene a bit later than Camper van Beethoven, with its self-titled debut released in 1992. “Cracker” gained the band a hit with “Teen Angst” (What the World Needs Now),” but it was its second album, “Kerosene Hat,” that defined the band. With the smash single “Low,” the Frampton-inspired “Get off This” and college radio classic “Euro-Trash Girl” all making the charts, they cemented Cracker’s indie fame. The band has been producing pretty steadily since the ’90s, having released eight full albums since “Kerosene Hat.”

Cracker’s most recent record is called “Berkley to Bakersfield,” released in December, and the band is already touring to support it.

Many indie fans of both Camper van Beethoven and Cracker may have only heard the hits over the years. They may not know about the bands’ heavy country influence and the near volumes of music by both bands that would be classed more as “indie country” than “indie rock.” If this was the case at the Belly Up show on Dec. 30, the crowd didn’t show it. Both bands leaned strongly toward a country vibe in their respective sets, but the fans who turned up to the packed show knew both music catalogs well and sang along not only with the radio hits but with the lesser-known, country-styled music, as well.

Cracker played a number of songs from their new album, “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” including “Torches and Pitchforks,” “Waited My Whole Life” and “King of Bakersfield.” The new songs were just as warmly received by the crowd as when the band launched into “Low” and “Teen Angst.” This proved the fans at the show to be loyal Cracker fans and not just indie scenesters.

It seems the Belly Up has a knack for bringing out the die-hard fans for its shows, and this was no exception. It seemed that every song the band played, the audience packed in closer and was on its feet, cheering and singing along. In fact, for the entirety of Cracker’s set at the Belly Up, the bar was almost completely empty. That’s true fandom.

Cracker and Camper van Beethoven were able to pack the Belly Up largely because of their ability to appeal to indie and country fans alike. Both have impressive discographies and are able to blend alternative rock with old western-inspired country using slide guitars, great storytelling and minor keys. Watching these two bands expertly merge country and alt rock, it’s a wonder more bands from the ’90s didn’t take inspiration from the old country masters in their indie songwriting. That trend has caught on in modern indie musicians, but it’s safe to say that Cracker and Camper van Beethoven were pioneers of this indie country style.

“Berkeley to Bakersfield” and “El Camino Real” are available for sale on the bands’ respective websites, www.crackersoul.com and www.campervanbeethoven.com, where selected songs can also be streamed. Both websites also contain future dates for the bands’ current tour, so those who missed the incredible show at the Belly Up may be able to catch them elsewhere.

For upcoming shows at the Belly Up in January, check North Coast Current’s “Cool on the Coast” post for January at www.northcoastcurrent.com.

Layla Marino is a San Diego music and arts writer

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