When Camper Van Beethoven appeared out of Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1985, they sounded unlike any other contemporary band. They had a violin player, which was incredibly rare at the time, and put him in the front of the mix. But more importantly, they introduced world music to a generation of alterna-kids raised on punk rock and new wave. CVB, who described themselves at the time as "absurdist surrealist folk," played an electrifying and unique blend of folk rock, pop, and ska that easily accepted sounds not normally heard in the United States, let alone by a rock band.
And unlike most bands with the ambition to skate outside the normal parameters of rock music, they didn't take themselves too seriously. Their debut album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory (1985, I.R.S.), contained songs like "Where the Hell Is Bill?," "The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon," and probably their best known song to this day, "Take the Skinheads Bowling." Yes, the songs were silly, but they also were just too damn good to be written off as jokes.
As the years went by, Camper got a little bit more serious. The lyrics were still clever and funny, but they were couched in ever more meaningful contexts. Compare "Some people say that bowling alleys got big lanes" with "Life Is Grand" from their 1988 masterpiece Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (Virgin): "And life is grand / And I will say this at the risk of falling from favor / with those of you who have appointed yourselves / to expect us to say something darker / And love is real / And though I realize this is not a deep observation / to those of you who find it necessary / to conceal love or obscure it, as is the fashion." The pranksters had morphed into romantics.
The usual "internal tensions" eventually broke up the band in 1990 and Camper's frontman, David Lowery, formed a new, more straightforward rock band: Cracker, who were a hit right out of the gate. (They played what I'm guessing was one of their first shows at Club Congress—they were called the David Lowery Band at that point.) The group's 1992 self-titled debut (Virgin) contained the minor hit "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)" and the following year "Low" was an even bigger hit.
In 2002, with Cracker as a continuing entity, Camper Van Beethoven reunited, playing their first shows in a dozen years. That same year they also released what has to be one of the oddest reunion albums ever released: a song-by-song take on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. Since then they've released two fine albums of original material, 2004's New Roman Times (Vanguard) and this year's La Costa Perdida (429).
For the last several years, for the most part, the two bands have toured together, with Lowery pulling double duty. And that will be the setup when Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven return to Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., for a 7:30 p.m. show on Tuesday, July 23. Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 on the day of show. For more information call 622-8848 or head to hotelcongress.com/club.
MIXING IT UP
In a testament to the diversity of its bookings, the Rialto Theatre will play host to three shows this week that couldn't be more different from each other.
Singers/guitarists Barry Flanagan and Keli'i Kaneali'I comprise Hapa, which has become one of the most popular purveyors of Hawaiian music in the world and for good reason. The pair complements each other terrifically, both in their guitar playing styles and their gorgeous harmonies.
Hapa will be at the Rialto on Sunday, July 21. The show starts at 8 p.m. with an opening set by Hula Ma Ka Pu'uwai. Tickets are $30 and $35.
The following night will feature a reggae show co-headlined by J Boog and Katchafire. Ironically, J Boog has spent time in Hawaii, too (and in fact may still live there), but instead of traditional Hawaiian music, he performs a hybrid of R&B and reggae. Katchafire, meanwhile, are a true oddity: a positive roots reggae band from ... wait for it ... New Zealand? Yes, New Zealand.
J Boog and Katchafire perform at the Rialto Theatre on Monday, July 22. Aaradhna and Hot Rain open the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 on the day of show.
Let's face it: Rancid are basically a Clash ripoff band. They play ska-infused punk, and their lyrics dwell on the sociopolitical side of the street. They're beyond derivative. For these reasons, any self-respecting Clash fan (myself included) should hate them. But I can't. Their songs are just too damn good to deny. File this one under guilty pleasures.
Rancid perform with Transplants (see this week's Rhythm and Views), The Interrupters, and Bricktop at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23. Tickets are $27 in advance, $29 the day of show.
The Rialto Theatre is located at 318 E. Congress St. All of the above shows are open to all ages. For more information call 740-1000 or check out rialtotheatre.com.
Although he's best known for fronting the mighty Supersuckers (or, for those of a certain age, a member of Thai Pink), Tucson native Eddie Spaghetti released his fourth solo album, The Value of Nothing, last month. After putting out a pair of albums on the 'Suckers Mid-Fi Recordings imprint, the most recent two were released by Chicago alt-country label Bloodshot Records. It's a fitting home for Spaghetti, whose solo albums are country- and country rock-leaning affairs, as compared to the balls-out rawk of the Supersuckers. The Supersuckers' first album was a compilation called The Songs All Sound the Same, which, in those days, they sort of did. But they were also consistently a hoot, a semi-ironic celebration of vices in all their many forms set to a brand of punk that paid homage to early rock 'n' roll. On his solo albums, Spaghetti has, in the past, paid homage to his country heroes by covering their songs, even as his original songs have maintained his ass-kicker persona. The Value of Nothing eschews cover songs entirely, instead containing 10 raucous songs with titles like "If Anyone's Got the Balls" and "People Are Shit." The punk attitude is still there, even if the music has morphed into outlaw country.
Eddie Spaghetti performs a free show on the Hotel Congress Plaza, 311 E. Congress St., on Friday, July 19. Rich Hopkins opens at 8 p.m. Head to hotelcongress.com/club or call 622-8848 for more info.
Although his name might not ring the bells of his contemporaries, keyboardist Ian McLagan is rock royalty. He was a member of the Small Faces and, later, the Faces—both fantastic British rock bands which never quite got their due in this country. After the Faces broke up in 1975 (their singer, Rod Stewart, went on to a healthy solo career—perhaps you've heard of him), McLagan began a career as both a live and session keyboardist for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen, while fronting his own blues-rock band, the Bump Band, in his adopted home of Austin, Texas.
Ian McLagan performs at 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 21, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 on the day of the show. Call 622-8848 for further details.
The Pangs, a local all-star jokey cover band that has played sporadic shows for the last decade or so, will play their last show on Saturday, July 20, at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St. The band's singer, Jericho Davidson—a drummer for several bands over the years including Chango Malo and, for the last couple years, a member of Tucson's fledgling stand-up comedy scene—is moving out of town soon, but playing one last show before he does, and you can bet shit's gonna get sloppy. The show starts at 9 p.m. and will also feature performances by HAIRSPRAYFIREANDGIRLS, Big Meridox, and Kid Puto. Admission is a fiver, and you can check out plushtucson.com or call 798-1298 for more info.
Best of luck, Jericho! Tucson's going to miss you, punk.
ON THE BANDWAGON
As usual, there are plenty of shows we didn't get to, so be sure to check out our listings sections. In the meantime, a few highlights: California Wives and My Gold Mask at Plush on Wednesday, July 24; Mr. Elevator and the Brain Hotel and Freezing Hands at Tucson Live Music Space next Thursday, July 25; Silver Snakes, A Perception, Sleep Like Trees, and Wallpaper Prison at Tiny Town on Monday, July 22; Chronicles presents Heatwave (local rap showcase) at Club Congress on Wednesday, July 24; Am.Are.Is, New York Rifles, and Harlette at Plush on Tuesday, July 23; Sky Island Alliance benefit featuring Bajo Turbato at Sky Bar next Thursday, July 25.