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Bottlerock Preview: Camper Van Beethoven

Bottlerock Preview: Camper Van Beethoven

Posted by: on May 28, 2014 | Comments (0)


Could there be a better act to play the uniquely Northern California festival BottleRock than Santa Cruz’s own Camper Van Beethoven, with their conjoined twin band Cracker in tow?
After all, Camper is the group that on their 2013 album La Costa Perdida delivered “Northern California Girls,” perhaps the ultimate NorCal anthem—meaning an anthem that’s way too laid back to actually be an anthem.
“Right, it takes seven minutes to get where it’s going,” admits David Lowery, the frontman for both Camper and Cracker. “The drums come in a little bit like three times before they finally kick in about three-and-a-half minutes into the song.”
Lowery had already written his share of great California songs for both Camper and Cracker over the years—most recently, “Where Have Those Days Gone”—in which he mistakes Good Times’ astrologer Rob Brezsny for Thomas Pynchon in a bar in Mendocino County—but also “Big Dipper,” “Miss Santa Cruz County,” “Come On Darkness” and more.
But with his latest cycle, he’s outdone himself. While La Costa Perdida was a NorCal-influenced album, the songs on Camper’s latest, El Camino Real (which comes out June 3), are all set in, or otherwise related to, SoCal.
“We wrote these songs at the same time, then thematically we broke off most of the Northern California ones for the last album, and then kind of took these songs that were Southern California, and built another album around them, by adding another five songs or something like that,” says Lowery. “There’s kind of this opus going now, this theme going. There’s also a Cracker album, which comes out next year. It’s a double disc—one is Berkeley, one is Bakersfield. One is the punk side of the band, one is the country side.”
So, basically, four albums worth of California songs. And it all started because of…Joan Didion?
“I think it started with me and Victor [Krummenacher] and Jonathan [Segel] reading a bunch of Joan Didion,” confirms Lowery. He can’t remember which collection of essays specifically sparked it, but it would almost have to be the first section of Slouching Toward Bethlehem, in which Didion rips to shreds the “golden dream” of the Inland Empire—where Lowery, his Camper bandmates Krummenacher and Segel, and Cracker co-founder Johnny Hickman all grew up.
“Those essays really captured the feel of it. It’s not really that flattering about the area, but that’s sort of what people from the Inland Empire are proud of,” says Lowery. “There was actually some sort of referendum on a theme for the Inland Empire, like ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ or how California is the Golden State. And we all wrote in: ‘We will kick your ass.’”
The most noticeable difference between the two Camper albums is the overall feel—La Costa Perdida is more easygoing and gentle, while El Camino Real is darker and more intense, with a deep streak of paranoia that runs through songs like “The Ultimate Solution,” “It Was Like That When We Got Here” and “I Live In L.A.” Clearly, Lowery has very different views on the two halves of the state.
“Yeah, but I like ’em both,” says Lowey.
At the BottleRock festival in Napa May 30-June 1, Lowery’s bands will join an eclectic mix of five dozen other acts across four stages, including the Cure, OutKast, Weezer, LL Cool J, Robert Earl Keen, TV on the Radio and Smash Mouth. Some of those musicians have been around longer than Camper, while others benefited from the college-radio-to-gold-records trail that CVB and Cracker blazed in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s very likely, however, that Camper is the only band on the schedule that has been reunited longer than they were originally together. After recording their first album in Santa Cruz in 1985, the band imploded on a European tour in 1990. But after reforming in the early 2000s, they’ve been back together now for over a decade. Part of the reason, Lowery says, is that they all agreed to do the band on a more part-time basis, or at least do fewer tours, which puts less pressure on them as a group. But maybe it’s even simpler than that.
“Jonathan says it’s just because we’re not in our twenties,” says Lowery. “And it’s kind of true.”
Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker play BottleRock Napa, which runs May 30-June 1 at the Napa Calley Expo, 575 Third St., Napa. Tickets are $149 for single-day passes, $279 for a three-day pass, at bottlerocknapavalley.com. 877-435-9849.
—Steve Palopoli

Jello Biafra Returns to Arlene Francis Center

Posted by: on Feb 27, 2014 | Comments (1)

We’re pretty stoked that after 3 years away, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine are coming back to Santa Rosa’s Arlene Francis Center, appearing April 4. In the last year, the punk icon/outspoken artist and his band released their second LP, White People and the Damage Done, and the former Dead Kennedys front man has been getting punks into mosh pits around the world, from Coachella Festival appearances to tours in Australia and Europe. Now, Biafra returns with the help of Pins of Light, We Are the Men, and local favorite Jack Attack in reportedly his final performance ever. Absolutely not to be missed, tickets for the April 4 all ages show go on sale March 1. $15.

100 Rock Riffs

Posted by: on Jul 6, 2012 | Comments (0)

My favorite music genre changes on a daily basis. When someone asks the seemingly simple question, “What kind of music do you like?” I find myself befuddled, and often reply with whatever I was last listening to, whether that was Wu-Tang, Stevie Nicks, Beethoven, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, John Cage or Orbital. I actually feel flustered trying to answer the question.

But Rock may have solidified its status as my fave with this video:

To be able to play all those riffs in one take it amazing, but what truly impresses me is the fact that I know every single one of those songs by hearing a couple seconds of one instrument playing them. Not every genre can claim that—try playing “name that tune” with dubstep. Rock is a truly unique modern style with its combination of catchiness and badassery.

Important PSA: The Wall Still Stands

Important PSA: The Wall Still Stands

Posted by: on May 12, 2012 | Comments (1)

Roger Waters performs The Wall, by Pink Floyd, at AT&T Park May 11, 2012.

Walking at a hurried pace along Herb Caen Way (I prefer this name over The Embarcadero), it was evident we were walking to a concert. An unusually large cluster of people walked under the Bay Bridge, mixed fashions and eras brought together under a wispy net of marijuana smoke (on the street!). The final clue was a salesman four blocks from the venue with bootleg tour shirts: Roger Waters, The Wall 2012.

In line at the ballpark at 3rd and King Streets last night, one of the first people to approach us was a man in his late 30s asking to buy a cigarette. “You can just have one, man,” said Clint as he reached for a smoke. “We don’t smoke – we quit,” the man replied hastily. He was doing something naughty because this was a party, a Pink Floyd concert. Is ever there were a time to break the rules, it was tonight.

It’s cute when adults in button down shirts and V-neck sweaters break the rules. My cohorts were young enough to make me feel like that adult, so I wisely chose a T-shirt and jeans for the evening.

We were offered pot several times, and it seemed almost like it was legal. The McGyver smokers did everything they could to avoid detection: roll a joint, hollow out a cigarette, refill it and tear off the filter, cigarette-esque smoking devices, edibles. A usual assortment or sneekery seemed unnecessary, but the adults were having fun, and half the fun is trying not to get caught.

The show started late, despite the “8:15 prompt” time on the ticket. It’s tough to start the show when only half the seats are filled, and $9 beers don’t sell themselves. We were seated for about 10 minutes when the lights went dark and a plane literally flew in over the first base side of the park and crashed into the wall on the stage in the outfield. The 5.1 surround sound made this epic, and I can only imagine what the really naughty adults were going through hearing this plane flying around their heads.

The wall on either side of the musicians was a video projection wall, with images and live camera shots of Roger Waters for us in the cheap seats to see. The effects were awesome, as expected. The mood was heavy, with names and pictures of soldiers killed in the current wars were put up on the wall and the big circular screen above the stage.

The sound wasn’t really dialed in until the second half, when the bass was turned up to match the screaming guitar and vocals. That would have been nice to hear before “Another Brick in the Wall,” with Waters slappin’ da bass. The drums sounded amazing the whole time, though it wasn’t Nick Mason playing them. The show really was Roger Waters plays The Wall, with a really good Pink Floyd cover band backing him.

Waters was self-admittedly narcissistic in his performance. At one point, he played along to himself, harmonizing with Roger Waters from 30 years ago superimposed on the screen behind him. He used the word “narcissistic,” and was totally cool with it because, you know what? He’s Roger Fucking Waters. That’s why.

The wall was literally built up, piece by piece, blocking out the band behind it by the end of the first half. After intermission and a 30-minute bathroom line, Comfortably Numb blew me away. The screaming guitar solo from the top of The Wall, with Waters at the bottom harmonizing on vocals and running the length of the stage under the spotlight. This was the apex of the show, a good way to start the second half after, presumably, many fans reloaded their, ahem, psychedelic infusions.

“Dirty Woman” was really, really dirty. Projections of topless women dancing on The Wall were really hot, and that’s a really hot song even without visuals. Luckily there weren’t too many youngsters in the crowd.

The inflatable capitalist pig, which would have been an Occupier’s wet dream to see in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, was dragged through the lawn crowd, partially popped by enthusiastic revelers, and “danced” in the air with a wounded leg for the second half of the show.

At the end, The Wall was toppled, bricks of the projection screen falling forward onto the stage amid screams and chants of “Tear Down The Wall!” Waters and the band returned for a curtain call and well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd at AT&T Park.

The show was as relevant as ever, I can only imagine what it would have been like to see it 30 years ago. It’s good to know a younger generation still feels the same fire and skepticism Pink Floyd was warning us about from across the pond when my parents were my age. Hopefully the message will live on even beyond the band.


Sorry about the poor audio.

Trebuchet: Your New Favorite Band

Trebuchet: Your New Favorite Band

Posted by: on May 11, 2012 | Comments (0)

Trebuchet plays album release show at the Bottom of the Hill

From the first inhale of Trebuchet’s self-titled debut record, I’m hooked. The ukulele like lapping waves of a tropical shore; the surf lead guitar the birds lazily riding the swells. A breath—giving pause, the moment that will make or break the entire album. Sweet voices coalesce in harmonic bliss, one as strong as the next, none overshadowing another. The wave does not crash, it pushes onto the shore, allowing warm salt water to kiss my toes and leave me wanting more.

The six-song, vinyl-only release (it’s also available digitally) was christened with a show at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill last night, with friends and family accompanying on stage and in the audience. Whether by blood or by feeling, all four bands playing on the evening’s bill were related, and the feeling in the audience was that of an unexpected family reunion.

Survival Guide opened the show, who I unfortunately arrived too late to see. You Are Plural introduced a new twist to the duo of Wurlitzer and cello: drums. The percussion filled in some spaces, but since most songs were written without drums, it felt forced at times. But the harmonies and interesting time signatures kept the set flowing and piqued interest throughout the set. The New Trust brought a powerful rock sound to the stage next, Josh Staples’ thundering bass lines commanding attention from even the smoking crowd in the atrium.

I was lucky to see Trebuchet’s first-ever performance, at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa, last year. The band impressed the hell out of everyone that night, in part because three of the four members are known for intense, instrumental post rock in the band Not To Reason Why. This was as far from the expected as possible while still loosely relatable to the same genre.

Last night, Trebuchet sounded polished, like a beautiful piece of obsidian after hundreds of years in a river bed. That igneous black rock born of violent eruptions from the Earth’s core, sharpened and used as arrowheads and spear tips, left alone under running water matures into a polished, beautiful stone. I walk toward the sea, wading in up to my hips. The warmth and gentle swaying covers the impending danger of being too far from shore, too far from home. This is the best kind of escape.

Band: Trebuchet

Album: Trebuchet

Style: Relaxed, Americana instrumentation, four-part vocal harmonies, extremely musical songs, listenable without being boring, beautiful, interesting without being obscure

Comparisons: Sufjan Stevens, Decemberists, what other Portland bands wish they could sound like

Rating: 4.5/5 (Just because the record is only six songs!)

Trebuchet’s debut record is available at www.trebuchetmusic.com.