Last night: Cracker at the Bluebird
September 2, 2009
Better than: Retracing the roots of modern alt-country through a flow chart.
When Cracker guitarist Johnny Hickman took choice solos on songs like "Lonesome Johnny Blues" and "Friends" on the Bluebird stage Wednesday night, the clear tones and resonant rings sounded like they were straight out of Nashville, like the would fit well on any vintage country album out of Tennessee. Combined with vocalist David Lowery's sardonic lyrics and scratchy vocal tones, not to mention his straightforward rhythm guitar, the band's sound is firmly and undeniably rooted in folk and country traditions. Sure, there's plenty of distorted, in-your-face alternative rock thrown into the mix, but the rural roots are undeniable.
This assessment isn't anything new. From the group's first albums -- 1992's Cracker and 1993's Kerosene Hat -- the sway of the country genre was clear. But watching the group in a live setting, more than ten years after hearing those early records, that simple fact became all the more striking. Specifically, the contemporary explosion of alt-country and folk-punk bands can easily find a parallel in group's work from the early '90s. The added perspective came from a comprehensive set. Cracker's hour-and-a-half performance pulled from the band's very first records, as well as its most recent efforts, and the breadth of the set list showed just how much the band's simple, folksy sound that imprimatur gained its characteristic voice in the early 1990s can be linked to countless current groups.
Sure, Cracker's sound followed a preset formula, but the band's skill in pulling it off made each tune sound novel and new. Unlike Motorhome, Lowery's scratch, sinuous lyrics seemed genuine and heartfelt; while Hickman's dense, country-informed solos kept up an alternating, interesting sound. It was an effect that made the group's well-known hits - songs like "Low," "Get Off This," "Euro Trash Girl" and "I Want Everything" - seem fresh and dynamic.
The reliably engaging, albeit basic, formula also made for quite a crowd pleaser. The almost capacity audience, which included enthusiastic fans of all ages, stayed engaged during the entire performance, pumping their fists in the air during key sections and singing along for popular choruses.
The deep impact of Cracker's signature sound, it seems, goes beyond contemporary alt-country bands that took cues from the group's early output. It's a combination of country roots, folk executions and punk attitudes that still stirs responses from a wide range of fans.
Personal Bias: I'm a bigger fan of the band's early work, so the songs from their first three album struck a particular chord with me.
Random Detail: Frontman David Lowery thanked the crowd for making the song "Turn On Tune In Drop Out With Me" the band's first single to appear on the Triple A Chart in years.
By the Way: Lowery sported a full beard, which gave him a more grizzled, grandfatherly aesthetic.
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