Pairing one of today’s most gifted jazz guitarists (Anthony Pirog) with one of rock ‘n’ roll’s fiercest rhythm sections (Brendan Canty and Joe Lally) was always going to be a recipe for success, but on their sophomore LP Anthropocosmic Nest, Washington, D.C.’s The Messthetics are blowing past the old goals and delivering one of the most raucous and satisfying releases of the year. Wildly inventive with surprises awaiting the listener at every turn, Nest is an ecstatic proclamation of skronk-and-circumstance that says not only are The Messthetics BACK, but they’re here to stay!
Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker may both be fronted by David Lowery, but by design they’ve never sounded alike. CVB is considerably more experimental; any of their albums is just as likely to contain an extended Middle Eastern belly dancing number as it is a rock song. Cracker, on the other hand, has always been about straight up rock and roll, sometimes with a southern bent, other times with an alt-country twang.
In fact the bands’ sounds are so different it almost doesn’t make sense that they play together, save for the obvious benefit of having the same singer/guitarist. Last week’s show at the State Theater was a tale of two audiences; the audience that grew up listening to Camper Van Beethoven on college radio and enjoying their outsider status (many of whom left after CVB’s set), and another that was there for Cracker’s country rock. The dichotomy is clear; Camper Van Beethoven was occasionally featured on MTV’s alternative rock showcase 120 Minutes; Cracker was on the Clueless soundtrack. It was oddly like watching Guided By Voices open for Jimmy Buffet; something fun and experimental followed by something almost totally predictable.
David Lowery has spent more time in the news as a tireless advocate for artists' rights lately, but it will be a trip down memory lane on Thursday as both his former bands pull into the State Theater.
Lowery got his start in Camper Van Beethoven, which formed in Redlands, California in 1983. A wonderfully eclectic amalgamation of ska, folk, and Hawaiian influences gathered fans of all punk and pop alike. Their debut album yielded the fantastic single "Take the Skinheads Bowling" (which grew to greater prominence when it was featured in the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine) and a playful, countrified cover of Black Flag's "Wasted." They received bigger attention from college radio with their major label debut, 1988's Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart; the leadoff single, "Eye of Fatima Pt. 1" was played repeatedly on MTV's "120 Minutes." It was their next album, 1989's Key Lime Pie, that really drove them into the limelight. Eschewing some of the overt humor of earlier records, Key Lime Pie was an Americana record that predated the current Americana craze by 25 years. While everyone remembers CVB's wonderful cover of "Pictures of Matchstick Men," it was songs like "Sweethearts" and "When I Win the Lottery" that made the album great. Since then, the band has only released two albums, 2004's New Roman Times, and La Costa Perdida, which was released in January. The latest record show that the band is still able to create wonderful melodies and innovative sounds, and it's a rare treat to see them live.
During the CVB hiatus, Lowery formed Cracker, a band which enjoyed more mainstream success out of the gate than CVB did in their long and illustrious existence. Their self-titled 1991 album made waves because of its leadoff single "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now), but their follow-up, Kerosene Hat, blew up because of infectious songs like "Low," "Get Off This," and "Euro-Trash Girl." Amazingly the band has released 10 albums, all of which provide a solid pop answer to Camper Van Beethoven's more worldly sounds.
Adding to this already impressive discography is Lowery's underrated 2011 solo album The Palace Guards ("solo" being something of a misnomer as members of both his bands appear on the record). A more subtle record than anything by CVB or Cracker, it features the flashes of humorous lyrical brilliance that Lowery has shown throughout his career.
With Lowery followed by Lowery on Thursday night, the State is the place to be Thursday night.
Sometimes a band name doesn’t attempt to be funny, even though it ends up that way. Take Charlottesville’s Sons of Bill, for example. Three of the five members are, in fact, the sons of a guy named Bill. Through three albums and one EP (as well as a new 7” released for last month’s Record Store Day) Sons of Bill have ripped high quality, high energy Son Volt-esque alt-country. Last year’s Sirens, produced by Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven guru David Lowery (who adds his own fantastic drawl here and there), was a glorious amalgamation of old school outlaw country and southern rock but with notable added depth. In short, if there were a band that summed up the intellectual/southern/hippy feel of Charlottesville, Sons of Bill are probably it. They rarely stray outside their comfort zone, but that’s a good thing – any odd asides in the midst of the wonderful Americana they’ve mastered would seem forced.
They’re an amazing live band, honing their talents during a seemingly relentless touring schedule. All five members are extremely talented, and their extended live jams are the stuff of legend. The brothers’ familiarity continually shows as they trade riffs and solos. And the band always seems to kick it up a few notches higher when playing in their home state, so tonight’s show at the State Theater should be a damn good one.
Central Virginia is well represented tonight as the Dericks – also from Charlottesville – will open the show. The Dericks have a more pure country sound and some damn good melodies (think of early Whiskeytown). It’ll be a night of music that will make you want to fire up the barbecue and let summer roll in.