"Live X May Day" w/ Seether, Flyleaf, Theory of a Deadman, Hurt, Red, Souls Harbor
Sun. May 4
Exchange Park Fairgrounds, Ladson
9850 Hwy. 78
Singer-guitarist David Lowery has joyfully explored different pop and rock music sounds with his band Cracker since 1991 — just a year after Lowery's California-based college radio rascals Camper Van Beethoven called it a day. With a string of major alternative radio hits — including "Low," "Eurotrash Girl," and "Get Off This" (all from the 1993 album Kerosene Hat) — Cracker still packs a punch in the club circuit and elsewhere.
This Sunday, Lowery and his current lineup co-headline the massive Live X May Day concert at the Exchange Park Fairgrounds — an event organized in great part by local rock station 98X. The second annual Live X May Day features loud rockin' stuff from Seether, Flyleaf, Theory of a Deadman, Hurt, Red, and local band Souls Harbor — all of whom fit into a more "nü-rock" category than Lowery's veteran alt-rock act. Will Cracker be a positive stand-out act among the heavier-styled bands? No one in Cracker's camp is concerned about it, one way or the other.
"We got invited to do a show at KUFO in Portland, Oregon," says Lowery, speaking by phone last week from his home in Richmond, Va. "That was kind of the same thing [they played Incubus, Chevelle, and Saliva at that event last August]. With us being sort of the recurrent band — or 'gold band,' as they call it in radio when they refer to classic alternative, basically — and it worked out just fine. In fact, I think we got some of the best crowd response ever [laughs]. We leaned toward the harder and faster stuff, and it worked. We do something a little different, but we can definitely hold our own with these young whippersnappers."
Cracker's lineup consistently features cofounder John Hickman on guitars and vocals. This week's tour includes veteran Cracker collaborators Kenny Margolis on keys, accordion, and percussion; Frank Funaro on drums; and Sal "Black Sal" Maida on bass. Victor Krummenacher, of Camper Van Beethoven, regularly joins the rotation of bass players, too.
"Frank and Sal have a real strong experience and history in the early days of punk rock and New Wave," says Lowery. "Sal's work with Roxy Music, Sparks, and some other glam/New Wave kind of stuff is pretty important. And Frank worked with Del Lords, The Dictators, Johnny Ramone, and others too."
In 2006, Cracker released its most recent studio collection Greenland on the Cooking Vinyl label. Propelled by Lowery's sharply witty lyrics, unusual namedropping, nasally singing style, and ringing guitar work, Greenland was an impressive follow-up to the previous discs Garage D'Or and Forever.
"We're all kind of drawing on this kind of classic punk/alternative rock I think," Lowery says. "That's the impetus for this recent record. We've always had it. There's lots of punk rock in what we do. We're not so different from X or other bands in that classic roots side of it."
Leading up the Greenland sessions, Lowery overcame several dark years of "personal trials and music industry woes," and emerged with his charm and confidence intact.
"I think it's going to hold up and be seen as one of our classic records," the frontman says of Greenland. "In this country, it kinda wasn't distributed as well as we were in a lot of the rest of the world. There was some pretty remarkable stuff said about it by some of the big, international reviewers over in Europe, and all over the world. I hope it gets its due over the years. There are a lot of different things on that album. Some of it's kind of Who-like and cock-rock, and some it's more updated. It's like we were a pan-rock band at the time. With some of our records, it wasn't until much later when they started to get acclaim, so maybe this one will, too."
While many major rock labels tend to hire expensive producers to replicate the homogenized modern rock sound that hit the charts the year before, (perpetuating the cycle), smaller, more independent labels allow their artists a bit more freedom in the studio — despite what they hope to market.
"One of the things major labels do that's bad right now is they'll often limit a band to a really specific fan," Lowery says. "It's really a sort of a sub-sub-genre of rock that only has one sound. It's easy to market a band when it only has one sound. Whereas, with Cracker, it's not so easy for record labels to market, you know?"
Noticeably, Cracker's material barely resembles the heavily-processed and distorted riffs, and head-banging shenanigans featured on most modern heavy-rock radio play lists. That's fine with the band.
"Some of it is oddly orchestrated or weird, but that's as close as we get to [the modern metal styles]," says Lowery. "But that is sort of our strength when we play in these situations."
Cracker hasn't been in the poppy "Low" territory for several records. The band went on some other tangents, playing slower and moodier stuff here, and earthier and more roots-based stuff there. Things could be cycling back around, though. Lowery, Hickman, and the core Cracker rhythm section are already working on new material in the studios.
"We're just beginning to work on it right now," Lowery says. "And I have high hopes for it."