The story behind the genesis of the alternative rock act Cracker goes a little like this. After beloved indie rockers Camper van Beethoven broke up in the late ’80s, singer-guitarist David Lowery approached childhood friend Johnny Hickman about starting a new band.
The duo began writing songs together and even played a few shows as the David Lowery Group before officially forming Cracker some 25 years ago. The guys set out to make “a good roots rock album,” as Lowery once put it in an interview, during the height of grunge.
When the band’s self-titled debut came out in 1992, it defied all odds and became a hit.
Cracker hasn’t stopped defying the odds. Last night, it came through town on a tour celebrating its 25th anniversary. The band cranked up the volume for the show at the Music Box Supper Club
, delivering close to 20 songs from its catalog with a little extra enthusiasm.
“We’re apparently the Music Box house band,” said Lowery at the start of the nearly two-hour concert. “We’re here every Sunday.” In fact, the band hasn’t played the venue since the start of the year, when it performed there on a tour that featured both Cracker and Camper van Beethoven. But it did mark the band’s second show at the club this year, and Lowery’s joke went over well with the near-capacity crowd.
The band began the set with the plodding “One Fine Day,” a tune that featured a brilliantly brittle guitar solo courtesy of Hickman. Matt "Pistol" Stoessel’s steel guitar riffs nicely complemented the tune as well, and the jam that came at its end had all the surliness of early Neil Young and Crazy Horse. A bit of old school organ effectively turned “One More Chance” into a compelling dirge and the extended intro to “Euro-Trash Girl” made the live rendition of the tune sound more epic than its studio version. “You guys are on fire,” said Lowery as he turned to his bandmates. He truly appeared to be taken aback by how much energy his band displayed on the first few opening numbers.
With its piano flourishes, “Movie Star” had a Jerry Lee Lewis-feel to it, and the rousing “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now” went over well with the crowd. The band delivered the twangy “Almond Grove” as if it were a Byrds tune and then turned “Another Song About the Rain,” a tune that Hickman sang, into an epic “Freebird”-like jam.
Some shimmering slide guitar amplified “Low,” and the band played “Miss Santa Cruz County” as a courtesy to the fan who asked that the band play it. “The request didn’t make any sense, so we decided to do it,” said Lowery.
The set concluded with “See the Light,” a swaggering Allman Bros.-like ballad, and the band returned for a two-song encore that included the wistful “Where Have Those Days Gone” and a noisy rendition of “Wedding Day,” another tune that featured Hickman on vocals.
Twenty-five years on, these roots rock weirdoes have never sounded better. Here’s to hoping the Music Box keeps them in regular rotation.