Cracker + Camper Van Beethoven + Mahayla: 05.18.2011

I left Tipitina’s on May 19th both inspired by discoveries I made and lamenting the fact that I hadn’t made them until now. The bill, a stacked yet aberrant group of musicians including seminal New Orleans alternative rock band Mahayla and the David Lowery-fronted acts Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, had me wondering: would these acts – out of the spotlight for some time (and in the case of Mahayla and Camper, it’s arguable whether they were ever in it) – come off like alt rock burnouts aping old school arena rock clichés to a cult crowd of diehard fans that’ll eat it out of the palm of their hands? Not even remotely.

I am all too keenly aware of the oh-so-subtle distinction between 90s alternative rock and alternative rock that simply existed in the 90s, so considering the era that encapsulated these bands most prolific periods of output (the late 1980s and early 1990s), it remained an unlikely, yet entirely possible scenario. Luckily, even with a band like Mahayla – greatly informed by the aforementioned eras – that wasn’t the case. As the New Orleans group, featuring Big Blue Marble members David Fera, Paul Chell and Ike Aguilar, soared through song after song of unpretentious, high-intensity roots rock that was at points simultaneously poppier and more rock-heavy than BBM, I found myself asking, “Where has this band been?!”

Camper Van Beethoven, on the other hand, is a name that has been seared in my memory since the day I read the liner notes of Sublime Acoustic: Bradley Nowell and Friends and discovered“Eye of Fatima” was actually a Camper cover. CVB’s run-through of their pinnacle album Key Lime Pie was a seminar in verbal emotion and instrumental restraint. However, it was with the subtle country western augmentations of lead guitarist Greg Lisher and on-off pedal steelist David “Immy” Immergluck, beginning with “When I Win the Lottery” and continuing all the way through “Flowers”, that the band began to paint itself as a little-known monolith of modern alternative an indie rock: a band who’s every piece has become the stylistic foundation on which every forward-thinking sub-genre – from College Rock to No Depression – has placed its feet before bending and altering it in favor of things as varied as noisy dissonance and sinewy, orchestral strings. The fact that I have spent the better part of the last two decades not listening to Camper Van Beethoven may be the only thing that amazed me as much as the performance itself.

The on-stage lineup largely remained the same for Cracker, who treated fans to a larger-than-life performance of their famous Kerosene Hat. After kicking things off with “Low” (which happens to be both the album-opener and likely Cracker’s most well known song), Lowery shifted seamlessly from shoe-gazing alt-country conductor to gruff, ornery alternative rock crooner. Though maybe not as personally universe-shattering as Camper, Cracker certainly brought the energy of a band one-third their age, with tracks like “Sweet Potato” making for the perfect night of nostalgic thrills for the packed barroom of genuine die hard fans.

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