Live Last Night: Camper Van Beethoven
Once you get past fretting about Camper Van Beethoven's place in rock history, the group quickly become an enjoyable, off-kilter garage band. Or competent eastern European punk-folkies. Or slightly annoying prog- rockers. Or, well . . . you get the idea. At the State Theatre last night, the members of the ever-irreverent quintet traipsed through their painstakingly eclectic catalog, emerging nearly two hours later with a surprisingly engaging show in their wake.
Surprising because they were ostensibly in Falls Church as part of a 25th anniversary celebration, a nostalgia trip. And though the charmingly ramshackle sound of the band's 1985-86 heyday is long gone, the songs themselves sounded startlingly relevant nearly three decades down the line. So, yeah, CVB played "Tina," "Cowboys From Hollywood," "Shut Us Down," "History of Utah," a spate of short, continent-hopping instrumentals such as "Vladivostock" and even that song about skinheads.
But David Lowery sang them not as a smart-aleck slacker from Santa Rosa, but as a polished rock vocalist (something he might've learned in his "other" band, Cracker). And Jonathan Segal's violin was full of fusion-jazz muscle, not the exotic, thin sawing of "Telephone Free Landslide Victory." As a result, few of the 30-plus songs sounded forced or dated, including trademark jokey-folkie versions of the Clash's "White Riot" and Black Flag's "Wasted." Even "Long Plastic Hallway," from the band's uneven 2004 effort "New Roman Times," made sense, tucked into a mid-tempo groove that suited 40-year-old men.
The resilience of the band's songs can't really be viewed through a reunion lens (after all, they didn't break up so much as just wander off), so the success of Thursday's show raises that sticky, unresolved issue: Where exactly does Camper Van Beethoven fit in rock history?
-- PATRICK FOSTER
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