Live Last Night: Camper Van Beethoven

Camper Van Beethoven's songs never sounded dated or forced. (Sana Olsson)

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?


By David Malitz |  January 9, 2009; 11:53 AM ET Live Last Night
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come on man, who cares about a bands place in history? no rock band is shakespeare no matter what david frick may think. my point is this:

I search the world over
for my angel in drag
I search the world over
for a Euro-trash Girl

that is a good song, my grandchildren might not think so, but i do, and that's going to have to be good enough.

Posted by: martbuchwald | January 9, 2009 3:05 PM

I dunno, seems pretty appropriate to me to view a band through an historical lens when the show being reviewed is billed (by that band) as a reunion gig. Sounds like maybe they've even gotten better during their wanderings...

Posted by: hydraseed | January 10, 2009 12:26 PM

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