There are many bands that pass by in our lives, unnoticed and under rated. It’s a small plight to be left in the dark, but once you hear that tune, your mind is undoubtedly blown. I recently visited The Grey Eagle for a frosty evening of music by Camper Van Beethoven. I’d heard of the interesting name and that members of the group, Moe. were influenced heavily by the guys in Camper. This was enough to leave the comfort of my warm house that night of January 25th.
Camper Van Beethoven’s history begins in the mid-80s in Santa Cruz, California when David Lowery and Victor Krummenacher formed the band and released 3 albums, until they disbanded in Sweden, in 1990. Lowery formed Cracker with longtime friend from Redlands, CA, Johnny Hickman; the band’s success has overlapped in recent years with Camper and the two often tour on the same bill. Krummenacher and Lisher formed Monks of Doom in the early 90’s and Krummenacher later began a solo career, recording several albums with guests like Dave Alvin. Segel played with Dieselhead, Sparklehorse and fronted his own bands Hieronymus, Firebrain and Jack & Jill, later playing under his own name. Until they began discussing a potential new project (Eight years is way too long a gap), it was a serendipitous concert rain out in Big Sur that led them to gather in the living room at the Oakland home of Segel and start writing together. When in 2004 they wrote “Camper Vantiquities”. Camper got an odd offer to play a few shows in an outdoor setting of the Henry Miller Library, in June 2011. Which led to the newest album, “La Costa Perdida”.
The members of Camper look like your ordinary alternative rock band but what comes out of their speakers is a mesmerizing mix of eclectic and ever-evolving styles like pop, ska, punk rock, folk, alternative country, as well as various types of world music. Unlike any other band, these guys are able to converge all genre’s splendidly. At first listen I deemed their sound as “early 90’s grunge with a fiddle.” However, as the night kept rolling, I heard their country roots. It’s a backwoods, raw, party sound that keeps you interested and intrigued. They are on tour now, pushing their newest album, “La Costa Perdida”. True to the freewheeling, joyfully schizophrenic swirl of music that has defined the Camper Van Beethoven aesthetic since the enduring lineup took shape circa mid-80s, each member of the band has a different spin on how they started working on the songs that developed into La Costa Perdida, their debut on 429 Records and first recording since New Roman Times in 2004.
The one thing they can agree on is the fact that, whether by design or not, the set of nine vocals and a single instrumental shapes up as their California roots rock project. It’s every bit a celebration of Northern California (where the founding members, including Lowery and bassist Victor Krummenacher, first became musically active as students at UC Santa Cruz), anchored by their distinctive, eclectic sound and the visionary lyrics of frontman/founder David Lowery. Their latest release has everything they’ve grown to be known. Beautiful opening harmonies, as well as sweet violin, guitar, mandolin and organ sounds. All of this adds to the frolicsome mystique that’s been a band trademark since their debut album Telephone Free Landslide Victory, which featured their first successful single “Take The Skinheads Bowling.”
Camper Van Beethoven paints its musical map of Northern California portrait with a lot of different hues and textures, starting with the bluesy-rootsy Americana flavored coating. Basically, Camper doesn’t leave anything out. With ethereal vocals, booming drums, scorching distorted guitars, a soaring exotic violin, trippy ambience and psychedelic spontaneity, you’re sure to enjoy anything this band produces.
They are currently on tour and you can check out their website at www.campervanbeethoven.com