Cracker goes from ‘Berkeley’ … to Belly Up
If You Go…
What: An Evening with Cracker
When: Sunday, June 5, 9:30 p.m.
How much: $12/advance; $15/day of
Tickets: Belly Up box office; www.bellyupaspen.com
Over the past quarter century, the band Cracker has oscillated comfortably between country-folk and harder-edged rock. On the band’s most recent album, the double disc “Berkeley to Bakersfield,” its members decided to split those two creative impulses into separate discs, linked in one project with a geographic theme.
The band was shooting a documentary in 2014, which reunited frontman David Lowery with Cracker’s original members. At the time, he had already been recording a “Bakersfield sound” country and Americana album with the band’s newer lineup. But the original cast — Davey Faragher, Michael Urbano, Johnny Hickman and Lowery — decided to write some songs together for the first time in nearly 20 years.
They decamped to Urbano’s studio in Berkeley, California, for a few days to write and record their “Berkeley” songs, which came out sounding like garage punk. “It was fortunate that we started the ‘Berkeley’ disc in the middle of it,” Lowery told The Aspen Times last year. “It gave the project two poles and we were able to work between the two. It gave structure to the whole project.”
Their time recording in Berkeley turned out to be a period of unrest in the Bay Area that included the Google bus protests and demonstrations on economic inequality. That environment and the political history of Berkeley — from the ’60s hippie era through its ’80s punk heyday — made its way into the new songs.
“All of this stuff was going on, so it made sense that the music from Berkeley should have a political protest edge to it and should contrast Bakersfield,” Lowery said.
The result, on the album, is a disc of California country and another devoted to more aggressive rock.
Among the stand-out songs on the Berkeley portion is the punky haves and have-nots anthem, “March of the Billionaires,” which proved to be a crowd-pleaser at the band’s most recent local show, at the base of Aspen Mountain in February of last year. That concert pulled songs from the new album and Cracker’s older songs and featured a six-man lineup including piano and pedal steel players.
Cracker’s biggest hits from the 1990s — “Low” “Euro-Trash Girl” and “Get Off This” among them — have endured through radio play and managed to stay a part of the evolving pop-culture landscape of the past two decades. Lowery credited that longevity to the band’s approach early on, which aimed not to conform to trends of the time. Lowery formed Cracker after his time with Camper Van Beethoven, a college rock band of the 1980s. With Cracker, he and his bandmates wanted to do something more timeless.
“We wanted to be an update on the classic sort of country- and blues-based rock bands of the ’70s and ’60s,” he said. “We saw ourselves as a modern day classic rock band from the beginning. We lucked out in getting on the alt-rock charts when grunge was really big, but the fact that the band’s songs are still played on the radio 20 years later, I think, speaks to the fact that the music wasn’t really stuck in any one period.”
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