Concert Review: Cracker at The Cubby Bear, 4/3/15

Last Friday I finally got to see a band I have been listening to for twenty years, Cracker, at the Cubby Bear in Chicago.

I have finally hit that point in my life where I've stopped saying "next time" as far as concerts go.

Why not go see Cracker in a small club with great sound? Who knows how long it will be until they come around again.

My starting point with the band was the some as most people from Generation X or Y, the 1993 smash hit "Low." That song hit a sweet spot in the alternative rock landscape post- Nirvana. Self-loathing lyrics, loud guitars and an ear-tickling melody buried underneath the noise.

However, most of these so-called "one-hit wonders" had actually been grinding in the underground for years if not decades before their first taste of platinum.

David Lowery, the hulking, blonde focal point of Cracker had actually been touring and recording with the indie-darlings Camper Van Beethoven for years, even getting courted by the major labels in the late 80's. After two albums for Virgin, and a buzz-creating single (a cover of "Pictures Of Matchstick Men" by Status Quo) CVB imploded due to in-fighting.

The 90's signaled a new beginning for Lowery, hooking up with CVB super-fan Johnny Hickman and trimming down the out the quirkiness of the previous band and turning the guitars way up for their new project, a band called Cracker.

Friday night Hickman and Lowery were the only original members of the band, but the chemistry between everyone was certainly palpable. The guys were backed by a pedal-steel player, a bassist, a keyboardist/cowbell knocker and a drummer for a rousing 90 minute set.

They are supporting their awesome new double album "Berkeley To Bakersfield" an album playing up the duality of their sound.

Both old-school country rock and rollicking alternative rock are key elements to the band's sound, so of course on this tour they made sure to play up both flavors.

The guys opened with a three-song salute to their Bakersfield country roots with "King Of Bakersfield" conjuring 70's Willie Nelson with a drunken sing along. You could almost feel like there ought to be a chicken wire screen in front of the band like all good old-school honky-tonk bands. Then, without a seconds notice, the opening riff to "Low" chimed out and the crowd went wild.

I feel like the hit songs of the 1990's are more universal to the hit songs of today simply for the fact of the difference in distribution outlets. In 1993 a band had MTV, a list of radio stations and maybe the Tonight Show to get a song out across the country.

In 2015, there are literally hundreds, maybe thousands of ways to get your song heard, albeit to a way more segmented and smaller group of listeners. So when the guys went into "Low" everybody was singing along.

The following track "Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now)" was another big song for Cracker signaling a new era for the 90s. Album track "One Fine Day" absolutely blew my mind, beginning with a humble Tom Petty-sounding riff but slowly developing into a barn-burning anthem full of soaring guitar solos. A cool, unexpected highlight of the night was the Kerosene Hat album cut "Sweet Potato" and how the Johnny Hickman funky-guitar outro slyly segued right into the opening riff for "This Is Cracker Soul" with ease. You can tell this is a well-worn, experienced group of touring musicians.

Overall, I was highly impressed by the set. Afterwords I met Johnny Hickman and got the set-list. Cracker is a band that simply needs to be seen. Highly recommended by Empty Lighthouse.

For more on Cracker: http://crackersoul.com

Photo Credit: Andy Derer