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Camper Van Beethoven @House of Blues/SSMF 6/26/08

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Camper Van Beethoven/Photo by "Friends of Camper Van Beethoven" via their website

By Roger Park

This June marks the 25th anniversary of one the most unique bands still rocking the sonic cosmos: Camper Van Beethoven. On Thursday, Camper Van Beethoven performed at the House of Blues in Hollywood as part of the Sunset Strip Music Festival (SSMF). On the same bill that night was Soul Asylum and Everclear.

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Combing elements of rock, Celtic, ska, punk, raga, blues, country, experimental and just about every eccentrically-matched genre, Camper Van Beethoven played a blistering, tight and dynamic 45 minute set. Opening with a thunderous rendition of Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men,” Camper Van proved their legendary status of one of alternative-rock’s (we just called college rock in the 80s) pioneers. Camper Van's lineup consists of original band members David Lowery(lead vocals / guitar), Jonathan Segel (violin / keys / guitar / vocals), Victor Krummenacher (bass) and Greg Lisher (lead guitar), along with drummer Frank Funaro (Cracker / Joey Ramone / The Dictators).

The band played to an enthusiastic crowd of “the youth” (all ages show, under 25) and “old heads” (35 years and up) – and folks in between. Whether it was the country bounce and retelling of the mod/ska mythic hero of “Where the hell is Bill?” or the searing trippy blues rock and Zeppelin-boom of “Eye of Fatima pt. 1 and pt.2” or the Velvety-drone and sing-a-long of “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” Camper Van shifted genres with precision and grace. The youth dug the huge and clear Camper Van sound as indicated by their head bobbing. And the old heads? Well, we were dancing and singing along with almost every song.

Appropriately, the band played their classic punky country-fried "Art Show Cowboys from Hollywood," which contained the one surreal lyric "art show cowboys from Hollywood."

"We wrote that song when we were 24 and high," said lead man David Lowery to the audience. "And we still don't know what it means."

Another lovely aspect of Camper Van are their often funny and bizarre lyrics. In the tune "Wasted," the last lines are "I was a punker/ I had a mohawk/ I was so gnarly and I drove my dad's car." Brilliant! What other band could write a song about taking skinheads bowling or getting some cowboys some acid "Eye Fatima pt. 1"? Or eloquently sing and sincerely sing "And we are rotting like a fruit underneath a rusting roof/ We dream our dreams and sing our songs/ of the fecundity/ Of life and love" on the lush and blossoming "All Her Favorite Fruit"? Only Camper Van Beethoven.

Unfortunately, the band was limited to a 45 minute set about which Lowery remarked, "That's what happens when you live in a town that only allows 45 minute sets."

The band closed with an epic, mind-blowing rendition of Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive."

Camper Van recently released the brilliant compilation Popular Songs Of Great Enduring Strength And Beauty and will return to Southern California for a few shows in Pioneertown in September so it would be definitely worth a trek out to the Joshua Tree vicinity to see them.

Special thanks to Velena Vago at Pitch-a-tent Records and Tony Boyanta at Pavement PR.

Bonus video!!!

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Camper Van Beethoven's "All Her Favorite Fruit" live @Safari Sam's in Feb. '07