Cracker: A Belated Hillbilly Revelation At Fitzgerald's

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Sometime after Cracker deposited Rocks Off's jaw on the floor of Fitzgerald's Thursday night, we decided reviewing the show would be superfluous. Our buddy Lonesome Onry and Mean was standing next to us the whole time, and we told him afterward it was hard to think of anything more critical to say about what we had just witnessed than "that kicked ass."

Repeat several times. It was that good.

As Cracker played through Kerosene Hat, a woman in front of us about Rocks Off's age did not stop dancing and singing along the entire time, shaking her hips and head with equal gusto. The 1993 LP must be one of her favorite albums ever, we told LOM, "or else she wouldn't be dancing like that."

By the time Cracker was through, it was one of Rocks Off's favorite albums too. We do not own Kerosene Hat, and only know it from the radio. Of course we knew the big singles, "Low" and "Get Off This" - our notes, respectively: "perfect, like being stoned" and "primo" - and were surprised that we recognized "I Want Everything" later on. It was like a different part of our brain had been switched on. We liked it.

All night, from the growling "Low" to cheeky encore "Useless Stuff," Cracker was unstinting and visceral. Rocks Off stood stock-still and enraptured the whole set, hardly moving except to scratch down a (very) few notes for each song. And to get a beer once.

The thing that really jumped out at us, which made Rocks Off smack our forehead figuratively if not literally - that's LOM's job - was how country the band was. Duh, right?

Not really. If you only knew Cracker from radio songs like "Low" and "Teen Angst" (missing Thursday, but not missed), like we did, you might have expected the sleek punk rock of "Movie Star" and "Go For a Ride" too. Brisk and sweet as it was, like a glass of good iced tea, we're still not sure how we managed to miss "Nostalgia." Especially with that title.

What they gave us, on top of that, was some pretty hillbilly shit for 120 Minutes: Slow and savory blues on Kerosene's title track; electrified honky-tonk on "Take Me Down To the Infirmary" - what we wished Jamey Johnson had sounded like last week - the misty Ozark mountain hop of "Sweet Potato" and full-speed jamboree of "Lonesome Johnny Blues." We soaked it up like whiskey in the jar.

Kerosene Hat came out the year Rocks Off graduated from high school, something else that was on our mind throughout the show. We were a modern-rock kid through and through, years away from our eventual conversion to the church of outlaw country.

If we had heard Kerosene back then, it might have sped up that process. Maybe not. If we had recognized the ghost of Gram Parsons in the priceless "Eurotrash Girl" like we did Thursday, it probably would have. Our conversation, about six minutes into the song:

Rocks Off: "I feel like such a hick right now."

Lonesome Onry and Mean: "This is what would happen if the Ramones grew up in Waco."

No use crying over spilled whiskey, though. Thursday, we finally got a chance to catch up with one of our favorite albums - just one we had never really listened to before.

It kicked ass. That's our story, our "review" if you will, and we're sticking to it.

Oh, and by the way, Camper Van Beethoven was pretty all right too, Waitsy waltzes, tipsy polkas and a couple of proto-"Smells Like Teen Spirit" rockers. The needlenose riff from "Pictures of Matchstick Men" has been circling our head all day.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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