May 29, 2015
The floods might have taken the top off Cracker’s crowd at Warehouse Live Friday night, but that didn’t keep the veteran rockers from opening with a roaring extended anthem, “One Fine Day.” Steel guitarist Pistol Stoessel and keys-man Rob Crowell were given plenty of space and both tore into their instruments like someone might take them away any minute and the fun would be over.
They quickly segued with no introduction to jaunty pub-rocker “Where Have Those Days Gone,” lifting the smallish crowd to a rock and roll frenzy; the night’s promise seemed fulfilled even though the show had just begun. By the time they tore into their early hit “Teen Angst” — “the world needs another folk singer like I need a hole in my head” — the jet was about to break the sound barrier as tall fanatics in the front row in pristine Atlanta Braves ball caps were doing the tomahawk chop. Yeah, I know. (Eyeroll.)
By now it was apparent that what guitarist Johnny Hickman had told us in an interview early last week was true: the young guns from the Bakersfield sessions in Athens, Ga., were more than up to the task. The ensemble of Crowell, Stoessel, bassist Bryan Howard and drummer Carlton Owens switched gears deftly, moving into a four-song segment from the Bakersfield disc as they brought opener Whiskey Gentry’s fiddler onstage. “Where Have Those Days Gone” was as bittersweet as the title suggests, but bouncy two-stepper “California Country Boy” brought yee-haws from the crowd as Stoessel and Hickman traded licks. It was apparent Crowell is no stranger to the work of Gulf Coast honky tonk piano man Moon Mullican.
“Ain’t no palm trees, ain’t no movie stars/ In the part of California I come from”
At this inopportune moment, “Cave Man” Owens’ bass drum exploded. What can I say, the man is a beast. Seriously, this guy is an animal, capable of pounding out the rock but also subtle enough to play those more-difficult-than-they-seem shuffles. With the drum replaced, Cracker dropped into the laconic “King of Bakersfied” that brought more crowd yelps followed by a twangy “Wedding Day,” and all was back on track. Shifting gears again, they exploded into "Low" like they’d played it a thousand times and it still means something to them. They barely took a breath before stomping into another of their more popular tunes, “Sweet Potato.”
Hickman worked his Les Paul out on “This Is Cracker Soul” before he and Lowery threw everyone a curve, dropping a spot-on cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “Red Dresses.” It wouldn’t be the only trick they’d play before the proceedings wound down, as Lowery pulled out Merle Haggard’s classic “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” and the crowd once again hooted and hollered ecstatically.
Switching gears back to the Berkeley rock disc of their recent double cd release, they funked into the sassy “El Cerrito,” a punkish put-down of all things fresh, new, and squeaky clean in San Francisco. “March of the Billionaires” became another anthem. Then to close it out, Lowery hit the crowd right where it lives as the band seemed to put some extra reverence into “Another Song About the Rain,” which had some nice, extended solos.
The crowd yelled them back, and once again Lowery tossed a curve with Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” before closing it out with an odd choice, the lilting “El Commandante,” a tale of authority and marijuana. It was certainly appropriate that the last line of the night was “Don’t worry, it’s just a bag of weed.”
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The Crowd: Mostly 40 and up. Cracker fanatics all. Acolytes. Apostles.
Overheard In the Crowd: Her: “What’s that cool guitar he’s playing?” Him: “A mahogany Martin, I have one like it.” Her: “Oh, do you look as good as him playing it?” Him: “No, I can’t play it as well as him either.”
Personal Bias: Cracker can do no wrong. David Lowery for President. Johnny Hickman to head up Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and to run the D.E.A.
Random Notebook Dump: Exploded the bass drum? WTH? The drummer can be Secretary of Defense.