The son of a career Air Force officer, David Lowery grew  up all over the place, but he spent his adolescence in Redlands, Ca. where he formed his first band, Box O’ Laffs. By the time he relocated to Santa Cruz, Box O’ Laffs had been re-christened Camper Van Beethoven.

Taking a page from the Punk Rock Playbook, Camper Van Beethoven completely embraced the D.I.Y.  ethic.   The laid back coastal college town was the perfect place to woodshed and hone the band’s unique sound.

David Lowery’s deadpan vocals and economical guitar work provided a solid foundation for guitarist  Greg Lisher, drummer Chris Pederson, bassist Victor Krummenacher and multi-instrumentalist  (violin, guitar, mandolin and organ) Jonathan Segel. This allowed them to expand their musical horizons into uncharted territories. Camper Van Beethoven settled on a sweet & sour mélange that was equal parts Punk, Ska,  Folk, Country and World music.

In 1985 artists like Prince, Lionel Richie and Madonna ruled the airwaves.  Camper Van Beethoven paid no attention to the prevailing trends. Instead, they took their cues from 60s iconoclasts like Kaleidoscope and Captain Beefheart.

The former was a fairly obscure L.A. band that played eccentric rock arrangements on exotic instruments like bouzouki, doumbeg, saz, oud and dobro. The latter blended such disparate styles like Delta Blues,  Prog-Rock and Free Form Jazz.

Camper Van Beethoven released their debut, Telephone Landslide Victory on the tiny Pitch-A-Tent label just as the Indie music scene was beginning to gain traction.

The album received unanimous critical acclaim, and the smart-ass single, “Take The Skinheads Bowling,” was a minor hit.

Camper quickly followed up with their second and third releases, (inexplicably entitled II & III and Camper Van Beethoven. ) Relentless touring buoyed the band’s profile. Mixing intriguing original songs like “Sad Lover’s Waltz,” and “Joe Stalin’s Cadillac” and  skewed covers like Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” Black Flag’s “Wasted,” and Ringo Starr’s “Photograph,” Camper repeatedly upped the ante.

The hard work paid off and Camper Van Beethoven signed with a major label, Virgin. “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart”, (an oblique homage to kidnapped heiress, Patty Hearst), appeared in late 1988.  Their music remained as knotty and complex as ever, but now MTV and mainstream radio were beginning to pay attention.

Unfortunately, just as they began to achieve commercial success, the band began to splinter. Krummenacher, Lisher and Pederson formed a side project, Monks Of Doom, and Segel was ousted from the band. 1989 saw the release of their most assured effort to date, Key Lime Pie. But it also signaled the dissolution of the band.

Lowery bounced back almost immediately with the more streamlined sound of Cracker. In the Grunge-tastic early 90s, snarky anthems like “Teen Angst (What The World Needs Now),” “Low” and “I Hate My Generation,” tapped into the prevailing zeitgeist of the times.  Cracker’s second album, Kerosene Hat was recorded in a make-shift studio in Pioneertown.

Despite all the success of Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven remained unfinished business. There was a tentative rapproachement in 2002 when band members got together to supervise the release of Tusk. Originally recorded in 1987, it’s the band’s gawky version of Fleetwood Mac’s most experimental record.

In 2004 the band reconvened to record a concept record, New Roman Times. A year later, they inaugurated  their annual Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker Campout in conjuction with Pappy & Harriets in Pioneertown.

Lowery, now a resident of Athens, Ga. shifts effortlessly between Cracker and Camper duties. He even managed to record a solo record and start teaching at University Of Georgia.

Happily, Camper Van Beethoven has reunited for La Costa Perdida. The album opens with the exquisite “Come Down To The Coast.” Dropping the smarty-pants façade, Lowery is less a churlish curmudgeon and more  a lovelorn Don Juan. Extoling the virtues of Califonia, Lowery cajoles a virtual harem (Esmerelda, Gabriella, Isabella) over an incandescent melody. Anchored by fluttery mandolin notes and gamboling guitar riffs that pivot and gavotte like lithe Hummingbirds.

Camper Van Beethoven has never been afraid to let their freak flag fly, La Costa.. continues that tradition on three tracks, “Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out,” “Summer Days” and “Too High For The Love-In.”

“Someday..” matches modal time signatures with a  Middle Eastern  groove. It’s an epic track, the lyrics chronicle a dour end of the world scenario. Powered by whipsaw violin fills and serpentine sitar riffs, it’s a musical maelstrom that cycles through a variety of moods. “Summer Days” is a bittersweet recollection of simpler times… “We were hunters once, wild and free before this city life of wage slavery.”  Prickly guitar chords collide with crosscut violin flourishes. As the tune revs toward conclusion it resembles a frenzied Polka.

Part psychedelic hoedown, part stream of conscious ramble, “Too High For The Love-In” mixes Prog-Rock instrumentation with with a collection of non-sequiters…. “I was too high for the love-in, walking barefoot in the Garden of Eden, stepped on a viper in Sweden and I got bit/I met my match, wouldn’t let go, stuck to my toe, no shoe will fit, where can I go?” The track powers down for an instrumental coda as Lowery yelps “Bring me the anti-venom, and bring me a sandwich!”

The magnum opus here is “Northern California Girls.” Clocking in at over six minutes, the track is a twisty homage to the Beach Boys’ “California Girls.”

(In fact this whole album bares a stylistic resemblance to the Beach Boys’ ex-pat California fever dream record, Holland.) A sweet violin partners with cascading guitar riffs. Lowery is almost incredulous: “Don’t you miss the ocean, don’t you miss the weather/ Don’t you miss me just a little bit?/Northern California girls say come back from Brooklyn.” The instrumental break slowly builds, a scratchy guitar solo crests over the top as Lowery repeats the song title like a mantra.

Other stand out songs include the title track.  Over a sprightly Norteno melody Lowery spins a wicked yarn of a homicidal loner hiding out with migrant workers… “Broken Spanish in the daytime, picking fruit with campesinos/ I’m a half a guerro caballero/ Yankee from a town just south of Brawley.”

“Peaches In The Summertime” is a sly reworking of the Bluegrass standard, “Shady Grove.” The frenzied and whip crack pace is leavened by Jonathan Segel’s sweet violin. Finally, “You Got To Roll” is a dissonant dose of dusty Psychedelia. The laconic lyrics mimic the minimalist machismo of a Spaghetti Western.

The album closes with the fleet and fanciful “A Love For All Time.” Achingly sweet, it’s actually a straightforward love song. La Costa Perdida confirms that Camper Van Beethoven is just as weird and revolutionary as it was in 1983. Thank God!

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