Thursday, January 24, 2013

REVIEW: Camper Van Beethoven - La Costa Perdida

On the eve of their 30th anniversary as a band, it stands to reason that Camper Van Beethoven are not neatly fitting into any box. Even in their heyday in the late '80's, sharing arena show bills with R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs, on the verge of major stardom, and under pressure from their major label to deliver a radio hit, Camper Van Beethoven made mincemeat of musical categories and created wildly original music. 

La Costa Perdida honors their legacy. While many songs start with a familiar enough base of folk-rock, California pop or 70's hard rock riffs, they quickly introduce elements that take the songs in far more interesting directions, maybe a ska beat, or a waltz element or a Middle Eastern sound. For CVB, this is a tried and true approach, though it's far too quirky, and frankly, at times weird, though wonderfully so, to be called a formula.  

One song here in particular truly stands out for me - "Northern California Girls", which maybe started as their idea of a weird Beach Boys song, and then goes from there.

La Costa Perdida (translates as the lost coast) was written and recorded fairly quickly in Big Sur California and many of the songs introduce the sort of California hippies, outsiders and beautiful losers that lead songwriter David Lowery has always gravitated towards. That is on full display on "Too High for the Love-In" a shaggy dog story involving an acid trip, an angry wild bird loose in a living room, a viper bite, anti-poison venom, you know, the usual pop song kind of stuff. Meanwhile on that song, the band lays down some wild psychedelia of its own.

Lowery's outsiders, no matter how odd, are never mocked and generally are just keenly observed, with a mix of genuine curiosity and subtle sympathy.

The strength of Camper Van Beethoven, however, isn't the surrealistic lyrics or unpredictable structure  of the songs, it is the chops of the players and their unique chemistry as an ensemble. The songs were co-written by Lowery with bassist Victor Krummenacher, guitarist Greg Lisher and violinist Jonathan Segel, each of whom bring their own sensibility but just the right feel. Above all else CVB are a real band and at this point they really know what they are doing.

Another highlight is the lead track "Come Down the Coast", a gorgeous folk-rock song that might fit just as easily on a Cracker record, Lowery's more straightforward rock'n'roll band.    Here's a a recent live version:

Listen to "Someday Our Love Will Sell Us Out" here.

La Costa Perdida has 10 fine new CVB songs. Highly recommended.

Artist web page here, see especially tour dates, as Camper Van Beethoven especially excels as a live band.


Richard Wohlleber said...

Couldn't agree more Jim. The fact that Camper, after all these years, can put put a record like this gives heart and inspiration to senior rock citizens everywhere. This is a band I would follow on the road for a couple of weeks -- if I were retired already. I haven't felt that way about a band for 40 years. And these guys are certainly not Dead. Thank God.

Jim Desmond said...

Rich, Thanks for the comment. I recall the first time I saw Camper, which was with you in 1985 at the West End on Racine. They blew my mind. Alejandro's band the True Believers shared the bill and were amazing. Those were the days my friend...