“California alternative rock band Camper Van Beethoven” has been many things: Music you would write on acid if you were trying really hard to write music like you’re on acid; Defending itself against skinheads by playing ska; A rebel faction affiliated with the independent nation of California fighting against Texan occupation with the aid of alien technology.
Friday night at the Fine Line Music Cafe, it was a long-lived band playing to a sea of dads. More recent La Costa Perdida and El Camino Real have distilled Camper Van Beethoven into the concentrated essence of California heartache, the sort of homesickness and unrequited love bred under fog along The One (PCH, for tourists and Crossfitters).
These feelings might have drawn your dad to the Fine Line, if he had moved to Minneapolis from Santa Barbara after a divorce and calls himself “an expat.” He would have stood amongst his brethren and thought appreciatively: They haven’t just “still got it,” they’re playing better than ever. He would have recognized old favorites among a set pulling equally from most of the band’s albums, as well as individual standouts like “Pictures of Matchstick Men” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” Live staples “White Riot,” “Wasted,” and “Questionable Hava Nagila Medley” rounded out this rare sighting of CVB so far north of its usual habitat.
There were other rare sights for the keen observer in the crowd on Friday: kids. One sat with his dad at a table on the balcony. He hung a Nintendo DS between his knees and leaned down over it to play as if he could slide indifferently off the ledge in absence of a rail.Two kids on the “dance” floor flanked their dad on either side, making eager comments into his ear during songs.
A kid myself, I stood with two friends (one of them open-minded and down-for-anything but CVB-uninitiated, L. The other, photographer and blog host, Maia) as far forward as the humid press of dads would permit.Unlike the balcony dweller, I was there for Camper Van Beethoven of my own volition. Like the sandwiched dad, I played guide for my companions. I stood hoping for their sake that they “got it,” whatever “it” was.
Midway through the set, I felt the feelings that drew me and the dads there most clearly in “Northern California Girls.” As a San Francisco “expat” in Minneapolis, hiding in the Fine Line from temperatures below zero, I felt personally targeted by the lyrics: “throw away your parka, throw away your snow boots, don’t you know I always kept you warm?”
Despite my identification to this song through a heady dose of homesickness, the song struck my friends too. Maia commented on the song’s beauty. L was one of the few to answer the band’s calls to sing along and did so like a true believer: in the Northern California Girl, in her warmth, in California’s singular potential to fulfill her promise.
Strangely, when “Northern California Girls” was released to preview La Costa Perdida, I was not a fan. Likewise with El Camino Real. After seeing Camper Van Beethoven live, I feel more ready to follow them in this new direction, and I feel like I can bring other people on the ride too.
The band’s loving treatment of their back catalog assures me as well that the old and dear is not going away: In particular, violinist Jonathan Segel gave a beautiful treatment of “All Her Favorite Fruit,” completely organic but completely different than the studio recording on Key Lime Pie, an album for which he was absent.
Live, Camper Van Beethoven delivers a commitment to being everything they have been and more. Let’s hope they decide to deliver it more often in the future.
The night’s non-musical honors go to the minority of moms in the audience. They were the majority source of the crowd’s energy and the exclusive source of its dancing and fist pumping.
[Words by Alex. Photos by Maia. 🙂 ]