Live Report: Cracker

9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., Aug. 25, 1998

Cracker's David Lowery sauntered onstage Tuesday night equipped with a peculiar shit-eatin' grin and some extra crunch in his Tennessee-whiskey vocals. Not that the lead singer is usually a surly bastard, but there was obviously something special going on inside that scruffy blond melon.

Perhaps he was jazzed to be in proximity to his makeshift home of Richmond, Va. Or maybe the former Camper Van Beethoven cut-up was relieved to still be performing for sold-out crowds after Cracker's last effort, The Golden Age, took a swan dive into the commercial crapper.

Then again -- and this is what I like to believe -- maybe Lowery was so damn pumped up because that very morning, his band's fourth and most inventive album, Gentleman's Blues, was hitting store shelves everywhere. Don't call it a comeback, Lowery seemed to smile, but Cracker just caught a second wind.

"Our new record came out today, so we're a little drunk," joked Lowery, who always manages to sound like a weekend smoker at Sunday brunch. "So please don't take advantage of us." The down-to-earth band, however, was anything but tipsy, feverishly pumping out jangly, earthy tunes 'til everyone in-house was properly fed.

Cracker opened the ninety-minute show with two new tunes: the Tom Petty-esque "Been Around the World," a slow groove highlighted by guitarist Johnny Hickman and keyboard man Kenny Margolis battling for the solo spotlight, and the Stonesian "Seven Days," in which Lowery acknowledges the band's recent popularity fade and subsequent screw-it-all 'tude ("So we were standing around fading in and out of fashion/While Amerikids dug Eurobeats ... But there ain't nothing that you got that we don't need/Did I say that right?").

The band would show off several other cuts from Gentleman's Blues -- first single "The Good Life" and rowdy, down-South shout-out "The World Is Mine" deserve to be hits -- yet the crowd would nevertheless respond most favorably to the well-worn anthems: "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)," "Eurotrash Girl," "Low" and a particularly punkish "Flower Power Maximum."

Seemingly sober (and maybe encountering the ugly edges of a hangover), the band encored with clean, quick takes on "This Is Cracker Soul" and forever favorite "Get Off This." And while the boys were probably done drinking for this evening, if Gentleman's Blues performs at cash registers the way itshould, there will be much rejoicing (and bottle-opening) in the good old days to come.