By Michael Lello
There is a tendency to think quiet and laidback when you hear the word “acoustic.” But Cracker guitarist and founding member Johnny Hickman assures that Monday, July 13’s “semi-acoustic” duo show featuring Cracker frontman David Lowery and Hickman will be anything but.
“Our duo shows, they rock,” Hickman said in a phone conversation with Highway 81 Revisited last week. “David’s a fine rhythm guitar player. His dynamic sense, he’s almost a band in a way. He plays his acoustic though a subwoofer so it has this deep quality, and I play an electric.”
For Cracker, the band that was a radio and MTV mainstay in the mid-1990s with songs like “Low,” “Get Off This” and “Euro-Trash Girl,” shows like Monday’s are an opportunity to dig deep into a catalog that boasts nine albums of diverse material, running the gamut from alternative to country to punkish rock.
“It’s at once looser and tighter and exploratory,” Hickman explained. “When David and I do duo shows, we feel a little freer to pull out songs we might not do with a full band, so it’s looser in that regard but musically tight. It leaves a little more room to stretch out with solos or adding verses or changing tempos, so it’s kind of loose and fun, but Dave and I have been playing together so long that there’s just a level of communication that we have.”
Cracker will have even more songs to choose from soon, as the band is working on a new album – or two new albums. Hickman and Lowery recently recorded with two different groups of musicians.
“We put together a group in Athens, Ga., where David spends most of his time now, and we’re calling that group of songs ‘Bakersfield,’ and we got back with the ‘Kerosene Hat’ rhythm section in Berkeley and recorded a bunch. We might call it ‘Berkeley to Bakersfield’ and release them around the same time. We have a wealth of new material.”
The album or albums will be the band’s first since 2009’s “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey.”
Hickman spoke with Highway 81 shortly after returning from Cracker’s first shows in China, which proved to be interesting on several levels – including the fact that the band had to submit its songs to Chinese authorities and receive an official invitation from the government there before booking concerts, all of which are standard procedure in China.
“Well, we sort of went through the songs beforehand a little bit,” Hickman said. “They didn’t want direct references to certain things, and I’m OK with that. We’re not exactly any kind of devil worship band or a band that has any kind of dark messages that they would see us a threat. Mainly what they are looking for are things that would go against the Chinese way of doing things and the Chinese way of life.
“Censorship, it happens for a reason. I don’t have a problem with some sort of censorship. I’m a dad, and there’s things I don’t want my kids watching or listening to. People see censorship as such a big terrible thing, and in some ways it’s way over the top, but it also serves a purpose.”
Monday’s show in Sellersville will feature opening performances by both Lydia Loveless and a duo comprised of Lowery and Greg Lisher, performing songs from Camper Van Beethoven, the band that Lowery fronted before Cracker’s inception. Since CVB reunited, the bands have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, sharing bills on tour and even the annual Campout festival in Virginia, put on by both bands.
“They’re two separate entities, but David and I knew each other and were friends before Camper Van Beethoven and would support each other’s bands,” Hickman said. “David and I go back to the pre-Camper days. We stayed in touch over the years, and magically there was a time that neither of us had a band. And we got together and it was pretty obvious it would be a fruitful partnership. We started writing songs and we never stopped.”