By Mark Sussman
Photo courtesy of Arizona Theatre Company
Santa Cruz’s Camper Van Beethoven surveys their native environment. The band is preparing to release “New Roman Times,” their first album of new material in fifteen years. They will play City Limits this Friday. Photo courtesy of Big Hassle.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, August 26, 2004
It seems strange but appropriate that the concept of patriotism has fallen under the same famous definition given to pornography by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it.”
The word itself (“patriotism,” not “pornography”) is up for grabs and any person of any political persuasion can usually be found grasping at it with butter fingers.
Camper Van Beethoven seems to have captured something about the term in their music. While this patriotism is never stated directly, the sheer eclecticism of their records leaves the listener grasping at terms to describe any one song. “Eye of Fatima (pt. 2),” for example, channels the Middle East through its violin but with an Eastern European tinge in the rhythm. And that’s before they start singing and playing, for lack of a better term, rock.
Eclecticism is (or maybe was) American patriotism’s ideal.
However Camper Van Beethoven released their last album, “Key Lime Pie,” in 1989, the same year George Bush part 1 took office. After more than a decade, they’re getting ready to start over.
“Cracker (side project of Camper member David Lowery) was making a record and David was asked to record a song for a Clash tribute album,” said Camper multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Segel. “He asked me to come in and record with them. Later Greg (Krummenacher, Camper bassist) sat down to play with us. After playing with Cracker, we got to the point where we just said we should play as Camper Van Beethoven.”
That was back in 1999. Since then the only thing released by the band has been the two-disc set “Tusk,” culled from old recordings the band had done in the 1980’s and completed in 2002. Not only does this recording share the name of a Fleetwood Mac album, it also shares song titles. And music. And lyrics.
“Greg had the tapes we had done in the 80’s and they were all unfinished and weird,” said Segel. “It was something we thought was too strange in ’87, but it sounds modern, so why not finish it and put it together?”
If covering an entirely Fleetwood Mac album seems like a grandiosely ironic move, it’s because it is. But in 1987, not many people got the joke.
“Fleetwood Mac was a band that was great in the early 70’s,” said Segel. “By the time they made ‘Tusk’ we kind of hated them. They spent a million dollars on recording it, which was an insane amount money at the time. And we thought it was hilarious that the thing actually ended up being recorded on a four-track in Lindsey Buckingham’s bathroom.”
Segel acknowledges, though, that there is a certain envy of the Fleetwood Mac lifestyle on the part of some modern bands.
“I think bands like the Hives and the White Stripes wish they lived in the kind of coke-induced decadence of Fleetwood Mac.”
After reuniting and touring together for five years, Camper Van Beethoven has finally completed their first completely new record in fifteen years. Entitled “New Roman Times,” the record is reportedly a concept album about politics and a kind of “greatest hits” of conspiracy theories: aliens, the Roman Empire and cryptography are a few elements that emerge.
To some it’s not as bizarre as it may seem.
“(These themes) just seem obvious to us. If you’re at all paranoid you’ll relate,” said Segal.
Being that concept albums are meant to be listened on the whole, the transition to a live setting would seem to be a problem.
“The songs stand by themselves. The story is pretty abstract. Some lyrics may be sort of cryptic, but all of us are interested in doing a good job making songs. It should sound good at first listen.”
Camper Van Beethoven is playing with L.P. at City Limits (6350 E. Tanque Verde Rd.) on Friday, August 27. Tickets are $16 and the doors open at 8:00 p.m. This show is 21+.