Monday, June 16, 2008

Winnebago Van German Composer

Camper Van Beethoven were one of those bands that it would be near impossible to pigeon-hole in terms of style on genre. They encompassed a myriad of both into their sound and managed to fuse all the elements together to produce quality music.

They formed in California during 1983 around the core of singer/songwriter David Lowery and bassist Victor Krummenacher. The duo grew to include Chris Molla (guitar), Chris Pedersen (drums), Greg Lisher (guitar) and a key addition with Jonathan Segel (violin/keyboards/mandolin). By 1985 they had a repertoire of songs drawing on folk, ska, punk, rock and everything in between, which they threw into a melting pot to produce their debut album ‘Telephone Free Landslide Victory’, featuring what would be hailed as their signature song ‘Take The Skinheads Bowling’.

Camper Van Beethoven were hugely popular on the burgeoning college and indie-rock scene. The band was nothing if not adaptable and innovative in both its live performances and translating that to the studio. They recorded two more albums in relatively quick succession, titled loosely ‘II’ and ‘III’, and the homage to Led Zeppelin didn’t stop with titles, with elements of the more acoustic Zeppelin sound creeping in to some of the tracks. To add to an already eclectic mix, prog rock started to get a look in as well, proving the band members influences knew no bounds - it was like they were a band looking for precisely the right sound for them and willing to audition all comers in the process.

Their growing popularity gained them a big label contract with Virgin Records, and 1988 saw the release of their 4th album ‘Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart’. Reduced to a quintet following the departure of Molla, C.V.B. continued to push the envelope but conversely their own ‘sound’ started to become clearer. The track that came to my attention that year was ‘Life Is Grand’. Defiant in lyrical gesture, incessantly catchy in melodic structure, it was, to borrow a musical phrase from the late great Robert Palmer, simply irresistible. The single didn’t chart, at least not in any chart records I could find, but who cares. I equate the adventurous sense of Camper Van Beethoven with another artist from roughly the same era, They Might Be Giants - bold bordering on anarchic in their refusal to be pinned down, in some ways subverting their own chance for mainstream glory by an uncompromising insistence on doing things their way. By jettisoning the quest for radio-friendliness, in the process those artists achieve something else, carving out a unique niche, however small, and gathering a loyal band of diehard fans along the way, willing to entertain all manner of adventurous folly for the chance of the brilliantly eccentric.

Their next release ‘Key Lime Pie’ saw the departure of Segel, replaced by Morgan Fichter, and coincided with a period of creative and personal disruption for C.V.B. Ultimately this renegade band had run its course and split soon thereafter. The various band members pursued projects, in concert with and apart from one another, during the 90s and beyond. In 1999 Lowery, Segel and Krummenacher reunited to compile a release of C.V.B. oddities and rarities titled ‘Camper Van Beethoven Is Dead: Long Live Camper Van Beethoven’. Some low key live shows followed and over time the original members gravitated together to release an album of new material in 2004 titled ‘New Roman Times’. Regular touring has followed, allowing a new generation of audience to experience the uniqueness that was and still is Camper Van Beethoven.

Have a look at the clip for Camper Van Beethoven's version of the Status Quo classic 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men'.

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