Entertainment » Jim Harris

Center stage and loving it



For a moment, I felt like I had journeyed back in time.

Actually, those are the exact words another fan of Cracker said to me in the middle of Monday night’s show at Juanita’s. For him, it was 1994 all over again, and he felt for a moment like he was back in college, he said.

I would have really had to have a time shift to feel like I was back in college. As it was, for me, it was almost 2000 again. A great year in my life, indeed. And on a June night in 2000, Cracker rocked Juanita’s like no other band I’d seen there, and I’d seen some marvelous shows over the years. That night, a year into this job, I managed to snag a couple of seats up on the raised portion behind the floor that fronted the stage, so my then new wife could have a good seat for a band she considered as good as any out there. I knew Cracker, but she turned me on to an appreciation of Cracker and David Lowery and Camper Van Beethoven in a way I’d never experienced.

Monday night allowed me to reflect on a lot that’s gone on since that night six years back when Juanita’s had to close its doors on many Cracker fans waiting outside, hoping to get a ticket. One, my wife stayed home this time, putting our child to bed (I did telephone with the cellphone in hand so she could hear a live version of “Euro-Trash Girl”). The crowd Monday night was good, through you could move around easily. In fact, I and Kelley Bass and a few other friends moved easily to the front of the stage, back to the bar for beers, and back to the stage. You couldn’t have done this six years ago at that show. Most of the crowd Monday seemed closer to our age; it seems today’s young ’uns don’t get Cracker like the young ’uns in the 1990s did.

Six years of wear and being on the road seemed to show on the faces of Lowery and Johnny Hickman, too. They’re still as enthusiastic on stage as ever, and they put on a great rock show again Monday night. Hickman is underrated when folks start listing the great guitarists of the alternative rock era. Lowery’s lyrics, whether he’s being sarcastic about love, politics or life, are unquestionably brilliant. Their three bandmates stayed in the shadows but competently added the right fill or backbeat or percussion to the music.

Cracker has a new album out titled “Greenland,” and the cuts Lowery and crew offered Monday with all the older hits were enticing enough for several folks around us to buy a copy. While the promotional material tries to hint that Lowery has gotten “darker” with some of his lyrics these days, the songs seemed to rock with the same Cracker soul.

For us, the “back in time” feeling was more than just for Cracker, though. The chance to stand at the edge of the stage, a few feet away from one-time rock gods who played arenas regularly, to hear what was said or see the cues among bandmembers, was as exhilarating as it had been years ago for groups passing through on their way to or from greatness: for example, Blues Traveler, which will be back here in a club setting at the new Rumba and Revolution later this month; or Train, which most recently was at Riverfest playing before thousands, but seven years ago was on that intimate Juanita’s stage, with us just a few feet from it; or Three Doors Down. There are plenty more, some who didn’t make it to arenas but still put on great shows on the small stage.

Those acts put on memorable shows because of the connection to the audience. So, too, did Cracker. Again.

The opening act Monday, the Elms, had this Midwestern rock style to them, and it’s most apparent on the song “Black Peach” on their new album. The Elms, like almost any other serious or semi-serious music act these days, has a myspace web page. If you didn’t see Monday’s show, check them out.

They looked like kids, and of course we’re a lot older than we probably realize. But the Elms were an energetic opener to get the late-arriving crowd ready for Cracker. We expect big things out of them.

n Little Rock rockers American Princes have already caught David Lowery’s attention, having recorded tracks for the recent CD “Less and Less” in his Richmond, Va., studio. They’ll be playing Juanita’s on Saturday (see Amy Brawner’s “In the Clubs” column).

Also Saturday, bluesman Jimbo Mathus, who relocated to Clarksdale, Miss., a while back after fronting the swing band the Squirrel Nut Zippers, will be playing at Revolution, Chris King’s new place on President Clinton Avenue that’s connected to the restaurant Rumba, on Saturday night after Jermain Taylor puts away Winky Wright on HBO. Since the fight is not a pay-per-view showing, there is no cover being charged, so check out the Taylor fight on the big screen at the Rev Room and stick around for some great music by Mathus and his trio.

Mathus will be playing a private function for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies earlier Saturday evening. Now that he’s living in Clarksdale, he makes occasional appearances in Central Arkansas, and anyone who has heard him knows he understands the North Mississippi blues style as well as anyone.

With that much original music going on, plus a big schedule Friday as well, our AAN friends are going to think this is a little Austin or something.

Let’s rock; e-mail: jim@arktimes.com

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