Cracker in concert, 2023A blood donation led me to discover the music of Cracker.

I was at the Red Cross thirty years ago, where I had just given a pint of my blood. The nurse on duty told me they were giving away a free CD or tape to anyone who donated today. I searched the available collection of mildly popular bands and selected Cracker's eponymous debut album. I took home the CD and played it for days, relishing the energy the band brought to songs like "Teen Angst," "Happy Birthday to Me," and "Someday."

Decades later, I finally saw the band in concert Thursday night at SPACE in Evanston. David Lowery and Johnny Hickman remain from the original group. They each provide guitar and lead vocals, the core of Cracker's sound. They are joined these days by bassist Bryan Howard and drummer Carlton "Coco" Owens. On this night, a local violinist had added extra textures to the music when she joined them on stage.

Some performers talk to the audience between each song. Not Cracker.
Some musicians bring a dozen guitars on stage and switch each song. Not Cracker.

Cracker lets their music do the talking for them.

They played "Teen Angst" and "Someday" from my blood donation album (but not "Happy Birthday to Me"), along with their hit song "Low" and selections from their nine studio albums. They mixed in "Ambiguity Song" and "Take the Skinheads Bowling" from Lowery's earlier band, Camper Van Beethoven.

Lowery sang lead on most songs. These songs tended toward the post-punk-pop sound that made the band famous in the 1990s, along with a few blues numbers. When Hickman took the lead, the band shifted to more of an alt-country sound. The encore set opened with Hickman singing and playing solo "Poor Life Choices" - a song he wrote during the recent pandemic that had the audience singing along to his clever lyrics.

Catchy guitar licks and high energy kept the audience bouncing for the night before heading home to rest their aging bodies.