Cracker: Bridging The Chasm Between Berkeley And Bakersfield

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Cracker_012315ACracker – Berkeley to Bakersfield (429 Records)
Cracker has always had a knack for zigging when everyone else was zagging. Whether it was how David Lowery and his cohorts were dabbling in Americana-flavored sounds at a time when grunge was a clarion call coming out of Seattle.

Or the band’s most recent decision to release its newest project as a 2-CD set while the rest of the music industry is trending towards supplying consumers with downloadable fare. While these 18 songs could quite easily fit on a single disc, separate recording sessions, one with the 1993 Kerosense Hat lineup and the other with a different gang of musicians, yielded two distinctly different types of songs. One leaned more towards Cracker’s alt-rock creative bent (Berkeley) while the other batch of tunes soaked up the band’s country roots (Bakersfield). The one thread both discs have is using the Joan Didion approach of appropriating certain California geographic cues for songwriting inspiration.

Berkeley starts out gently enough with the acoustic folk-flavored “Torches and Pitchforks.” Lowery sings of “We will fight your goons and lawyers/We will fight your Pinkertons/We will fight your bought off Congressman,” which strikes right at the heart of income disparity that’s become a hallmark of modern-day life in the Bay Area given the influx of tech wealth that’s invaded San Francisco and its environs in recent years. From here, Cracker uses a strident cadence, Harlettes-like female backup singers and lines like, “we’ll take what you’ve got and sell it back to you” to drive home his disgust of the uber-wealthy on “March of the Billionaires.” Elsewhere, mentions of Telegraph Hill, Gilman Street and punks (the pounding “Beautiful”), freaks, hippies and Alameda (a faux funk “El Cerrito”) and buying weed in Piedmont Park (the gnarly generation clash that is “El Comandante”) paint a pretty broad picture of the City by the Bay.

Bakersfield reverberates with oodles of authentic twang, with pedal steel and fiddle being used in a manner that’s a key component of the song versus a throw-in as a means of trying to denote authenticity, as is the case with so much of what’s coming out of Music Row nowadays. It works especially well on the loping “King of Bakersfield,” with its mentions of a “red-state Union man” and “a double-wide in a merlot vineyard” or the ethereal “When You Come Down,” which strikes a pleading tone in a difficult relationship amid soaring steel guitar riffs and subtle piano runs.

While flying in the face of practicality, Cracker’s latest winds up hitting all the right stylistic notes with enough interesting character-driven tales to make you want to consider making Northern California your next vacation destination.

For more on Cracker, be sure to visit www.longislandweekly.com, or click here to read a full feature on the band.

January 22
Manhattan
Fleetwood Mac @ the Theatre at Madison Square Garden
4 Pennsylvania Plaza. 8 p.m. $227.65, $64.55. 212-707-3131
www.thegarden.com
Throughout the long and winding path that Fleetwood Mac has gone through, the biggest development in recent years has been the return of keyboardist Christine McVie, who retired from touring in 1997. And while the band soldiered on during most of the 2000s with a lineup of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, the welcome return of the vocalist/keyboardist has yielded the current On with the Show tour, unbridled excitement amongst the band’s fan base and a pair of sold-out Garden shows last year. (Fleetwood Mac will be appearing on Jan. 25 at @ Nassau Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Tpke., Uniondale; 866-448-7849, www.nassaucoliseum.com.)

January 22
Manhattan
Alejandro Escovedo @ The City Winery
155 Varick St., 8 p.m. $50, $45, $35. 212-608-0555
www.citywinery.com
Ever since recovering from a life-threatening bout with Hepatitis C nearly a decade ago, Alejandro Escovedo has been making some of the best music of his life. Not only did he pound out a string of most excellent, Tony Visconti-produced albums (Real Animal, Street Songs of Love, Big Station), but added yet another group project to his résumé in the form of The Fauntleroys, where he’s hooked up with longtime friends Nick Tremulis, Ivan Julian (The Voidoids) and Linda Pitmon (The Baseball Project). For this string of shows, Escovedo is plugging in and playing a different album in its entirety each night (through Jan. 24).

January 23
Westbury
KC and the Sunshine Band @ NYCB Theatre @ Westbury,
960 Brush Hollow Rd., 8 p.m.
$84.75, $52.50. 877-598-8497,
www.livenation.com
For quite some time, KC and the Sunshine Band has moved from being a viable recording artist to a
perennial presence on the disco oldies circuit. All this despite releasing 2007’s Yummy, a studio outing that included covers of Michael Jackson and Peter Gabriel that promptly sunk like a stone. But weep not for KC, as the band has a full complement of hits to dip into that includes “That’s the Way (I Like It),” “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty,” “I’m Your Boogie Man,” “Keep It Comin’ Love,” “Get Down Tonight,” “Boogie Shoes,” “Give It Up” and “Please Don’t Go.”

Port Washington
Pedrito Martinez Group @ Landmark on Main Street
223 Main St. 8 p.m. $47, $42, $37. 516-767-6444
www.landmarkonmainstreet.org
No, not the recent Baseball Hall of Fame inductee (although in all fairness, his first name is Pedro not Pedrito, which translated means Little Peter). The musical Martinez is actually a Cuban congo-playing bandleader of an Afro-Cuban outfit consisting of Peruvian, Venezuelan and Cuban bandmates. Aside from garnering some critical huzzahs from the likes of The New York Times, Martinez and his crew landed a 2015 Grammy nomination for best Latin Jazz Album.

January 24
Riverhead
Ani DiFranco @ Suffolk Theater, 118 E. Main St. 8 p.m. $65
$60. $55, $45. 631-627-4343
www.suffolktheater.com
You can’t be much more of an independent artist than Ani DiFranco. A traveling singer-songwriter since gaining her emancipation from her divorcing parents at the age of 15, DiFranco founded her own label back in 1989. Since then, she’s proudly shunned any major-label offers while wearing the multiple hats of artist/label owner/activist. Normally known for having a prodigious output that’s averaged out to her releasing an album a year, DiFranco most recently followed up 2012’s Which Side Are You On? with last year’s Allergic to Water. Recorded in two, four-day sessions, (one while she was six-and-a-half months pregnant), DiFranco’s latest outing wound up being a quieter collection of songs that benefited mightily from the contributions by guest violinist Jenny Scheinman and fellow Crescent City resident Ivan Neville.

Westbury
Extreme Pornograffitti: 25th Anniversary @ The Space at Westbury
250 Post Ave. 8 p.m.
$25 adv. $30 DOS. $40. 800-745-3000
www.thespaceatwestbury.com
Far more than your boilerplate hair-metal band jumping on the nostalgia train (are you listening Danger Danger?), Extreme was always an elite hard rock outfit that also incorporated funk and folk elements into its overall sound (look no further than two Top 5 hits “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted”). Credit Portuguese-born guitar
virtuoso Nuno Bettencourt and swaggering frontman Gary Cherone, whose chemistry is not unlike that of David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen (Cherone even briefly fronted Van Halen in the 1990s). The Boston quartet is back to commemorate the 25th anniversary of its 1990 breakthrough album Pornograffitti, which features those aforementioned hits. Expect to hear the record in its entirety along with a number of other Extreme nuggets.

January 27
Manhattan
Marilyn Manson @ Terminal 5
610 W. 56th St. 8 p.m. $62.50 adv. $63 DOS. 212-582-6600
www.terminal5nyc.com
Not quite the omni-present pop culture icon that it was back in the 1990s, Marilyn Manson has nonetheless stayed creative. In the past decade, the band’s namesake has kept busy attempting a directorial debut (the unreleased Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll), started an art movement/art gallery (Celebration Corporation) and even had a recurring role as a gay white supremacist gang leader on the late, lamented Sons of Anarchy. The band finally returned to making music with 2012 release of Born Villain. Three years later, its just-released follow-up, The Pale Emperor, hit the market, so expect the Manson gang to be delving extensively into it. (Also appearing on Jan. 27 at The Paramount, 370 New York Ave. Huntington. 631-673-7300 www.theparamountny.com.)

January 28
Manhattan
Billy Idol @ the Beacon Theatre
74th Street & Broadway. 8 p.m. $105, $69.50, $59.50, $44.50. 866-858-0008
www.beacontheatre.com
How Billy Idol went from the highs of the 1980s, where he was an ubiquitous presence on MTV and the pop charts thanks to hits like “White Wedding,” “Rebel Yell” and “Eyes Without a Face” to making cameos in Adam Sandler films is a discussion to be had by pop culture academics. In the meantime, the former Gen-X frontman is continuing his reunion with creative partner Steve Stevens that started in 2001, and up to this point has yielded 2005’s poorly-selling Devil’s Playground and last year’s Kings & Queens of the Underground. Having already played the NHL’s most recent Winter Classic as between-periods entertainment, Idol just might be on the brink of a 2015 comeback.

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