Friday, May 6, 2016

Cracker - Johnny Hickman -- State Theatre - May 5 2016

by John Miller

Johnny Hickman - How is one to characterize tonight's opening? Johnny Hickman begins quietly with his acoustic, a new rhythm, perhaps a waltz? Would it be wrong to call it a warm up, a shoot around, bp? Considering how long Johnny has been around, he probably has Carte Blanche at this point. As the first piece ends, he sings in rhythm with the guitar solo. Has it been done before? Probably; but the ease with which the vocals and guitar match one another is at least worth noting. Throughout the set there's this strange undercurrent; at any moment Johnny might just burst out laughing, an uncommon ease.

Cracker - And the undercurrent continues as Cracker takes the stage. Cracker walks onto stage behind ACDC’s You Shook Me All Night Long. Another first and it leads me to believe that while, officially, Cracker may be on tour to “further support their latest release”, Berkeley to Bakersfield (which came out all the way back in 2014), it may just because they wanted to get out of the house. It can be easy to forget, considering their heyday was almost twenty-five years ago, but there has always been a certain twang to their songs and tonight they really lean on that. Particularly, the addition of both keyboards and a lap guitar, tend to mellow things out.  I was curious if their country sensibilities would influence the way they arranged their radio hits and after revisiting them, those sensibilities certainly came through. But to be honest, there was always a country bent to both Teen Angst and Eurotrash Girl, I just never noticed it on account of all the flannel. The set continues to alternate between the alt rock Cracker was known for, to the country inspired tunes they have leaned on with their later releases. Hickman’s guitar work is especially inspired; there was no shortage of solos tonight. I imagine the opening set was a necessity for him to warm up. David Lowery’s low impact vocals sounded exceptional as well. Perhaps the only sign of age I noticed was during Teen Angst; it felt as if the pessimistic premise of the song had come true and Lowery finally gave up.

Lastly I’d be remiss not to mention the crowd. I would have never imagined that Cracker of all bands would bring out such a contingent of cowboy hats. I counted no fewer than sixteen.

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