When January was a reliably frigid month, noteworthy shows by out-of-town bands were scarce. But as Philadelphia winters have grown warmer, a new tradition has taken hold: the annual Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker two-fer at World Café Live. (Friday’s gig is sold out.)
This year has an added draw: La Costa Perdida (429 Records), the first new CVB album in more than eight years, comes out Tuesday. And while this extended ode to Northern California isn’t as ambitious or as engaging as 2004’s dark geopolitical fantasia New Roman Times, it has its moments. Best are the thorny title track, the warped instrumental “Aged in Wood” and the bouncy “Peaches in the Summertime,” which pivots between singer David Lowery’s rapid-fire vocals and Jonathan Segel’s astringent violin solos. Listeners with a taste for the psychedelic, noodly and, frankly, wanky may favor guitarist Greg Lisher’s work on “Too High for the Love-In” and “You Got to Roll.” But there’s no use trying to untangle the qualities you like and those you don’t in CVB’s music. Their compulsion to mix things up is what set them apart from their peers during college rock’s golden age.
Their 1985 debut, Telephone Free Landslide Victory, is a patchwork of genres — earnest ethnic instrumentals, punk irony, goofball pop — that somehow constitutes a cohesive album. Lowery establishes his idiosyncratic vocal style from the outset; he’s cultivated that blend of laconic, irritated and excitable in his decades with CVB and Cracker, but it’s all right there in “The Day That Lassie Went to the Moon.” There’s also a satisfying drollness to “Where the Hell Is Bill?” and “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” which stands as one of the most impassioned nonsense songs of any era. But half of the tracks are instrumentals and they’re the ones that feel freshest today. With titles that hint at their global roots (“Mao Reminisces about His Days in Southern China” ), the brisk, bewitching tunes are the heart of Telephone. Without those early explorations, Lowery and his bandmates wouldn’t be around, nearly 30 years later, to probe the dark corners of Northern California, sunny Philadelphia and beyond.