Camper Van Beethoven, November 22, 2008, The Abbey, Chicago. Almost like what I would imagine seeing the Beatles would be like. Absolutely phenomenal. Incredibly high-quality mp3s of the amazing performance are available at the Internet Archive for free (Camper Van Beethoven allows non-commercial taping of their shows–in fact they use the exact language of the Grateful Dead’s taping policy on their website!!!). The old songs before Key Lime Pie sound to me even better in this live recording. Just as good or up to three times better than when I saw Daft Punk at Lollapalooza, which of course was leaps and bounds above every other one of the many other live shows I have ever seen. Camper Van Beethoven are all truly amazing musicians, and the lyrics and songwriting are often amazing and heartbreaking. Musically they are experts in playing blues, rock, country, classic rock, prog, indie, metal, ska, psychadelic, styles sounding like Klezmer, some sort of folk Gypsy, Mexican, and Arabic musics (see their song title “ZZ Top Goes to Egypt” ).
Camper Van Beethoven–Sweethears (live 2007)
They have songs literally as good as Dire Strait’s Sultans of Swing–“some of their best songs trace out the route between Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon and Dire Strait’s Sultans of Swing”–and more (see their album Key Lime Pie, which is their best album, with amazing songs like “Borderline,” “Sweethearts,” “When I Win the Lottery,” etc. Somehow everything really came together with Key Lime Pie). Overall being at the show was like seeing the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, the Pixies, Blur, Oasis, Radiohead, the Cure, Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, ZZ Top, Dire Straits, the Grateful Dead, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and Pink Floyd etc etc etc all in one.
And incredibly you could tell the absolute influence they have had on any sort of indie/alternative music. Bands like Oasis and Teenage Fan Club and Radiohead must have listened to Camper Van Beethoven albums in awe, and Teenage Fan Club indeed covered their song “Take the Skinheads Bowling,” and Sublime covered “Eye of Fatima.” The best thing is Camper Van Beethoven are so good you could never categorize them as “rock” or “ska” or “alternative” or “country” or whatever. They are so skilled at songwriting and playing that they can do literally anything and it sounds good and real and authentic, some sort of new “Camper Van Beethoven” genre that doesn’t sound like a mishmash of influences but is just good.
The singer’s voice is incredible; the lead guitarist is incredible; the singer’s guitar has this perfect tone; the bass is awesome; the drummer is awesome; and you would not believe how good the violinist is and how much the violin adds to the music, taking it over the top. It’s incredible.
I kind of hope they can keep touring every year and become sort of like a Grateful Dead, where people come to all their shows because they’re just that good. And John Mayer, you should invite them on the next Mayercraft. Camper Van Beethoven rule at that sort of singer-songwriter blues thing too even though that’s just one aspect of their rich sound.
See the CVB webpage “Sound Off!” section for more details on the show including setlist, with plenty of fan favorites including at least three off of Key Lime Pie.
They’re playing in San Francisco in December!
Here’s another live set of theirs from 1989 with one of my favorite songs of theirs, Borderline.
There are several other shows on the Internet Archive with other great songs like Humid Press of Days and I was Born in a Laundromat.