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David Lowery's current band plays CityFest; CVB new one due out in September

David Lowery is parked in a van -- more on vans in a moment -- in front of Richmond, VA's only entertainment accountant (it's April 14th). He's on the phone doing a press interview, greeting the passing musicians who bother to file tax returns, and conducting on-going detente with his two young sons who are insisting Daddy get his shit together toute suite and put that Harry Potter DVD back into the player. Lowery juggles it all with the aplomb of someone whose life is always run this way, and for whom multi-tasking is, well, kid's play.

For instance, Lowery's current band, Cracker, is playing this year's CityFest Live (Saturday at 6:30pm) and just began recording their next record (due out in early '05). Lowery's also producing the debut for an up-and-coming New York City band, Rana, and another record for Virginia's underground legends Indecision -- all between the myriad city fests and festivals his band will play this summer.

Oh, yeah, one other little thing: Lowery used to helm another band, Camper Van Beethoven (there's that other van, finally), who to nearly everyone's surprise have just wrapped up their first new studio record in 15 years, the aptly titled New Roman Times. In the growing pantheon of unlikely but noteworthy 80s indie band reunions (see the Pixies, Mission of Burma, etc.), CVB's get-back-together has to be near the top of the list.

"We didn't want to do Camper just to be an exercise in nostalgia," said Lowery, citing a vague time just prior to the band's reunion shows in 2000 when a new record went from possibility to probability. "We wanted to do new stuff, and it took a while to figure out exactly what Camper was in this day and age."

In the unlikely event you didn't hear them then or haven't since, CVB was, above all, immune to categorization. The band put out five studio discs (and a collection of oddities and leftovers) in the 80s, a kitchen-sink, LSD-tinged mix of ska, country, garage, punk, and fiddle-driven Eastern European folksongs and waltzes. CVB themselves dubbed it "surrealist absurdist folk." Whatever it was, the eclectic sound and joyous irreverence was way ahead of its time ("No more bullshit/No more MTV!" Lowery sang ... back in '86). So far ahead, actually, that CVB wound up with 10 times the following a decade later, defunct, than they had in "89 when they issued their swan song, the sublime Key Lime Pie.

"When we did our first reunion shows we were surprised that so many young people were there," Lowery said. "Many of these college-aged kids were in diapers when we wrote "Take the Skinheads Bowling.'"

If nothing else, the masses of new fans showed that there was a generation hungry for something other than assembly line-friendly "alternative" radio rock, or the overdone earnestness of so much alt-country.

And Lowery and Co. seem poised to deliver. New Roman Times is due out in September, the timing being no accident. Back when the CVB reunion idea began picking up momentum, the original members -- Lowery, Jonathan Segel, Victor Krummenacher, Greg Lisher, Chris Molla and Chris Pedersen -- were bemoaning the lack of a center in American politics and thought of addressing it on record. Did we mention CVB were prophetic, as well?

"What has become completely frightening to us is how much closer to our unreality reality has moved," said Lowery. "It was our intent that this be a satirical comment upon the divisive and bitter politics of the US in 2001. We had no idea how relevant it would be in 2004."

Put it all together with another Bush in the White House and another war in the Middle East, and a new record seemed a natural extension of the CVB legacy.

Freely admitting that Camper just can't do anything "straight up or in a correct way," Lowery said the band has concocted a politically relevant "science fiction concept album in the grand tradition of 70s prog rock," a CVB-only take on protest music.

According to Lowery, the record takes place in an alternative reality where North America looks much more like South America, and where the "neo-fascist Christian Republic of Texas" and its Southern allies invade the "Liberal Republic of California," igniting a civil war with the "pot-smoking liberal North."

Lowery maintains that it's "pretty much a typical Camper record," and that its subject matter was "why we got so gung-ho about it coming out before the election."

The first three non-instrumental cuts from New Roman Times will be available on iTunes May 11, and they suggest that Camper's time off hasn't dimmed in the least their highly functional sense of irony. "That Gum You Like Is Back In Style" also happen to be the secret code words that begin the coup; "51-7" introduces the main protagonist, a Texas thug who joins the equivalent of the Army Rangers; and "White Fluffy Clouds" is an ode to the weapons he loves. (Lowery said the weapons listed in "White Fluffy Clouds" were all suggested anonymously by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that he contacted through various family contacts and military forums: "We've tried to preserve their words verbatim in this song," he added.)

In all, even the description sounds like a natural extension of CVB's recorded history.

"We've tried to make the record that CVB -- if it had continued uninterrupted -- would have made today," Lowery said.

Now, while it's true that Lowery's rock band, Cracker, not CVB, will be the ones playing Saturday, it seemed selfish to keep the news to ourselves. But for those who can't hear the logical link between the two bands and just appreciate them both for what they are, Lowery takes the philosophical approach: "There's people in both camps on that," he said, including "some who like Cracker but don't get Camper...they're just two different bands, each with their own strengths and weaknesses."

Forgive them, David, but for some, CVB never had any weaknesses...

Cracker plays the Budweiser stage at 6:30-7:30pm on Saturday at CityFest Live. Single-day tickets are $25

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