CVB revels in new 'Times' at CGs

Camper Van Beethoven plays tonight at Common Grounds.

Courtesy of Camper Van Beethoven
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2005 at 10:18 p.m.


Camper Van Beethoven

WHAT: Band performs behind its 2004 disc "New Roman Times." Bill also includes the Hackensaw Boys.
WHERE: Common Grounds, 210 SW 2nd Ave. WHEN: 10 tonight TICKETS: $15, available online at or through Smoke

Camper Van Beethoven's critically heralded album "New Roman Times" imagines a fictitious United States in the mold of the Roman Empire. States have become independent and warring territories, and Texas, a Christian fundamentalist oligarchy, has annexed California, where a resistance group has formed called the "CVB."
Released last year, the album follows a young soldier fighting the CVB in his process of disillusionment with the totalitarian regime for which he is fighting.
Some have called it a "rock opera," but Jonathan Segel (keyboards, violin, mandolin) prefers the term "concept album."
"When artists are making their own records and writing their own material, it's a concept record," he said. "Because if it's written all at the same time, it has a mindset. The songs relate to one another."
Segel explained that an album's mindset is a product of the time during which the music was written and therefore almost always has some historical slant.
"When you start writing in a historical situation, you filter the things around you," said Segel, who co-wrote the album with David Lowery (vocals, guitar and also founder of the '90s band Cracker). Segel said the album also was influenced by the fact that Lowery has "a lot of family that are service," including a father who is retired from the Air Force.
Formed in the early 1980s, Camper Van Beethoven rose to college band fame with their self-described "surrealist absurdist folk" (some say "alt-country") and in doing so paved the way for the eclecticism of 1990s alternative rock and left an earmark on independent music; 1985's tongue-in-cheek "Take the Skinheads Bowling" remains a cult favorite. (You may have heard Teenage Fanclub's rendition casting an eerie premonition on Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine.")
The band arrives in Gainesville tonight behind "New Roman Times" - its first recording after a 15 year-long hiatus. The disc came out in 2004, a year that saw something of a renaissance for politically minded concept albums, including Green Day's "American Idiot."
Given that fans often align themselves with a band based on a similar point of view, what is the purpose of a politically minded album if it preaches mostly to the choir?
"It has the same purpose as anybody going to any political demonstration," Segel answered.
"When you are fueled by the fact that other people are essentially with you and that all these things make you feel the same way, maybe you can bring it into the other parts of your life dealing with people who do not feel that way," said Segel, who identified "a fine line between being didactic and being exemplary," or "living (what you believe) and not just paying lip service."
"If you're being didactic, people won't listen," he added. "Americans are pigheaded and if you tell them what to do, they say '(expletive) you.' But if they look at your art, they might check out the ideas behind it. If you have a whole audience of people listening to exemplary music, they may want to be exemplary in their own politics," he said.

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