Cracker: Live in Madrid

Background: Cracker’s self-titled debut came out in 1992 (there was a recent misguided attempt to re-issue the album on vinyl with an incorrect title, “Black”; historically it has also been mistakenly referenced as “Brand”). Their last studio release was 2014’s Berkeley to Bakersfield, a double album traversing two different sides of the California landscape, the northern Bay and down-state Bakersfield.

In more recent times, band founders David Lowery and Johnny Hickman have been busy with other projects: they have both released solo albums (Lowery, who is also a university lecturer, with Conquistador (2016), In The Shadow of the Bull (2020) and Leaving Key Member Clause (2021), and Hickman with the Dear John EP (2019), and Blood Moon (2021). This new live album, Live in Madrid, may go some way to satisfying those yearning for quality time with the band.

Entertainingly, fans were initially pranked when the album was announced on 12 May 2022 as “a limited edition run of 2500 physically encoded “non fungible tokens”. Further technical details followed – “cutting edge protocols” would provide for “the physical encoding of digital music files in a laminated optical disc. The discs will also contain a unique ISRC code to identify the recording….The music on the optical disk is easily played back by using a number of inexpensive and widely available stand alone optical disk readers. For example the Phillips AZ330T/37 (but really any device based on U.S. Patent # 3,501,586 will work).”

A day later, the position was clarified: “We heard you loud and clear. Since the response was overwhelmingly negative to our initiative to release our next live album physically encoded on a laminated optical disc using Reed-Solomon interleaved encodings, we will instead release a limited edition signed CD”.

Facts and Stats: we count four Cracker live albums to date, namely Hello Cleveland! (Live from the Metro) (2002), We Don’t Suck Live: Live at Wavefest (2005) and Berlin (2007); the last was the impressive CD and DVD release Live At The Rockpalast Crossroads-Festival (2010), originally a broadcast on 2008 German TV.

This new release, Live in Madrid, was recorded by Jose Lanot at the Teatro Lara on 30 November 2021, the sixth date of a ten gig Spanish tour (November to December 2021) which traversed much of the country. The tour was arranged by David Jimenez-Zumalacarregui at Heart of Gold Spain. The album was mixed by Sloan Simpson and mastered by David Lowery.

The band for this tour were made up of Hickman and Lowery with Bryan Howard (bass) and Carlton Owens (drums).

The gig was also video live-streamed (there is some footage available on youtube), and 23 songs were played on the night, one of the longer sets of the tour; “Happy Birthday To Me” and “Beautiful” were apparently on the set list before the encore of “Pictures of Matchstick Men”, but were not played.

We understand that the seven unreleased tracks from the gig (namely “Been Around The World”, “Someday”, “Get Off This”, “Reaction”, “Euro-Trash Girl”, “The Golden Age” and “Pictures of Matchstick Men”) were not included as the band felt that they had either been heard enough before, been covered on other live records or were a write-off due to a “technical” issue (namely a mistake or two on “Reaction”). The extra bonus track for the release starts with the intro of “100 Flower Power” – this quickly falls apart and is declared as the wrong song; “Teen Angst” is then played.

Review: there’s a healthy selection of tracks on this release from across Cracker’s catalogue, including early favourites “Teen Angst” and “Low” to later material like “Sweet Thistle Pie” and “Seven Days”, but none from their last studio album. Nine out of the sixteen tracks are not on their previous live release, Live At The Rockpalast Crossroads-Festival, so this is not a mere repeat. Of particular note is that Live in Madrid includes “Don’t Fuck Me Up With Peace And Love”, a song which may be considered one of the more obscure, or at least well less known, tracks from their debut.

There are some interesting interpretations of songs, particularly from 2009’s Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey; the title track is taken down a notch to be almost acoustic, “Show Me How This Thing Works” is reduced to core elements, and “Hey Brett You Know What Time It Is” takes more of a blues approach.

As for the quieter songs, Hickman excels with his vocal on the gentle “Another Song About The Rain”, and Lowery provides a sensitive performance on “I Want Everything”. However Cracker are at their most thrilling when at full throttle – the full-on “100 Flower Power Maximum” and guitar assaults of “Movie Star” of “Time Machine”. Other highlights include a ramshackle version of “Waiting For You Girl”, the alternative singalong of “Don’t Fuck Me Up With Peace And Love” and the relentlessly upbeat “The World Is Mine”.

Live in Madrid is available as a limited edition CD (600 copies) and download.

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Label: Cracker [PAT-2022-01]
Release Date: DEC 2022