- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Most bands keep in touch with fans through the Internet, but Cracker takes it a step further fans can pinpoint the group's location down to a T through a global positioning program on its Web site.

"I'm a geek, so I always play around with these things," says David Lowery, singer and guitarist, via cell phone. "Literally, people drive by us and honk and wave. … It's a community-building thing."

Cracker plays tonight at the 9:30 Club.

Besides tracking the Richmond band through the Web (www.crackersoul.com), fans have kept the group alive after its mainstream success gained by 1993's "Kerosene Hat" (and its hit single, "Low") faltered with the band's two follow-up records. The mix of alt-country rock and grunge coupled with Mr. Lowery and guitarist Johnny Hickman's bizarre, yet witty lyrics has kept this fan base strong, even if mainstream radio has shunned the group's newer work.

The band is rounded out by Frank Funaro (drums), Kenny Margolis (keyboards) and Brandy Wood (bass).

Cracker's latest release, "Forever," presented in late January to rave critical reviews, came about in an unusual way for the group as it experimented with new production tools in Mr. Lowery's studio in Richmond.

"Through the miracle of digital recording, we could combine what we liked out of each of those songs," Mr. Lowery says. "It's kind of anti-intuitive. People would play things they wouldn't ordinarily play against the song."

As a result, bass lines appear in parts of songs where they were not intended to go, drum parts are dropped in new places and the record becomes more complex than past efforts. Cracker also experiments with loops and even includes one hip-hop track, although the group has hardly abandoned its roots rock audience.

"Some things like hip-hop have firmly established themselves and show no signs of going away," Mr. Lowery says of the band's reason for delving into the new genre.

The record took about nine months to create, with Mr. Lowery doing most of the production work. It is the band's fifth original album, coming after 2000's hits and rarities collection, "Garage d'Or."

The opening track, "Brides of Neptune," sounds like vintage classic rock, with its subdued organ opening and relaxed vocals. Not until Mr. Lowery sings "you get chased by monkeys," does one realizes this isn't standard country rock. In fact, another phrase referring to the primate, "guarded by monkeys," repeats throughout "Forever," showing that the group is loath to take itself too seriously.

On "Don't Bring Us Down," a fast-paced breakup song, Mr. Lowery sings, "God gave you life/so get out of mine." The tone changes with the lighthearted, funky guitar and catchy chorus of "Ain't That Strange" and even delves into psychedelic pop with "Superfan."

Besides exploring musical genres, the band also keeps busy with other projects. Mr. Lowery has produced or co-produced albums with such groups as the Counting Crows. Mr. Hickman scored the independent film, "The River Red," which marked Mr. Lowery's acting debut.

"The real key is never stopping," Mr. Lowery writes in the group's press materials. "I know it's a funny thing to say that playing music shouldn't be a popularity contest, but I think that we really feel that way. We're just looking to make contact with other people who share our sensibilities."

WHAT: Cracker, with opening act Garrison Starr

WHERE: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW

WHEN: 9 tonight


PHONE: 800/955-5566

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