Cracker / July 22, 2006 / New York (Bowery Ballroom)

One thing is certain with Cracker's frontman David Lowery -- you never know exactly what you're gonna get at a live show. Like his music, he wears a lot of faces, from mischievous and clever to sad an

One thing is certain with Cracker's frontman David Lowery -- you never know exactly what you're gonna get at a live show. Like his music, he wears a lot of faces, from mischievous and clever to sad and pissed.

And at New York's Bowery Ballroom, a show that fell midway through Cracker's latest jaunt to support its new album, "Greenland," it quickly became apparent that tonight the band was all business.

With reading glasses edged about halfway down Lowery's distinctive nose, the guys busted into the opening track "One Fine Day" with loaded, furious guitars -- and all the energy of a right hook smacking squarely into your face.

Granted, Lowery isn't exactly known for his sunny outlook, and that's the charm and the drive that fuels such heartbreakingly well-written songs. Indeed, "Greenland" is an album that delves into the passing of good times, loves and places, and is a wary look at someone who's half through life but far from done living.

With hardly a pause in between the first few songs, Lowery appeared pensive, but the sound was tight. Songs were sharp, but almost painfully, pointedly so, and lead guitarist Johnny Hickman skillfully picked from one to another, providing balance when he and Lowery played off one another. As always, Lowery has no problem projecting. His voice is ruggedly clear, and when he grabs the mic and gets his face right into it, spit flying, it's immediately felt that he's gonna bring it.

The terse tracks served as rabble-rousers for a crowd that looked like it had its own baggage to unload. By the time the band kicked into "I See the Light" for song two, they were hooked, and when "Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)" rolled around, the crowd was bouncing up and down and throwing devil horns. The steady rocker "Euro-Trash Girl" drew one of the night's strongest responses and singalongs.

Staples were mixed throughout, but it was clear that Lowery was more invested in "Greenland" tracks than the old hits. On songs like "Gimme One More Chance," "Something You Ain't Got" and "Where Have Those Days Gone," the band seemed to rock out a little longer and with a little more care than on standards like "Low." When the group performed Camper Van Beethoven's "Take the Skinheads Bowling," Lowery finally cracked a smile, and later commented on his maturing outlook, "About 23 years ago, if someone'd tell me I'd be up here singing 'Take the Skinheads Bowing' with only a bottle of water, not stoned, I'd think they were high."

Cracker sidestepped most of its slow, sorrowful ballads, when those would have provided a welcome reprieve to balance out the rock onslaught. In fact, the only singer/songwriter moment came near the end when Lowery stepped out to do "Hallelujah" solo for the encore. The rest of the group then joined him for "Golden Age," which then led to an uneventful wind-down with "St. Cajetan." Throughout the night, while it didn't seem Lowery particularly enjoyed putting out the strained set, it did appear he gave it all he had. It just would have been nicer to see the band in a different light at the end of the tunnel.

Here is Cracker's set list:

"One Fine Day"
"I See the Light"
"Everybody Gets One For Free"
"Movie Star"
"Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)"
"The World Is Mine"
"Gimme One More Chance"
"The Long Plastic Hallway"
"Take the Skinheads Bowling"
"Brides of Neptune"
"Something You Ain't Got"
"Euro-Trash Girl"
"Lonesome Johnny Blues"
"Bicycle Spaniard"
"Darling We're Out of Time"
"Low"
"Where Have Those Days Gone"

Encore:
"Hallelujah"
"The Golden Age"
"St. Cajetan"