Cloud Cult | 06.26.14

live cloud-cult_smI sound like a member of a cult, but I happily drink that Kool-Aid.




live cloud-cult_cody-york

Plush, St. Louis

There are times when I just don’t know how to start writing about a band and a live performance. It’s always a good sign, actually. It means that the evening was so incredible, I’m not quite sure how to do it justice. During Cloud Cult’s double set at Plush, I joked that my entire review was just going to be a string of colorful adjectives and awestruck expletives. Indeed, for one song, my notes were, “SweetMotherofFuck,” and for a moment I considered spacing out those four words and having that be the entirety of my review. Cloud Cult rendered me nearly wordless and I am having a hard time getting past those initial spare, but intense reactions to do the evening justice.

On one level, it’s for the same reason as many other bands I’ve reviewed before. The sheer life force that each individual musician pumps into and then pushes out of their instruments can be dizzying when done with such mastery. It’s a wondrous thing, you know? This ability to translate feelings, thoughts, and beliefs into rhythms and poetry. It’s primal. When you have the kind of monumental talent with your instrument that each of the members of Cloud Cult possesses, it becomes transcendent, as well. I know, I know. I sound like a member of a cult, but I happily drink that Kool-Aid.

More importantly, I think Cloud Cult is so successful at casting goose bumps because of the overarching message of most of their songs, which is to live life to its absolute fullest. So many of the lyrics speak to being aware of how precious our lives are and appreciating the small sliver of time we have here. Although life is full of loss and pain, those terrible times are a dark contrast serving to illuminate all that is beautiful and bright about our brief time here with those we love. We don’t always see that in the midst of grief, but if you are able to pull yourself away from dark, the light is made even more intense. The lyrics of “Complicated Creation,” the song that inspired my creative cursing fit mentioned above, sum it up nicely:

I called up the moon for a little consultation.
Yes, you know that I’m a happy man, but something in me is burning.
I gotta push it, push it out, push it, push it out, push it out
So much frustration.

The moon called me back
And said “I’ll give you some advice: You gotta live a little lighter,
You gotta breathe a little deeper
You gotta suck it, suck it in, suck it, suck it in, suck it in
There’s your medication.

When this show at Plush was announced, I was very elated to hear that there would not be an opening act; instead, Cloud Cult would perform two sets: the first portion of the evening acoustic and the second half plugged in. The challenge and greatness of playing acoustically means that everything is, as front man Craig Minowa explained, “bare in front of you, and you hear every possible meticulous good thing and error.” I have no idea where those errors might have occurred, but “meticulous” is a spot-on description for all of the layered elements of the orchestral indie rock band’s sound.

As the band entered the stage for the acoustic portion of the evening, artists Connie Minowa and Scott West took their positions at easels flanking the stage and began sketching out their intentions. Minowa’s would become a close-up of a luna moth and West’s a woman encircled in feathers. Later, it was explained that the paintings would be auctioned off at the end of the evening. Oh, how I wish I had a spare $500 lying around.

The set began with “You Were Born” from the album Light Chasers and “Chain Reaction” from The Meaning of 8. For the third song, the band gave St. Louis a little treat: a song that they have never played in any of the other cities, “Bobby’s Spacesuit,” which was a hidden track on the LP Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus. “No One Said It Would Be Easy” was dazzling, the sort of song that makes you want to fling your arms out and spin in circles. The highlight of the acoustic portion of the evening for me was the band’s stunning renditions of some of their older songs: “Pretty Voice,” “Transistor Radio,” and “Chemicals Collide.” Those are the three songs that introduced me to the band about seven years ago, and since I’ve never been able to make it to one of their past live shows, hearing those three tunes was a true treat.

I do love hearing a song at its barest and sparest, but the energy of Cloud Cult’s plugged-in show is, well…electric. Driving drumbeats, stunning strings, and seemingly boundless energy make it an experience that rivals the great majority of concerts I have been to before. When the band returned to the stage, the quiet strains of “All the Things We Couldn’t See” began to build steadily, instrument by instrument, a crescendo made more powerful by the painters at either side of the stage madly spinning their canvases and adding brushstrokes of bold color. I think it was a splendid choice that the artists kept to black and white during the acoustic set and then when the band plugged in, that’s when the color exploded.

The stabbing drum line of “Everybody Here Is a Cloud” was the first in a series of move-your-body goodies like “Sleepwalker” and the aforementioned “Complicated Creation” from the Love album, ending with “Today We Give Ourselves to the Fire” from Light Chasers. By the end of the set, I was sweaty, my palms were stinging, and my heart was happy. This is music that fills up all of the empty spaces. The final song of the encore, “The Invocation (Pt. 1) – You’ll Be Bright,” explains that feeling far better than I ever could:

All the things you’ll love,
All the things that may hurt you,
All the things you shouldn’t do,
And all the things you want to
They’re calling your name…travel safely.

Every first kiss, every crisis, every heartbreak, and every act of kindness
They’re calling your name…travel safely.

Every empire, every monument, every masterpiece and every invention,
They’re calling your name…travel safely.

I found stars on the tip of your tongue.
You speak Poltergeist, so do I, so do I.

What comes will come.
What goes will go.
The wind will blow where the wind is blowing.
Let go of where you think you’re going.
We never know why it flows where it’s flowing.

We’ve always been what we will always be.
I’m so convinced we have to get there, we can part the sea.
So bring the dead to life, turn your blood to wine.
All your life you have waited for this moment to arrive.

And you’ll be bright. | Janet Rhoads

Photo by Cody York

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