NEW YORK CITY—One song deep into the set at the Bowery Ballroom and Craig Minowa leans into the mike, his signature green visor with eyes stenciled into the brim reflecting the red light hanging above the crowd, and points at the glockenspiel to his left. They are improvising a bit tonight. Their keyboard has gone M.I.A., but true to form, Cloud Cult find a way for this to become a positive thing. Instead of cutting songs or trimming the set, they try to make the show something special, something different. The bells will replace the keys.
Cloud Cult is the kind of band that elicits a frenzied reaction from its dedicated fan base, and it’s not because of platinum albums or top 40 singles. They are never going to be playing “Happy Hippo” (which was noticeably missing from the set list) to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, but their influence is nonetheless potent, the kind of influence that made the Replacements the legends they are.
From their eco-friendly practices to their regularly scheduled (almost) yearly release, consistently exciting live shows, and the rotating cast of emerging artists they share the stage with, Cloud Cult are a band that inspire other artists. The band members themselves are artists in multiple senses: the band includes two painters who double as vocalists. The visual art created onstage gains life from the music being played, with a sense of organic creation. (This evening’s show featured a particularly dark portrait of a skeleton and a princess locked in an embrace within a tornado of color.)
Opening for Cloud Cult were Mason Proper, a Michigan band; had Cloud Cult not put on a singular performance, Mason Proper would have stolen the show. Their quirky performance of electronic-music-meets-shake-your-torso-indie-beats was, from start to finish, full of pleasant surprises. During Mason Proper’s set the balcony, where I was situated, went from being the spot to hang out and drink while waiting for Cloud Cult to a battleground where concertgoers jostled for spots along the railing, whispering to one another, “Who is playing now? This is great.”
However, Cloud Cult are not a band to be shown up. They performed a dynamic series of songs, a perfect olio of early work and gems from their latest album, Feel Good Ghost (Tea Partying Through Tornadoes). The show was punctuated with raucous renditions of “Everybody Here is a Cloud,” which had Minowa and company stomping across the stage with an excited crowd pumping fists and singing along to belts of “Everybody here is a crowd / We all walk around with a million faces.” The set also included an acoustic encore and harrowing versions of “Tornado Lessons” (sans organ) and “Journey of the Featherless.”
Was it an earth-shattering concert to end all concerts? Not really, but that was the beauty of this show. It showcased Cloud Cult’s flexibility, the way in which they keep getting better, how their music and performances mature. It showcased why Cloud Cult still matter.
Dustin Luke Nelson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a founding editor of InDigest Magazine and a filmmaker. His writing and interviews have appeared in InDigest, Guernica, Tiny Mix Tapes, Favorite10, Intentionally Urban, and other places. You may have seen him at the grocery store.