Live review: Cloud Cult @ the Bluebird TheaterBy John Moore | May 22nd, 2009 | No Comments »
Natalie, is that you? Photos by Joe McCabe.
Fair warning: This will not be a typical concert review but, given that Cloud Cult has played Denver four times in the past year, I’m taking liberties. Click here for a pretty detailed recent account of the whole wonderful live Cult experience, which hasn’t changed much in the past 12 months.
No, today is instead for an admittedly irrational, slightly pathetic and altogether rambling rant about music, art and getting jilted…
Sitting in the Bluebird Theater last September watching a woman come alive before me on a canvas while listening to Cloud Cult perform live was a visceral experience that caught me completely off-guard. The intoxicating music, the contemplative lyrics, the trippy video, the mesmerizing confluence of melody, strings, percussion and horns, all laden with such empirical environmental sincerity, made me fall in love. With the music. With the band. With Natalie.
That’s the name I gave the woman quickly coming to life before my eyes. You see, Scott West and Connie Minowa (wife of lead singer Craig Minowa), paint original works on-stage during every Cloud Cult concert. At the end of the night, the paintings are auctioned off, with proceeds going to the band’s favored environmental causes.
“Natalie” stayed with me for days. She was bent over, with her arms extended and hands up. Her long hair that ultimately decided to be red, flailed behind her in wild abandon. She was caught in an awkward moment. Perhaps she was falling. Perhaps she was dancing. Perhaps she was running away. But near the end of the set, she was given tears that streamed from her eyes, changing her complexion and her entire emotional demeanor to one of incredible sadness. Maybe even fear. Definitely tormented by something. Or someone.
I had to have her. I drove the bidding higher a few times, but ultimately I could not keep up. I’ve seen many dozens of bands since that night, but Cloud Cult, and especially Natalie, never left me.
The one word that to me summed up the band and their art: Authentic.
Until Tuesday. When Cloud Cult returned to the Bluebird. And so did Natalie, for all intents and purposes.
If memory can be trusted, the set list had barely changed since September, and I was fine with that. But something about seeing Natalie come alive again in the same way felt, to me, like bumping into the one that got away in Aisle 8 of the supermarket.
It felt like a cheat. When a band travels from city to city and night to night, there is no expectation that the set list will, or even should, change. A year ago, Cloud Cult played back-to-back shows at the Larimer Lounge. The music didn’t change, and no one much cared. A show is built for the road. It’s designed to similarly move different audiences in each new city. So there’s no presumption that those people will be the same from night to night.
Art is something different, though. When an artist approaches a blank canvas, there is something singular about the endeavor, every time out. Unless you go for paint by numbers, no two pieces of art should be created alike.
So as Cloud Cult’s familiar but mind-blowing set continued on Tuesday (does it get any better than “Chemicals Collide?”), I found myself feeling almost taunted by the continuing re-emergence of this woman who had won me and then left me behind. No, she wasn’t a carbon copy, but close enough. It made me angry — about the painting, and about the music.
So, apparently, Cloud Cult can replicate its live music as easily as its resident artists can re-produce their art. Note for note. Stroke for stroke. That’s when I noticed that the video hadn’t much changed. The lead singer still had that Mardi Gras mask. On cue, the band dutifully took another picture of the crowd for their web site. All details that last time seemed so unique.
(Hey, I said up-front this rant would be irrational and emotional. One enhanced by a few glasses of wine.)
Now, several days later, I’m still not sure why I cared. Maybe it’s because I never expected that September show to leave me with such an impression in the first place, when ultimately that night was just another stop along the road for these (deservedly) rising Minnesota indie rock stars.
So, for that matter, was Tuesday.
Then they played “No One Said it Would Be Easy,” in honor of a fan from Colorado named Spencer they said was recovering from a bad fall, and I realized what a turd I was being. Then the lights came up and there was Natalie up there on the stage, in full light, mocking me. For sale again. Only this time she’d draw more than $900, even further out of my league.
This time, no bid from me. To quote from my favorite Cloud Cult song (“Journey of the Featherless”), for the moment I could see way better than I’ve ever seen.
And, like Natalie, I’m gone …
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.