It was brisk and wintry outside Chicago’s storied Metro Theater, but inside the atmosphere was warm and collectively positive. That’s no surprise, because Cloud Cult was performing, a band that plays unabashed life-affirming music. Cloud Cult is led by Craig Minowa, who is lead singer/guitarist. He is supported by a cellist, a violinist, bassist, drums, and a french horn/keyboardist. Craig had two mics to choose from, so that he could have a highly effected voice if he desired, in addition to at times singing into the microphone with a small siren speaker (like the kind police use). So while they certainly fall into the category of indie rock, one can imagine that there is a certain unique sanguine sound created by the addition of the orchestral instruments and the different vocal variations. But because this is Cloud Cult, on stage there was also the addition of two live painters, who had canvases which could spin 360 degrees. These painters began attacking their canvas as soon as the music started, at first their paintings just being made of circular swirls of color, but as the songs went on beautiful images of people would emerge.
Cloud Cult is a band determined to make their music entice the philosophical, as well as musical, parts of one’s mind. This is readily apparent by examining some of their album titles; “Feel Good Ghosts”, “The Meaning of 8” (a reference to the number’s significance in Christianity and Eastern philosophies), and the most recent “Light Chasers.” On this night they opened with a song off their newest LP “Light Chasers”, There’s So Much Energy In Us. It is a song which slowly broods and expands, allowing for the strings to give a pleasant oscillating feel to the song while the guitar and rhythm section plunge forward as Craig repeatedly tries to get his crowd to understand “there’s so much energy in us!”
The band seemed to be genuinely enthralled, and slightly startled, by the relatively full crowd present at The Metro on this night (a celebrated venue for indie bands coming into Chicago), and they gladly fed off the energy. They did not stick to playing tracks from their most recent LP, instead playing some of the favorites from all of their full-length releases. One highlight was the opening track off of “Feel Good Ghosts”, No One Said It Would Be Easy, in which they begin with a foundation laid by the strings, then quickly infused frolicking electro-synth sounds as the rhythms section picks up steam and the tempo increases and then pours the attention and energy into the lyrics, “When you came up from the ground, from a million little pieces, you’re a pretty human being, yeah, you’re a pretty human being! When it all comes crashing down, try to understand your meanings, no one said it would be easy, this living, it ain’t easy, oh! You were sewn together, with a tapestry of molecules, a billion baby galaxies, and wide open spaces…”
Normally, expounding the lyrics to a song wouldn’t be required in assessing a live performance, but for those unfamiliar to this band it will help illustrate the kind of theoretical/philosophical atmosphere and positive-life-energy this band strives to create for their audience. And on this night they accomplished their goal. Just as on stage the two live painters added a visual artistic element aimed at transcending people’s conceptions of a live stage show; Cloud Cult, with their lyrical message, aims to create something exceeding just a sensory experience.
Other song highlights of the evening included Take Your Medicine, a song which wonderfully combines a toe-tapping beat with a bellowing string section, which then ebbs and flows with wonderfully dynamic energy. There was a creative cover of Mr. Tambourine Man, in which Craig showed he could command the stage solo. But for this author the highlight of the evening was Love You All, the track which ends “Feel Good Ghosts”, which is probably their best LP. This song is gloriously simple, as the cello and violin create bright undertones, and the guitars unhurriedly construct a melody, Craig simple tells us “I love my mother, I love my father, and when it’s my time to go, I need you to know, I love you all.” Those are the only lyrics, but as they are repeated the vivacity builds into something stirring, only to then drop out with Craig repeating the lines with just his guitar playing. The beauty lies within the simplicity.
To be sure, Cloud Cult’s music is difficult to explain through words – as the descriptions of the music and lyrics might come off as hackneyed and corny to some. Plus, if you aren’t open, or used to, music that is based around “big picture” philosophical ideas then Cloud Cult understandably just might not do it for you. But on this night, with a crowd of people who were clearly ready to share in this approach to music, it created for a wonderful ambiance in addition to wonderful listening. While not every song this band makes hits the mark (their last album Light Chasers probably could have done without a few of it’s 16 tracks), on this night they played their best material – and seemed to play it at their best. So if you are the type of person open to your music taking on metaphysical or theological questions, without presuming to know the answers, then this is a band worth listening to – but even more so participating in their live show.