Cloud Cult at the High Noon.

Last night I let Andrew, Julie, and Abs convince me to come along to see the Cloud Cult show at the High Noon Saloon. I figured it had been long enough since I’d been to see a show and a smaller venue, and the prospect of a night out with good friends — including two fans of the band — seemed good. The short version: I am very glad that I went.
We all had a drink at the bar during the second opening band, a Madison group called Pale Young Gentlemen, sort of a Decemberists rip-off with frontmen in old-fashioned suits and hipster hair, plus a dramatic string ensemble — I wasn’t super impressed. For the benefit of those of us who had not seen the band before, Andrew described Cloud Cult’s shows as “cathartic,” a description which, as I stood near the front for the next hour or so, watching and listening, I came to understand and agree with completely. As the band plays, two of its members paint to the music, and so the audience is treated to two creative acts at once, a combination which may at first sound a little gimmicky or pretentious, but which turns out to be nothing short of amazing. The reason for this seems to be that the painting-in-process lends to the entire show an impromptu and novel feel, making the entire experience one of watching six people make something completely new and irreplicable. The energy of the band is one of almost frenetic joy coupled with intense sadness and loss. This begins to make sense when you listen closely to the lyrics of the songs, which sketch out a larger story full of recurrent themes: losing a child, finding strength after grief, seeing significance in simple things, discovering life anew. The band’s range is from mellow and contemplative to direct, high-energy, and exhortative, but throughout there is the same sense of a transcendant wisdom gained at considerable price, and it really makes you listen.
The paintings themselves are incredibly good, and seem to come from the same wellspring as the music. Having not spent much time watching painters in the act of painting, simply being present for the creation of an entire work of art — hastily done though it may be — was for me positively transfixing. The feeling is one of shocking communion, as though you have been granted access to something deeply personal, and the experience is moving to the point of tears. Listening to the music is the same way: something internal and proufoundly felt is being shared openly, and you are the recipient. It feels like a gift.
All of this makes sense during the show, and if you pay attention you can figure out with startling accuracy the band’s history, which you can read more about here. Suffice it to say that during the last song, when the frontman and hist wife (one of the painters) sang a duet at the central microphone, I was completely gone. Intense only begins to describe it.
The band auctions off the paintings at the end of the show. The one that held my attention for almost the entire set — of a woman who appeared to be crying — ended up going for around $500. Andrew apparently has one — an incredibly thoughtful gift from a good friend — in his living room. I’ll have to check it out.
For those of you in the Boston area, you should make a point of going to see this band when they’re at the Middle East later this month. September 6th. Mark your calendars.


2 thoughts on “Cloud Cult at the High Noon.

  1. I saw a band called “Birdshow of North America” in Seattle in a tiny dive bar. They do a similar type of gig — instrumental music where all of their songs are named after birds and one dude does a painting of that bird while they play.
    I think I showed you the albatross painting I bought when I visited Mad City (I was coming straight from that week in Seattle). I’m not sure if I’d buy something like that as a gift, though — for me the value is largely in remembering that I was there when it was painted.

  2. Yep, I remember, and was thinking of that painting, and of your desciption of the band, when I went to the show.
    The person who gave the gift was at the show (another, previous show), too, which is how she was able to buy it in the first place, since that’s where they auction them off. I agree, the appeal is only partly the painting itself, the rest being largely the fact of being there during its creation.

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