Cloud Cult have earned a devoted fanbase on the premise of making vulnerable, sincere music and approaching the highs and lows of life from the rawest of places—so it was no surprise that their three shows at the Southern Theater were intimate and revealing. But with the band seated in a row of chairs in front of the 200-person crowd and with not even so much as his trademark mask separating frontman Craig Minowa’s face from his adoring fans, the emotional power of the performance was so heavy at times that it was almost too much to bear.
Thankfully, Minowa knows how to keep the mood manageable, even when his songs explore those dark corners of love and loss. At the very beginning of the night he explained that they would be stopping to tune between most songs (the entire night was recorded for a live album and filmed for a DVD), and those breaks allowed plenty of time to thread stories between the music.
In one quiet moment of tuning, Minowa explained that their next song “Bobby’s Spacesuit” would take on a more festive feel because they had just rehearsed it around his Christmas tree with the scent of pickled herring lingering in the air. The idea of pickled herring itself isn’t all that funny, but for some reason this anecdote got a rise out of the room, connecting the crowd of Midwesterners who clearly shared similar holiday traditions.
And it was through the band’s music itself that the room felt truly unified. As each song began, couples in the room would hug each other tight and smile in recognition, and it was obvious that these songs meant so much to the fans in attendance. With the crowd so quiet that you could hear the painters’ brushes hitting their canvases, it seemed like people were practically holding in their collective breath as the band played delicate songs like “Journey of the Featherless” and “Transistor Radio.” A line from Cloud Cult’s song “Purpose” came to mind—”There must be healing here cause everybody here has been damaged”—and hung around long after that song had been played, and that idea was once again brought to the forefront when Minowa dedicated the two paintings that were being created during the show to two different audience members with tragic stories.
As anyone who has seen Cloud Cult’s documentary No One Said it Would Be Easy can attest, the band have developed uniquely deep connections with their fans. Frontman Craig and his wife, painter Connie Minowa, have endured an unthinkable loss (their first child passed away at the age of 2 back in 2002, when the band was still just beginning), and its their openness about that experience and the way they have conveyed it through music and art that has connected them on an almost spiritual level to others who have been through similar experiences.
“The ghost is back,” Minowa deadpanned at one point, watching as his acoustic guitar tipped backwards in its stand without being touched. “Last night the ghost grabbed Daniel [Zamzow, Cloud Cult’s cellist]’s bow and threw it across the room.” The audience laughed politely and nodded in unquestioning affirmation: Of course. The ghost is back. Why wouldn’t there be a ghost at a Cloud Cult show?
Minowa began one anecdote by simply saying, “When we lost our son, I really wanted to follow him and see where he had gone.” It was not only a bravely honest thing to say, but also a poignant example of just how comfortable he felt with this particular group of fans, and how knew he didn’t have to explain that circumstance in any greater detail. When he explained that everything we do and feel will go on that way forever, and that we can never truly lose someone because they are always there around us, everyone nodded in hopeful agreement. And when the ghost returned a few songs later and started banging on a metal door next to the stage (a door that, as I observed after the show, wasn’t accessible from the outside), most in the room didn’t think anything of it. But when I looked down, I noticed that my forearms were covered in goosebumps.
Cloud Cult will release their live album and DVD in March of 2014, and the recordings will feature many of the band’s “philosophical favorites” from throughout their acclaimed career.
Cloud Cult Set List:
You Were Born
Breakfast With My Shadow
Meet Me Where You’re Going
The Ghost Inside Our House
Running With the Wolves
Journey of the Featherless
That Man Jumped Out the Window
The Show Starts Now
No One Said it Would Be Easy