Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 11/17/10

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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Cloud Cult
November 17, 2010
First Avenue, Minneapolis


There is something truly celebratory in watching a local band who have cut their teeth touring for a while make a stop back in Minneapolis for a triumphant hometown show. It's refreshing to hear how the road has strengthened both the band's performance and their songs, and for them it must feel quite heartening to see so many friendly and familiar faces again, as well as a completely full First Avenue Mainroom there just to see you perform.

That was clearly the case Wednesday night, as Cloud Cult returned to Minneapolis to play a stirring 90-minute set of road-tested songs to a packed and faithful First Ave crowd. It was an uplifting, spirited performance that really found the band coalescing splendidly, with all of the members focused on delivering their new batch of songs adeptly to a dedicated and adoring crowd that couldn't wait to hear them.

The set started with the prolonged horn and string-laden introduction to "Unexplainable Stories," the first track on Cloud Cult's inventive new concept album Light Chasers, which found frontman Craig Minowa faintly singing into a megaphone over the bands stirring arrangements.  It proved to be the perfect warm opening that immediately connected the crowd and the band, as if that was ever in any doubt. I was surprised, since I had last seen the band years ago, how pronounced the brass and strings influence has become on their sound. Those lovely flourishes (provided by Sarah Elhardt, Shawn Neary, Shannon Frid, and Sarah Young) really give their songs depth and a sincere sense of benevolence that only serves to add to the raw emotion of the numbers.

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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
It was clear throughout the performance how thrilled the band was with the support shown to them by the overflow audience. And they were unquestionably ready for the spotlight, with songs that were earnest and on-point all evening. Minowa stated before a rousing version of "Brain Gateway," that the group has been "touring around our new album for a while now, and we're coming home the most together we've ever been." And that tight togetherness was on display all evening, as the band tore through a well-paced, focused set that captivated everyone in attendance.

It takes a lot of confidence to boldly rework a Bob Dylan song in front of a Minnesota crowd, but Cloud Cult's magnetic version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was impassioned and original, imbued with a modern electronic enhancements that instilled the song with a fresh new pulse. Being a massive Dylan fan, it was one of the highlights of the set for me. Their current single "Running With The Wolves" was another, with a couple members of the band offsetting the inherent elegance of the number by banging on flat pans, which gave the rousing song an interesting organic element.

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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Of course, no Cloud Cult show would be complete without the gorgeous paintings of Connie Minowa and Scott West, who crafted two poignant portraits while the band was performing (in addition to adding their vocals to an electric version of "Today We Give Ourselves To The Fire," as well as other songs throughout the set). Their work always gives the music of Cloud Cult an interesting visual interpretation, and I'm consistently amazed by the whirlwind talents of these two splendid artists.

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The main set closed with the dynamic combination of "Take Your Medicine" and "There's So Much Energy In Us," which found all the members of the band and the crowd singing along in full voice. The encores were also quite stirring, as both "The Exploding People," which featured a wild, percussion-driven finish, and "Everybody Here Is A Cloud" resonated resoundingly with the rapt audience. It was obvious that the band has clearly come a long way since being told years ago that they would "never play First Ave" as Minowa and West tried to hand out cd's in front of the club. They have progressed both sonically and commercially, and judging by their engaging, inventive performance on Wednesday night, they don't show any signs of slowing down.

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Photos by Stacy Schwartz
Critic's Bias: I haven't seen Cloud Cult perform in years, and this was an outstanding re-introduction to their developing sound.
The Crowd: A full-house that loved everything that the band was doing.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I would totally hang both those paintings up on my wall."
Random Notebook Dump: Fort Wilson Riot delivered a captivating opening set as well, really stepping up confidently to the both the large stage and larger audience, delivering a knock-out set that hopefully won them a lot of well-deserved new fans.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Stacy Schwartz, including shots of openers Fort Wilson Riot and photos from Cloud Cult's in-studio performance at the Current.

Setlist:
Unexplainable Stories
No One Said It Would Be Easy
Brain Gateway
The Tornado Lessons
Forces Of The Unseen
Mr. Tamborine Man (Dylan)
When Water Comes To Life
Today We Give Ourselves To The Fire
Running With The Wolves
Million Things
It
Intro
You'll Be Bright
Love You All
Take Your Medicine
There's So Much Energy In Us
The Exploding People (Encore)
Everybody Here Is A Cloud (Encore)
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