The Middle East is the kind of venue that becomes a haven. The basement venue is probably two-and-a-half times bigger than Larimer Lounge, but has the same low ceilinged, neighborhood dive bar feel, with the added amenities of a coat check and a bar on each side of the room. Despite being on the opposite side of the country from Colorado, I have to say I finally felt as if I was at home here. Ahhh.
The first opening band of the evening, Mason Proper, was a delectable hybrid of borderline Pixies-esque alt rock tossed in the blender with Pavement. Mmmmm, with a little space rock on the side. This five-piece from Ann Arbor, Michigan had a put together, raw sound. Vocalist Jonathan Visger owned the stage, expunging long notes and song lines à la Rivers Cuomo (maybe it was the glasses that lead me to this conclusion), and in short, they were awesome. I was truly sad to see them leave the stage.
The opener Exit Clov was a five-piece indie pop band from D.C. with two tiny, adorable violin-playing twin sister singers. They exploded with what started as orchestrated alt-folk and moved into fuzzed out electronic harmonies with bizarre time signatures that were way too over my head to even recognize.
The crowd was sweetly eager by the time Cloud Cult took the stage at 11:30pm on the button. Lead singer Craig Minnowa’s wife Connie and friend Scott West appointed themselves before unpainted canvasses on each side of drummer Arlen Peiffer, while violinist Shannon Frid and cellist Sarah Young took stage left, opposite bassist Shawn Neary.
Minnowa, with his signature mask on his forehead, ripped into their polyphonic opener, while the frenzied painters set to work. The audience was in adoration the entire time, singing along in elated sonic oblivion. Minnowa was a good sport, proclaiming he could hear the audience singing better than he could hear himself.
Favorites like “Everybody Here is a Cloud,” “When Water Comes to Life,” and “No One Said it Would Be Easy,” were played to perfection, with all band members singing, strings bleating, and guitars fuzzing. Minnowa gave a quick “Yay Obama” in between songs, and I had flashbacks of Claypool when he used a megaphone to sing into the microphone.
Things became sentimental, quiet, emotional (or maybe that was just me?!) with “Love You All,” before the marginally motional shoegazers really started swaying around to the rawkin’ “Tornado Lessons.” Fists pumped in the air, consolidated jumping was rampant, and what we had was a genuine, unassuming and ridiculously astonishing band playing to an appreciative, receptive, and overtly smiling audience.
Obama shout-out: check! Visual delights: check! Orchestral rock music: Chiggity check! Cloud Cult is an astounding live band, and I heart. I swoon. I highly recommend.