Thursday, July 17, 2014

Concert Review: Cloud Nothings in Lawrence, Kansas

Cloud Nothings
Live at the Granada, Lawrence, KS
In a musical landscape that has largely brushed aside rock music, Cleveland trio Cloud Nothings are torch bearers for the indie rock of days gone by. Champions of the gritty and visceral college radio rock a la Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, and Sebadoh. Over five years, frontman Dylan Baldi has grown the group from a humble little basement project into a full fledged cohesive unit of a band. They recorded their third album with Steve Albini and the indie rock legend’s edgy influence still lingers on the band’s most recent release: the absolutely relentless Here and Nowhere Else (produced by producer du jour John Congleton, who is literally recording ALL OF THE BEST RECORDS these days).

Here and Nowhere Else sounds huge, and the band’s live show proved ill-fitting for the cavernous Granada. It might be personal bias, since I actively hate seeing shows at the Granada because bands would always sound better at any other Lawrence venue, but there was something that failed to connect. The venue also cramps any sense of intimacy, so that might have attributed to the sterility of the show. It also might have been the workaday attitude the band brought onto the stage. Though the small crowd was into it, it was hard to tell if Baldi was exhausted, dealing with a personal matter, or if his no-nonsense attitude is part of the band’s shtick.

But who gives a shit if the band seems like they’d rather be anywhere else but your town if they fucking slay, right? And slay they did. I know I’m beating a dead horse about how much I fucking hate seeing shows at the Granada (and really, the Granada is fine for big shows that can pack a room and have light shows and fog machines and all that shit) but all I could think about is how great this show would have been at the tinier Replay Lounge or Jackpot Saloon, or any venue with a capacity of 100 and better acoustics. Watching Baldi’s right hand blur as he strummed at an ungodly speed and bark his repetitive, mantra-like vocals into the mic cut through pretty much everything.

The group blazed through their 50 minute set comprised mostly of tracks from Here and Nowhere Else and Attack on Memory and a handful of intense instrumental pummeling. Speaking of pummeling, drummer Jason Gerycz was the real star of the show, delivering a devastating performance that had him toweling himself off after each song in the well air conditioned venue. Relentlessness is the band’s best quality and they put it on display. I normally hate repetitive music, but the way Baldi repeats these great lines over and over have a crescendo effect that boils over into emotional resonance. And even if the band was just crossing another date of another long continental tour and sort of acted like it, it didn’t show in their set. As Baldi sang on Here and Nowhere Else’s closing track and the set’s highlight “I’m Not Part of Me,” “I’m not telling you all I’m going through,” and I’m fine with that.


·      British openers and recent Fat Possum signees the Wytches played a surprisingly tight set of heavy indie rock tunes that highlighted the band members’ previous dabblings in horror punk and death metal, but all I could really focus on was how the drummer had to keep flipping his little moptop swoop out of his face to focus on his kit and how the singer’s shaggy do hung down so as to resemble a miniature version of the Addams Family’s cousin Itt resting on the shoulders of a scrawny Englishman. Because I am apparently an old man who hates fun, I was disturbed that the venue tacked on a local opener in Lawrence’s Westerners, and they made me realize how much things can change in just two years. While the group’s music was tight, but forgettable, they did have really nice instruments and seemed to be having a really great time being a band that plays shows in the town’s biggest venue and gets to open for a nationally known touring act, and really, that sort of personal satisfaction is almost more important than making compelling music. They also seemed really young, and given time they could develop into a solid ham-and-egger local opener a la Fourth of July.

·      This really has no place in the review proper, but I spent the last twenty minutes of the show intently focused on the small group of seemingly well-off and highly twerpish 21 year olds who saw fit to form a mosh pit and ruin everyone’s night. I was focused because I didn’t want to get my teeth knocked out. It was fascinating. When I saw this group, at first I was like “Well, they’re young so it’s ok if they’re shitty. Everyone’s shitty when they’re 20, it’s just a fact. I was shitty, and now I’m just old and whatever.” But when the shit went down, it felt like the opening of Blue Velvet. You know, the darkness lurking beneath sparkling suburbia. What is it like watching kids who have never had to work for anything start a mosh pit? It’s fucking scary. In the mosh pits I flirted with when I was 18 and going to punk shows, it was all part of an emotional release in response to the music. If someone fell, the guy who knocked them down helped them up. People went hard, but usually not enough to ruin the good time being had by those who didn’t want to participate. Maybe that’s an idealized version of how a mosh pit should work, and maybe it’s actually different, but that’s what I was around. Last night, these douche bags just wanted to make it apparent that they were having a great time and fuck you. There was something malicious about their pit. They went too hard, no doubt fueled by too much booze (I witnessed the preppiest looking one of the bunch coming out of a bathroom stall after the show saying it’s a bad idea to drink a bottle of whisky before going to see your favorite band. Your favorite band is Cloud Nothings? Really? What is going on in the world!), and I saw one of the guys pick up a smaller guy and bodyslam him to the floor after he got knocked too hard. Someone from outside the friend group. Someone who just wanted a piece of the pit. The poor kids up front with their Xed hands kept getting treated like the ropes of a wrestling ring, constantly getting clobbered by legal adults acting like fucking children. Maybe it’s just a byproduct of Lawrence in the summertime where the jobless students just spend their days and nights getting hammered. This pit seemed like an acceptable excuse for these kids to be total dicks, they were the worst, and maybe I’m being too judgmental but it’s not OK to make everyone around you uncomfortable because you want to be a turd.

·      On the plus side, most everyone watched the shows with their eyes instead of through their phones. The one person I saw watching through their phone was actually quiet deft, managing to move to the music, have his free arm around his girl, and videotape and post the shitty video to the internet with the other. Gotta applaud that dexterity.

·      Though I never miss an opportunity to shit talk the Granasty (the place has undergone numerous renovations in the last decade and still warrants that nickname), they did have Tallgrass 8-Bit IPA tall boys for only a dollar more than a PBR tall boy, which is actually a steal in terms of bar beer prices. Considering that the Granada used to charge you for water (do they still?), and their drink prices ridiculous, it was nice to get a tasty beverage for a reasonable price. Just tastes better.

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