Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 4/27/13

Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 4/27/13
Photo by Erik Hess

Cloud Cult With JBM First Avenue, Minneapolis April 27, 2013

With Twin Cities music fans already in a terrific mood due to the best weather of the year, Cloud Cult uplifted a sold-out First Avenue even further with a 21-song, 95-minute set. The road-tested sextet (accompanied by their customary live painters Connie Minowa and Scott West) deftly went from hushed acoustic numbers to a thunderous, electronic-tinged modern sound, all while focusing on their adventurous new album, Love.

See Also: Slideshow: Cloud Cult at First Avenue

After some entrancing pre-show instrumental music set the tone in the room, the band took to the stage and added to the entrancing atmosphere with the somber, string-laden instrumental intro "All the Things We Couldn't See" as the backdrop dramatically filled with stars. The song eventually built to a raucous finish that flowed smoothly into the start of a lively rendition of "Chain Reaction," which featured the golden brass tones of Shawn Neary's trombone and Sarah Perbix's french horn. "Hello, Minneapolis! We're Cloud Cult," exclaimed frontman Craig Minowa after the ovation died down.

Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 4/27/13
Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 4/27/13
Photos by Erik Hess

The band has grown more adventurous and bold with their live sound and arrangements over the years, which was evident on the dynamic, electronic pulse layered through "Running with the Wolves," as each musician provided some added texture to the anthemic song, which sounded enormous on First Ave's sound system. "Thank you, kind people," Minowa then declared warmly. "There's nothing like coming home, I tell you. It's been far too long since we've been here. There's some really good energy in the room tonight."

But instead of building on the swelling enthusiasm coursing through the club, Craig brought out an acoustic guitar and slowed things down with a touching, tender version of "Meet Me Where You're Going," which he wrote for the band's sound tech/tour manager Jeff Johnson's wedding. The turbulent pacing of the show, with loud, bombastic numbers butting up abrasively against delicate acoustic songs, was the only troublesome aspect of an otherwise smooth performance, something that Craig addressed later in the show: "All Cloud Cult albums are a bit schizophrenic, so we're going to change the pace up during our shows just like our records."

But that proved to be just a minor issue as the show wore on, with each emphatic number furthering the deep connection the band members have with their fans. After a boisterous, soaring take on "Sleepwalker," Minowa shared even more of himself and his story with the audience. "This is our first tour with our two kids, who are one and three. And the three-year-old has been resilient while potty-training in public restrooms throughout the tour. And, after his first day back at preschool, he caught the stomach flu. He's fine now, he's just been through a lot. This is a song written for him." And with that, the band eased into a touching rendition of "You Were Born," guided elegantly along by Shannon Frid-Rubin's violin and Daniel Zamzow's cello.   "Unexplainable Stories" and "It's Your Decision" both drastically picked up the pace of the set, with the on-point drumming of Arlen Peiffer driving the songs forward. Minowa then took a moment to mention a slight change in the setlist: "We're going to do a song that we weren't planning on playing tonight. Connie and I live in a small farm in Wisconsin now, and we're not always aware of all the stuff the Current is doing lately, but we want to thank them for always supporting us. We were informed during sound check that this next song charted so much on their Chart Show that they had to retire it -- so we thought we'd better play it for you all tonight." And an emphatic take on their hit single "1x1x1" followed, getting the crowd dancing in time to its insistent rhythms.

After taking the time to endearingly lead the house in singing "Happy Birthday" to a fan in the crowd, the band kept everyone singing along to a somber, acoustic-laden take on "Chemicals Collide." The Modest Mouse-like churn of "Complicated Creation" sped things up briefly, but again the curiously paced set slowed down dramatically with the haunting instrumental "Love & the First Law of Thermodynamics," which eventually morphed into another crowd singalong on "Good Friend," as the stage was bathed in yellow, sun-like light and Connie and Scott left their easels to join in the unifying chorus.

Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 4/27/13
Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 4/27/13
Cloud Cult at First Avenue, 4/27/13
Photos by Erik Hess

After Minowa admitted, "This particular song beat the crap out of me during the songwriting process," he led the band through the subtle acoustic arrangement of "You're the Only Thing in Your Way," as their album cover dramatically came to life on the backdrop behind the band. From there the set built to a exhilarating end, as the entire band forcefully beat on some drums at the start of "Blessings," before the familiar, uplifting melody of the track revealed itself. "The Calling" kept the momentum high, and featured a powerful strings/horns/keys-laden outro, with Craig flailing away on guitar, lost in the moment.

Peaceful images of outer space colored the backdrop during a slow-burning, anthemic take on "There's So Much Energy in Us," with the end of the song carried by the voices of the crowd. "Thank you for being so good to us," said Minowa sincerely, as he led the band through the main set closer, "Everybody Here Is a Cloud," which again turned into a vibrant club-wide singalong as the simmering song gradually took flight and the band left to a well-earned, rousing ovation.

They returned quickly and began with a short, a cappella burst of "Made Up Your Mind," before easing their way into "The Show Starts Now," with Minowa taking a lingering, meaningful look at the sold-out crowd as he sang the poignant lines, "I want to be the guy who lives in the moment." And indeed, what a moment it was. After thanking the crowd one last time, Minowa instructed us all to travel safely before leading the band through an inspiring take on "You'll Be Bright," which elevated everyone in the room while bringing the set triumphantly to a close. Love was most definitely in the air at First Avenue on Friday night, thanks to Cloud Cult and the warm spring evening.

Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: I'd only seen Cloud Cult play at the Current's birthday and a music festival, so this was my first chance seeing them perform a full set in front of their dedicated fans, which really made a big difference. The Crowd: A packed but polite crowd, with everybody in a good mood because of the nice weather. Overheard in the Crowd: "What's the name of this song? It's my favorite."

Random Notebook Dump: With all of the bad news dominating the headlines as of late, it was a welcome escape to lose yourself in the restorative optimism of Cloud Cult's music.


All The Things We Couldn't See

Chain Reaction

Running with the Wolves

Meet Me Where You're Going


You Were Born

Unexplainable Stories

It's Your Decision


Chemicals Collide

Complicated Creation

Love & the First Law of Thermodynamics

Good Friend

You're The Only Thing in Your Way


The Calling

There's So Much Energy in Us

Everybody Here Is a Cloud

Made Up My Mind (Encore)

The Show Starts Now (Encore)

You'll Be Bright (Encore)

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