When I first saw Cloud Nothings live at FYF Fest a couple of years ago, I found myself equally impressed and frustrated. Their set revealed hints of something brilliant, but also a level of indulgence and a little sloppiness that perhaps stood as evidence of their relative youth.
Since then, a fair amount has changed for Cloud Nothings. The quartet has become a live trio, Baldi has written the best album of his career so far with the compact Here and Nowhere Else, and my venue for seeing them was the intimate Roxy Theatre as opposed to the wide open plains of a festival stage.
These days everything about the band screams “economy.” Their new album clocks in at just over half an hour, the three-piece is unbelievably pared down on stage, and Baldi has honed his songwriting skills to the point where he can combine melody, ferocious speed, and subtlety with apparent ease.
Live opener “Quieter Today” is a good example of this, but perhaps the best is “Psychic Trauma.” Its languid opening was followed by a sudden injection of adrenaline that sent the song careering through a dizzying and triumphant couple of minutes, and if anything, the band played the track even faster on stage than on record.
As much as Baldi gets the songwriting credit, his two colleagues are the key to his ability to construct the songs the way he does. TJ Duke is a blur of activity on the bass, and Jayson Gerycz on the drums is particularly jaw-dropping, playing at a pace that occasionally defies belief as the band comes tantalizingly close to falling to pieces in almost every song. It does help that a little of the grating rasp of Baldi’s voice has been sanded away, leaving a fully-formed rock star yell in its place.
That tightrope walk act is what gives the latest version of Cloud Nothings its real thrill live. Those last thirty second of “Psychic Trauma” are just one moment in which they look like they are barely holding it together, but this is merely a rollercoaster style of perceived danger. These guys now know exactly what they’re doing, and they led the hugely energetic Roxy crowd through most of their new album (the wonderful “I’m Not Part Of Me” was another pogo highlight for the assembled mosh pit), not to mention a couple of popular older tracks.
The only time the band did indulge itself slightly (and perhaps inevitably) was in the encore with the sprawling “Wasted Years,” but that can be forgiven as the one moment when the band went old-school in their live improv approach. Before that encore, they had rattled through their set in just over forty minutes without leaving anybody feeling in the slightest bit short changed.
So, again, it comes back to that economy. Cloud Nothings simply gives fantastic bang for your buck, and the members have evolved into a damn fine rock band with no reason as to why they can’t have a long and fruitful career.
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