Words By Andy Johnson, photos by Farrah Skeiky
Most press about the Cleveland indie-rock trio Cloud Nothings centers on Dylan Baldi, the group’s 22-year-old singer/guitarist/wunderkind. And rightfully so, considering Baldi is Cloud Nothings. He formed the group, writes the songs, and, as of 2014, handles both rhythm and lead guitar. No offense to Baldi, who is a more-than-capable guitarist, nor TJ Duke, whose basslines form a dynamic counterpoint to Baldi’s frantic fretwork, but those present at Wednesday night’s sold-out show at the Black Cat recognized that Jason Gerycz, the trio’s magnificent drummer, is their MVP.
Gerycz is essential because Cloud Nothings thrive on urgency. His furious fills kept the crowd moving while Baldi hammered away and shouted lyrics about depression, false nostalgia, failed romance and other millennial angst. Indeed, there were few moments of respite during their 14-song set. Their unfettered pace allowed them to cram in the entirety of their new album Here and Nowhere Else in addition to six songs off 2012’s breakthrough Attack On Memory in just over an hour, eschewing all material off their amateurish first two releases.
Ryley Walker opened. Accompanied by a keyboardist and a second guitarist, the Chicago-based singer ambled away on his acoustic guitar, playing a few songs off his debut album All Kinds of You. Walker’s stage banter was funny and his voice sounded pleasant, even if his warbling did grow tiresome. Still, I’m confused why a band as kinetic as Cloud Nothings tapped a laid-back, psych-folk guitarist to open for them. He would have been a choice act to tour with the likes of Kurt Vile or Destroyer.
Taking the stage shortly after 10 pm to A$AP Ferg’s “Shabba”, Cloud Nothings started the night off with “Quieter Today” and “Now Hear In”, the first two tracks off Here and Nowhere Else. These two, along with “Stay Useless”, are among the group’s most accessible material. Such friendly fare was appreciated by those looking to stay in the back and bob their heads. But if you were craving something a little more feral, the club didn’t heat up until they played the raucous instrumental “Separation.” Nowhere’s seismic “Pattern Walks” also floored the Black Cat with an extended, bass-heavy snarl that dissolved into an extended noise sequence.
They ended the main set with their current single “I’m Not Part Of Me”, wherein Baldi warns, “I’m not telling you all I’m going through / I feel fine.” His self-deception resonated with the audience, who bruised one another in the pit that formed below Baldi in the front of the stage. I pity the poor photographers who were squeezed between the masses.
After a brief break, the trio returned to perform the slow-burning “No Future/No Past” in the encore. The evening culminated with the eleven-minute (I timed it) punk maelstrom “Wasted Days”, indubitably the Cloud Nothings’ best and most aggressive song. It built and built in intensity, winding its way through Duke’s trance-enduing bass riffs and Gerycz’s ferocious drum rolls, before the whole damn thing gave away as Baldi shrieked over and over again, “I thought / I would / Be more / Than this!”
“Wasted Days” is a commentary on the issues facing many twenty-somethings, who, thanks to a recession and the web’s reshaping of culture and commerce, no longer have a set path to solvency, not to even imagine prosperity. It can be overwhelming to consider the matters of forming a family, or buying a house, or settling into a long-term career, or just growing old and boring. Nevertheless, for an hour at the Black Cat, Cloud Nothings granted their fans a reprieve from such anxiety to appreciate the urgent sounds of the here and focus on nowhere else.