Last Night: Cloud Nothings At Fitzgerald's

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Cloud Nothings, A Classic Education, The Boxing Lesson Fitzgeralds February 23, 2012

It's only February and 2012 is shaping up to be a big year for Cleveland's Cloud Nothings. Their new album Attack on Memory is garnering raves from critics and fans alike, having been the first release of the year to earn Pitchfork's Best New Music nod.

And Thursday night at Fitzgerald's, it was definitely in the air that to see Cloud Nothings was to be part of something.

I was accompanied by a bandmate who had only heard "Wasted Days" on Sirius/XM at work, and I did my best to hype them up. But before seeing them live (having unfortunately missed them when they were in Houston previously), I may as well have been talking about a different band.

Abandoned, it seems, is the lighthearted indie-punk of their previous releases, Cloud Nothings unleashed the heaviest of jams from Memory for the majority of the set. While songs like "Stay Useless" and "Fall In" push Dylan Baldi's handiwork with hooks to the front with strong results, the intensity of "No Future/No Past," "No Sentiment" and especially the extended "Wasted Days" make for a breathtaking live experience.

It recalled the intimate late-'90s emo house shows where boys, barely men, put it all out there in a paradoxically introverted way, drawing in the crowd like a black hole of sincerity and authenticity.

It's undeniable that Cloud Nothings stand to be akin to Jawbreaker for those too young the first time around. The entire experience was fresh and alive and relentlessly nostalgic all at once. While approaching the assaultive noise of Nirvana on the verge of breaking but avoiding the grunge trappings other '90s revivalists might mistakenly implement, they're not quite rediscovering fire, but they are certainly finding new uses for it.

They started off the set with their more upbeat numbers, and transitioned into the hard and heavy second act with "Cut You." It's a track from their new album that ultimately balances the two sides of this band's sound. They displayed a restrained enthusiasm more apparent to your neurons than your eyes and ended abruptly after "OK, one more song," ripping the patch cables from their dozen or so pedals, then vanished leaving us totally hanging, bro.

Opening act The Boxing Lesson has picked up an interim drummer since the last time I saw them; their original drummer being slated for release from federal prison in July. Unabashedly fond of Jesus and Mary Chain, the live drummer is an asset that pre-recorded drums could never replicate. There's just not enough air in a digital imitation to match the swirling synth and phased guitar. They exceeded my expectations, yet I couldn't remain compelled.

The middle slot belonged to A Classic Education all the way from "Bologna, Italy"; though it may have just been me, there was no hint of an accent in the front man's voice. I cringed when he asked the audience to "take a few steps up." I shrugged it off and kept my hopes up, even leaping the hurdle of immense "Bass Face" from one half of the rhythm section (guess which half).

At first they struck me as a bit like Promise Ring, but quickly my thoughts were mixed in a meandering collusion of abrupt rhythmic changes and clumsy tone shifts. Not terrible, but a bit too much ambition than their songcraft can support. Saturnine, a millennium-era band, navigated those same choppy seas and was able to turn out some songs that I adore. So, I'm not counting out A Classic Education to find the right balance.

Though there is a lengthy and hilarious passage in my notebook devoted to a mock conversation my bandmate and I had pretending to be this band at a recording session and one last note that they're "like the Decemberists with a smaller vocabulary both lyrically and musically." (Ouch.) But I was definitely in the minority, as the crowd whistled and yelped in appreciation after each song.

The headliners absolutely ruled this show and the support may not have been entirely up my alley, but it was definitely all a nice fit. Everyone in attendance was left satisfactorily rocked and Cloud Nothings played a large part, stirring up those coming-of-age emotions the youngest attendees will forever associate with this band in a way that the older kids were re-experiencing in fits of nostalgia sparked with the exhilaration that what they felt lives on. All in all, it was pretty kick-ass.

Personal Bias: I have loved Cloud Nothings all the way back to "Hey Cool Kid" back in 2009, which made it to several mix CDs, up to their new album that is undeniably Albini-esque, despite his "playing Scrabble on Facebook" approach to recording.

The Crowd: There were far fewer "all-ages" types and quite a few more "I own a house" types than I expected. The median age was the late twenties, notable since the band members of Cloud Nothings are considerably younger. The crowd was also remarkably straight-laced, and there was in fact "a doctor in the house."

Overheard In the Crowd: "Teenagers just don't get it." - A man around 30 who looked to have dressed the same way since being a teenager himself.

"I hear hipsters come here" - A boy in cowboy boots flanked by several peppy coeds in slip-on Vans.

Random Notebook Dump: Someone was ripping 'em through the venue like a non-organic farmer. Also, a handful of references to someone I dubbed "Pleasure Cruise" because he was dressed like Koko Goldstein from Yacht Rock.

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