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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Higher and higher, into the Cloud

Craig Minowa's five-piece band plays its uplifting, emotion- packed songs with effective power.

May 16, 2008|John Payne | Special to The Times

Minnesota's indie-rock chamber orchestra Cloud Cult has a message to convey about the persistence of hope and faith in a world wracked with pain. It's a message that's relentlessly positive and one that has sparked rabid loyalty among the band's growing legion of fans, many of whom packed the Knitting Factory on Wednesday night.

Leader Craig Minowa's story involves his own crawl back from the darkness after the death of his son in 2002. Cloud Cult's recent release, "Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)," frames his sweet but wryly humored tales of optimism in vividly drawn mini-epics.

On stage Wednesday, the five-piece band, which included violin and cello, brought persuasive impact to Minowa's very wordy songs with a full and tight sound, while Minowa's wife, Connie, continued her tradition of painting during performances (her work is auctioned for purchase after the shows).

The set covered selections from the band's three albums, with songs from "Feel Good Ghosts" composing much of the second half of the set. "No One Said It Would Be Easy" and "Hurricane and Fire Survival Guide" crystallized Minowa's message in glorious waves of cinematically scaled chamber rock: "I've had enough of hiding underneath my covers, I'm sick of all this poop that brings me down, down, down."

Solo acoustic versions of Minowa's emotion-packed opuses, including "May Your Heart Stay Strong," effectively zeroed in on the quiet power of his obsessive themes of resilience and perseverance.

These inspirational sermons tended to wear on the nerves after a stretch, and it was rather ironic that the band was at its best -- and Minowa at his most sympathetic -- during songs that emphasized a more electronic and rhythm-heavy side, displaying impressive instrumental chops and a nice feel for a tight Midwestern electro-funk.

Somewhat oddly, when Minowa's message was delivered via Vocoder or electric megaphone, the distancing effect made his songs of living with death all the more touching.

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