Photo courtesy of Sam Segal
On a cold night in February—the 3rd to be exact—I went to see a show from Cloud Nothing’s North American tour, supporting their new album. This would be also be LVL UP’s last show opening for the band, before joining up with band Palm for their own string of shows. I arrived at the Ottobar just in time to see LVL UP go on.
After getting in and waiting for my two friends to pay the extra $2 fee for being under 21, we slowly crawled towards the front of the venue and found a small pocket of space in the center for us to stand in. In the balcony section was the older crowd, who wanted to watch the bands without having to deal with the bumpin’ and grindin’ of being in the middle of the audience on the floor. The audience on the main floor however, was composed almost entirely of 20-something white dudes with beards and glasses. And not to generalize, but I’m talking about the type of guys who think shouting every single lyric while staring at the few girls at the show they considered attractive.
Before I could begin to make a profound statement on the lack of diversity in the rock genre today, LVL UP came on stage. The four-piece band from New York were quiet as they turned on their amps, checked their pedal boards and got ready to play. With a quick introduction, they went straight into “Annie’s a Witch” (from their sophomore album Hoodwink’d) and it became clear that they meant business.
The band was certainly not flashy on stage, mainly staying in place and swaying from foot to foot as they let the music do the talking. And that it did. Having three different members doing vocals allowed the band to drift between song styles – from slow jams, to slightly uptempo jams. There was a lot of head nodding amongst the audience members, but even the LVL UP songs that demanded some moshing or jumping around did not seem to hit a chord in the hearts of the crowd. Their set list was mainly composed of songs from their 2016 debut Return To Love (which was one of my favorite albums of last year) and songs from Hoodwink’d. Towards the end of the show, I could tell that they had won over some of the crowd, with sweet, sweet riffs and witty and heartfelt lyrics like: “What is left in New Jersey but my family and my job? / Just me and my dog.”
LVL UP made me feel like I was back in suburban New Jersey for a few minutes, and their laid back, twangy guitars and honeyed grooves just made everything feel a little bit more okay. The band left out some fan favorites like “Hidden Driver” from the set list, plus chose to only play one song from their first album Spacebrothers (which came out way back in 2011). But for a band that’s ever-growing—they got signed to Subpop in July of 2016—I think LVL UP still can take over the world.
Twenty minutes after LVL UP had finished, and the crowd had enough time to go buy an overcharged beer, Could Nothings went on stage to a roar of adoring fans that seemed ready to mosh to just about anything. Dylan Baldi, the real creative force behind the band, had a scraggly beard and was wearing a hoodie (even though the venue was beginning to feel like a sauna) and from the first song the crowd began to jump. The band really seemed to know how to control the crowd with their songs, alternating between in-your-face anthems and some more sing-a-long type songs. Ever present during their set was a group in the center of the crowd, ready to push and jump and go as hard as possible to whatever was being played.
In all honesty, I have never been a huge Cloud Nothings fan, but their energy onstage was contagious and I found myself jumping and becoming one with the crowd. There were also a dedicated group in the crowd that seemed to be able to spew every lyric of every song back to the band without missing a single beat. It was clear that everyone in the venue were there to see Cloud Nothings, and the band certainty delivered one hell of a show. For better or worse, all of their songs seemed to blend together. None of the songs really stuck out to me as being wildly different- or better- from every other song in the set. The band also took some risks, with having some small sections of just feed-back (similar, but nowhere near as powerful, as My Bloody Valentine) which really did not work well. After they played their “last” song, the band went into a three-minute section of just guitar feedback being altered by some pedals or by pick slides. As you might imagine, it got boring by the end.
Even that was not the end of the show, because- after a few minutes of encore chants- Cloud Nothings came back on stage to play two more crowd favorites, only to end once again with the same, goddamn drone section that did not work the other few times they had attempted it. Everyone else in the crowd seemed to think it was cool, though.
At the end of the day, it was a pretty great show and a good excuse to get out of my apartment. LVL UP were clearly the better band (fight me).
Disclaimer: I have been a huge LVL UP fan since I was a wee freshman in high school and this is probably a very biased recount but either way their new album slays so buy it: https://lvlup.bandcamp.com/album/return-to-love
Cloud Nothings released a new record this year, No Life For Me, on Carpark records and you should buy it too: https://cloudnothings.bandcamp.com/album/life-without-sound
Jonathan Silveira is a Sophomore International Studies major at Hopkins. He never really outgrew liking emo music in high school and now just sits around and watches movies. Follow him on Twitter @bigcooldogs.
By Jonathan Silveira on Feb. 13, 2017, 12:53 p.m.