Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cloud Cult - Pretty Voice

I’m not done talking about Cloud Cult!

A reoccurring theme throughout multiple Cloud Cult songs is innocence. I would not describe this said innocence as childish or naive in narration, nor would I describe this innocence as ignorance or immature in subject matter. Much like everything else Cloud Cult, this innocence is something of wonderment and joy, the wonder and joy of life. Perhaps it is easier to capture the beauty of the world through the eyes of youth.

Most people view age and experience as a negative in regards to happiness. Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” is a classic rock song that explicitly states that growing up and become “logical” robs us our innocence and therefore happiness, and that is just one of many musical examples we could call upon to show this message. Craig Minowa appears to offer us an alternative way of thinking to such notions. So many of his songs are about unravelling the mystery of ourselves and the world we live in and there is always an excitement coupled with blissfulness upon what we discover.

This is perhaps best seen in the song “Transistor Radio” an awe inspiring song about growing up and using the highly unique metaphor of grandfather’s voice heard through a transistor radio leading his grandson on an adventure. Learning and growing is seen as fun and exciting for the first two verses and only in the third is felt as a struggle the reward, and wisdom of it all, is just around the bend

“Transistor Radio” is an amazing song but this review is about another song.

Cloud Cult - Transistor Radio - An excellent fan made video

I can only assume that Craig and Connie, were very loving parents, and their connection to their lost son clearly weighs heavily upon their influences of their creativity. While alive, Craig’s son had wondered into his father’s studio and began to speak into the microphone while his father played, almost like he instinctively knew what the microphone was for, Craig naturally kept all these recordings. After his son’s death all these sounds they had created together in the chicken coop recording studio was all that remained of his lost son. So locked in the studio was the only place Craig could still be with his son, a very unique experience for someone to go through to say the least. Craig coped with his loss this way until he released some of the tracks he had made with his son’s voice and universities across the country started to play his music and Craig knew what was happening, he had found a way to share his son’s soul with the world. He could now be with his son everywhere, not just the studio. The song most directly inspired by Minowa’s son has to be his take on “My Little Sunshine” and as relevant as a song as this is, it is not the one I wish to focus on.

Cloud Cult - My Little Sunshine

There is a very beautiful sentiment Minowa shares with us in the DVD “No One Said It Would Be Easy,” he states that energy can never be destroyed so all the love and positive energy you send out into the universe just keeps going and going forever. In this way his son and all the love he shared with him now lives forever in the positive energy he has shared with all of us. He tries to be scientific about it, and you can challenge him however you want on the realism of this statement but I find impossible to refute the intelligence of such a life lesson.

There is a very clever story telling maneuver being performed by Craig Minowa in his song writing which he expresses so naturally I suspect he is not entirely aware of his own genius. Every story, and every song, needs a starting point, and childhood is an instantly identifiable and universal understood origin point. In a majority of Cloud Cult songs it is not overly obvious there is a childlike approach being used, but once you see in plainly once like in a song like “Transistor Radio” you begin to see it everywhere. The adjectives Minowa uses are so splendidly unique, almost like a child, with an incredible vocabulary, is trying to describe something they are seeing for the very first time. This, among other things is one of the reasons I love the song “Pretty Voice.”

First of all the lyrics are just odd enough to make you laugh a little but more importantly they make you wonder. The message seems simple enough, missing someone’s pretty voice, but that’s only the base message, there are great references to magical people and things that make the imagination just run wild.

Cloud Cult - Pretty Voice (Live at 89.3 The Current)

"A scene begins,
With our next melody,
Sung by a bashful bird,
Humming a violet sky.
There are no words,
But there is understanding.
It's been so long...
Since I've heard that pretty voice.

Raise up our lights,
And enter hero girl.
She makes me calm,
Yeah she makes me calm.
When she hears a song,
And she starts singing.
It's been so long...
Since I've heard that pretty voice.

Strike up the band,
Here comes the storyline,
Of the usual struggle,
Between fear and love.
This is the lifelong song,
We're all singing.
It's been so long...
Since I've heard that pretty voice.

Now it begins,
I miss your hollering,
But you're so sure,
Such a bashful bird.
Here's a song,
But no one's singing.
It's been so long...
Since I've heard your pretty voice."

Who the hell is hero girl? Because I would love to know, she sounds amazing! Also the usual struggle between fear and love, he’s right, we are all singing, what a perfect way to describe all relationships ever in a single sentence. “Pretty Voice” is the sort of song that I cannot imagine of a person who would not be able to feel attached to these lyrics. Minowa is right when no one’s singing along, the messages and feelings we share, seen in an incalculable numbers of songs, we are all singing.

Lastly, the true test of a band is their ability to perform live, and there is a reason why I posted the primary video link to Cloud Cult performing “Pretty Voice” live 89.3 The Current studios. This live version is somehow even better than the original, and not even by a small margin. This live performance is one of the single best things I have ever heard.

Well, I hope I made myself clear by now. Cloud Cult is indie rock’s best kept secret and every day you ignore them and ignore me telling you to stop ignoring them your life is poorer for it.

- Colin Kelly

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cloud Cult - No One Said It Would Be Easy

I discovered Cloud Cult back in 2010 but the band has been around since 1995. I reviewed Cloud Cult’s “Everybody Here is a Cloud” in 2011 and since that time I have fallen in love with the band. Meanwhile an overwhelming majority of the rest of the world, even people who listen to indie rock, still have no idea who Cloud Cult are.

Cloud Cult – Everybody here is a Cloud, review:

Craig Minowa, Cloud Cult’s front man is a really good song writer. I love songs like “You’ll be Bright,” “Journey of the Featherless,” “Unexplainable Journey,” “Running with the Wolves,” “Take Your Medicine” and “Chemicals Collide.” This is how I determine a good band from a great band, volume of quality. I just mentioned six songs by Cloud Cult, not including “Everybody Here is a Cloud” and I haven’t even gotten to the one I want to focus on, and that song is “No One Said It Would Be Easy.” Conclusion, Cloud Cult is great band.

“You came up from the ground,
From a million little pieces,
You're a pretty human being,
“Yeah, you're a pretty human being.”

The opening lyrics (seen above) are just so charming, what a wonderful and sort of geeky thing to say to another human being. One day a situation will arise where saying this to a pretty girl will feel appropriate and I will finally get to see how effective of a line it is. Then we get this;

“When it all comes crashing down,
Try to understand your meaning,
No one said it would be easy,
This living it ain't easy.”

These words really struck a chord with me. I’ve lived a tough life; I try not to complain too much because I am healthy and strong, and no permanent damage has ever been done to me, but still it has been an aggravating journey so far to say the least. Granted, no one said it would be easy, and yeah, this living it ain’t easy.

That’s how I interrupted “No One Said It Would Be Easy.” I took it to be a song embracing and accepting the hardships of life. Craig Minowa reminded me that I was not the only one out there frustrated with the ways my life had played out, and I would be lying if even in my youth I expecting things to be much different. There is a silver lining in our troubled lives, even though things are bad seemingly all the time, the truth is things are generally pretty good, and there are so many little things making it all worthwhile, and they are always there all the time. I began to suspect that “No One Said it Would Be Easy” was no less a flagship song for Cloud Cult then “Everybody Here is a Cloud,” after all who listens to Cloud Cult? I may be the only one. Their first music video was released in 2009, fourteen years after the band’s inception. I began to strongly suspect “No One Said It Would Be Easy” was as much about the band Cloud Cult as it was about the struggles of life. Like everyone Minowa surely had struggles in life, but given the obscurity combined with the longevity of Cloud Cult I believe it is safe to say that being Cloud Cult was probably never easy.

Cloud Cult’s documentary DVD is titled “No One Said It Would Be Easy.” When I learned that, I knew I had nailed it. No one would name their documentary “No One Said It Would Be Easy” if they hadn’t experienced their unfair share of challenges.

In the DVD the opening scene is a collection of fans explaining what Cloud Cult means to them. For the most part these fan’s feelings and their connection with Cloud Cult is completely different than my own. They talked at length about copping with the loss of a loved one and acceptance of who they were and other beautiful sentiments that I had not walked away with when listening to Cloud Cult. Further to the point, no one interpreted “No One Said It Would Be Easy” the way I had, and at no point during the DVD was any such message declared. I was still right though, everything fit in place.

Craig Minowa and the rest of the Cloud Cult are the real deal. They are real hippies with genuine messages of peace, love and joy told to us through the magic of music. Minowa and his wife live on a farm and Craig’s recording studio is a custom made room sound proofed with recyclable materials and the remains of an old chicken coop. Everyone in Cloud Cult has a job that does not involve music, Craig is an environmental scientist and his wife Connie is an educator as well as an artist. Craig and Connie started Earthology records together through which they developed the first one hundred percent postconsumer recycled CD packaging in the U.S. market. There are a lot of people who talk a lot about the environment and try so hard to look so good in the eyes of the compassionate, but a musician who is also an environmental scientist, who lives on an organic farm with a chicken coop recording studio and has an inefficient non-money making one hundred percent environmentally friendly recording company is the sort of man who is walking the walk. Also Minowa hardly advertising himself as anything special in the crusade for the environment, he is just a really great guy.

But no one said it would be easy.

Craig Minowa may be the
nicest man ever.
There was a great pain suffered by Craig and Connie, their son passed away at age two, and like any loving kind hearted people it hit them hard. Combine all that with poverty, and the continuous failed financial investment of playing shows to empty crowds and I dare say it was never easy for Craig and Cloud Cult. Here is the thing about Craig, he is nicest man ever. Now I have never met the man but he is always smiling in the documentary, even when he has no idea he is being filmed, even when he is talking about being hopelessly broke, playing to literally empty crowds and generally utterly failing at being a productive adult. More so Craig is smiling even when talking about his son. Even when Craig Minowa is clearly heartbreakingly upset, he is smiling. It is the sort of hippie sunshine hope that typically should be mocked but in Minowa’s case he is so real and so absolutely resolute in his enthusiastic conviction there is no room for mockery. Minowa is a man with a very healthy set of priorities of love and joy, which probably should be on the top of everyone’s list of things to do and be. If only I could find the inner peace to live like that.

It is the sort of joy and kindness and pure lawful goodness that I have always sought in my life. We all hurt. We all suffer. However we all know it feels so good, to just be alive. This life will never be easy, but so what? Everything you need is here, everything you fear is here, and it’s holding you up. It just keeps holding you up, and you’re a pretty human being. Yeah, you’re a pretty human being.

Someday someone other than me will one day be talking about how great Cloud Cult is. Cloud Cult is by far the best kept secret in indie rock.

- Colin Kelly

Monday, May 6, 2013

Welcome to Avantasia - A European Adventure

In January of this year, on a whim I purchased tickets to Avantaisa in Berlin and Hamburg in April. I did not give it a lot of thought, it was something I wanted to do so I did it, and I so rarely do what I want. After a few weeks the tickets arrived by mail and as I sat there holding the tickets in my hand and it become very real what I was doing, but only then did it begin to feel that way. I had the tickets to see the greatest musical group in the world today; all I had to do now was get my ass to Germany.

I’ve never traveled before, not really, I went to Hawaii once two years ago, which was great, but Europe is a completely different matter. Europe was a hell of a lot further, more expensive, and English would not be the common language. In Hawaii I was going to see my kid brother in the Navy who would be there on duty, in Europe I was going alone. I had humoured the idea of asking a friend to come with me, but all my dearest friends are far too preoccupied with their own tribulations to go on a random adventure, especially one of another’s devices. After very little deliberation it was settled, I was going to Berlin for three days, Hamburg for one and Amsterdam for three.

Even though I gave myself two days in Berlin and Amsterdam to sightsee and party, the truth of the matter was that I was going to Europe for one singular reason, and that was to see Tobias Sammet and Avantasia. I am of the opinion that Tobias Sammet is the greatest song writer and Avantasia the best musical production in the world today, but perhaps I have already made the point clear with my now four Music In Reviews on the topic of Avantasia:

Music In Review – January 2009 - Lost in Space:

Music In Review – December 2010 – Runaway Train:

Music In Review – December 2010 – Journey to Arcadia:

Music In Review – April 2013 – Invoke the Machine:

So yes, just to be clear, Avantasia is the best.

After spending two days in Berlin just wandering, Monday the 22nd arrived and I was pumped. I debated whether I should wear the Canadian flag as a sash or not, I thought it might seem arrogant to wave around my flag as if that made me important; on the other hand I wanted the world to know how far I had traveled to see Avantasia. I wanted Tobias and Avantasia to know he had fans in Canada and at least one of them was willing to dedicate his first vacation to seeing them. In the end I did wear the Canadian flag and it was a good call.

Representing Canada, America and Scotland
 at Temporom in Berlin,
Upon arriving at Tempodrom while waiting in line a very loud man in a wheel chair called me over. Referring to me as “Canada” he introduced himself as “Scotland.” Also there was a woman with a blonde Mohawk “America” and two fine polish gentlemen. During the show Tobias took notice of all the international visitors Berlin had that night. Tobias told the crowd he was going to speak in English for the rest of the night since there were people from Poland, Sweden, Norway, Australia and Britain. I guess he didn’t see my flag but I did yell out “Canada!” when he was listing out flags in the crowd. Still it was pretty cool of Tobias to accommodate all us non-Germans like that; he did not have to do that on my account.

When it began, it was dreamlike. I had seen countless live performances of Avantasia on DVD and online but it was something far away and unreal, then the band emerged, and then he appeared, Tobias Sammet was there, in person. Earth’s greatest song writer was on stage, ten feet from me. It was best moment of my life.

Tobias Sammet, earth's greatest song writer stands before me.  Wow.
Not knowing the new album it took a moment before a song I knew well was played, Bob Cately appeared and performed one of my favorite songs “The Story Ain’t Over.”

Avantasia - The Story Ain't Over

Bob Cately was particularly worthy to note since the former front man of Magnum is now sixty-five years old, and he never missed a word and he sang amazingly. During the Sammet/Cately duet “In Quest For” Sammet forgot the words and Cately sang his first part for him. Tobi forgot the words to a song he always sings, that he wrote, and was bailed out by sixty-five year old Bob Cately who does not normally sing that part and did not write the song; how embarrassing; also how very charming and entertaining. Tobi is only human after all and he has written several hundred songs by now, he allowed to make a mistake now and then, and what a professional Cately is.
Tobias forgets the fucking words.
Avantasia - In Quest For

They ended with “The Seven Angels” and “Sign of the Cross” it was incredible and easily the best show I had ever seen and easily the best night of my life, only it was going to get better.

Avantasia - The Seven Angels

After the show I was hanging out with Ariel, my new American friend with the blond Mohawk, when we were approached by a handsome man with wavy blonde hair who said to me.

“Dude your Canadian? Canadian guys are the best dudes. I’m from Sweden and I play hockey, a lot of my best friends are Canadian.”

I believe my response was “Thank you.”

“We’re going to Halford’s it is a Judas Priest themed bar. Do you want to get drunk with us?”

“Of course I do!”

Of course I wanted to get drunk with two awesome Swedish dudes, a Dutch guy, and an American girl at a bar named after Rob Halford of Judas Priest. I had to catch a train to Hamburg at 8:00am the next day, but fuck it, this is why I came to Deutschland, to rock out with Tobias Sammet and Avantasia and party with other Avantasia fans of which we are seriously lacking here in Canada.

We went our separate ways to get ready and met back up at Tempodrom. I returned and met up with my new Dutch friend Fabian who was waiting outside the concert hall with a small crowd hoping to get autographs from Tobi and Michael Kiske. Fabian and I were no more than six/seven feet from Tobias and Michael when they appeared. They both covered their mouths and entered the cab quickly, evidently they were both sick, though you would never have known that from the performances they had just given. Evidently neither signed anything and they were gone as quickly as they appeared. Still it was cool just to see them.

My only shot of Halford's before
the batteries died in my camera.
We had a few beers at the Swedes hotel room and were talking so loudly on the balcony someone called the cops on us. Later while waiting on the street for a cab that same person threw an egg at us. It was a Monday and we were loud, and it was funny, funny because none of us got hit by the egg. Halford’s was a blast, and after a few steins of beer and several shots of Jagermeister I was good and drunk, so much so I slept in. I awoke at 6:45 leaving me only a little more than an hour to get my ass to the hauptbahnhof and catch my train to Hamburg. I rose to my feet and found all my stuff neatly packed away and a suit of clothes laid out for me to wear, evidently while I was black out drunk I had anticipated sleeping in and did all the necessary prep work to get going in the morning. Good work drunk Colin, you’ve never let me down.

After Tempodrom and the fantastic time I had after the show with Fabian, Ariel, Victor and... god I can’t remember the other awesome Swedish dude’s name, anyway after Halford’s and everything you might think Hamburg could not possible eclipse the sheer happiness I experienced in Berlin. That’s what I thought anyway.

The concert hall Avantasia was playing in Hamburg was Grosse Fahrenheit 36 located in Reeperbahn. Two things I didn’t know, Reeperbahn is the sex district of Hamburg and Hamburg is the sex capital of Germany. There were so many strip clubs, sex shops and brothels!

Avantasia's Team Sweden and
Team Canada
While waiting in line for the concert and after drawing forth my Canadian flag I made two brand new friends from Sweden, Emil and Linus. I guess one lesson to take away from this story is that Swedish people are fucking cool. Also a very tall gentleman approached me and introduced himself, he was from Ottawa. Shang Pei Rui (probably not his real name) had very similar plans to my own, he was at Tempodrom the day before and evidently he had heard someone else yell out “Canada” when Tobias was listing out foreign countries present that night. All of a sudden Avantasia’s Team Canada was not just me anymore. Avantasia fans of Canada you are not alone, there is at least two of us!

Avantasia fans of Canada,
you are not alone.
Hamburg was the better show, the crowd was hot blooded and the band just performed that much stronger. And what a crowd! We had a fine collection of foreigners, Team Canada and Team Sweden were joined by a mother daughter combo from Australia, a father daughter combo from Norway, a kindly older British couple, and also a twenty year old German girl was hanging out with my Dutch friend Fabian. Combine all of that with an awesome crowd of fine German metal fans and Grosse Fahrenheit 36 became alive. The best concert I have ever been too and I’ve been to many now.

One notable moment during the show Eric Martin (Mr. Big) the only American in Avantasia took notice of my Canadian flag and gave me a thumbs up, which was very cool. To be honest I didn’t really know who Eric Martin was before Tempodrom. He was the new guy in Avantasia, along with Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), and I was unsure how I felt about him singing “Promise Land” at first but he rocked out and sang great so he is a bad ass in my opinion.

We were all suppose to hang out after the show, Team Sweden, Team Canada, Fabian and whoever the hell else felt like it, but somehow I lose Team Sweden and while Fabian is busy talking to girls (which is important of course) the other half of Team Canada bids me farewell, which was fair he had to catch a flight the next morning. So then there was three Fabian, the young German girl (I’ve forgotten her name) and myself. Fabian informs me that the two girls serving alcohol at the venue agreed to hang out with us later at a bar named Cobra, I am very sceptical, because in my life no girl has ever kept their word about meeting up with anyone; no literally, not one; but hey I got nowhere to go, so why not. But first thing is first our young German friend wants to meet Tobias, as she has plans to marry him, so the three of us wait in the back alley behind Grosse Fahrenheit 36.

After a while someone exits the back door, Eric Martin is smoking a cigarette, he notices us and decides to come over and hang out for a half hour. Eric turns out to be one of the nicest human beings I have ever met. He had the nicest things to say about everyone in Avantasia and his generally enthusiasm was delightful. At one point Bob Cately appears with his medical assistant (Mr. Cately has a medical assistant not because he is sick but because he is 65) and they get into a van to leave, Eric turns to us and says;

“Let’s be obnoxious South American fans!”

So Eric Martin, Fabian and I start pounding on the windows of the van while it is driving away shouting at Mr. Cately who looks exactly half amused with us.

In a short period of time we are joined by other Avantasia all of which are German except for the father daughter combo from Norway I mentioned early.

After saying some more great things about Avantasia, life and everything Eric declares “do you guys want to meet Ronnie? Let’s get Ronnie out here!” and like a big kid Eric runs off and returns with Ronnie Atkins. And that’s how I met Ronnie Atkins.

Ronnie was very dignified. He was a tall proud respectful Danish gentleman, who was short with his answers and quick to the point of things. He had a flare of wit about him and everything about him screamed ‘rock star’ which is appropriate because he is. Ronnie however did not share Eric Martin boundless enthusiasm and spent a solid five to ten minutes with us lingering Avantasia fans before wishing us a good night. Cool guy.

We hang out with our fellow Avantasia fans for a while having some great conversations, but by the time 1:00am rolls around Fabian and I are ready to head to Cobra. Our young German friend, the girl of the revolution, as she was dubbed by Eric Martin, is insistent on waiting until Tobias shows up, after all she is a very ambition and intends to marry him. But Fabian and I know Tobias is not feeling well and if he does appear out the back door here he will probably jump into a cab and not say anything to anyone. It is time to go so we say goodbye to the girl of the revolution and head to Cobra.

We find the bar without too much trouble and get a couple of beers. A very drunk German fellow begins talking to us and he has some curious questions about Canada, since I am still wearing the flag over my shoulder it garners some attention. After explaining the differences between Canada and the United States and other quirky things about Canada this fine German cameraman says to me.

“It must be nice being from a country you can be proud of.”

I ask for an explanation and he tells me how it is hard being German since they have so much guilt from their history, referring to world war two of course. I tell him that’s bullshit, it has been over seventy years and Germany is awesome! If for no other reason Avantasia!

But seriously German is really cool. It is a nation of hard working professionals, innovation, creativity, music, art, beer and a great football. There are a lot of things to like about Germany.

I also informed him how awful the whole world is, not just Germany during the middle of the twentieth century. I tell him about segregation, the Japanese labour camps, the turning away of all Jewish refugees and all the general brutal racisism coming out of Canada and the States at that time. Germany was never more evil than any other nation, they just crossed a terrible line before any of the rest of us did. But then again Japan and the rape of Nanking rivals any evil every done by anyone. Stalin in Russia killed more people than Hitler’s holocaust. American slavery was a holocaust in its own right. I have strong Irish roots and what the English did to them was terrible, granted I also have strong English roots. If we keep pushing guilt around very quickly everyone has blood on their hands. This German cameraman gave me a hug after everything I said and then he said to me

“This is a good flag, let’s wave your flag.”

So we waved my flag and my new friend told strangers how great of a guy I was, which is, you know, very flattering. Meanwhile some tattooed cutie on the other side of the bar starts to cheer at the sight of the Maple Leaf. The bartender informs me that girl is from Canada and I might want to go over there and introduce myself, so I do. She was from Calgary; small world.

Then the craziest thing happens, the two girls from Grosse Fahrenheit 36, they show up! Such a thing has never happened before in the entire history of North America.

My new found German friend disappears, but he was pretty drunk so it might have been time for him to venture home, I was sad to see him go but this did free me up to talk to two good looking German girls. Jay and Lily were their names and they were wonderful human beings. While I sat and talked to Lily (the blonde one) an interesting subject matter comes up, Canada, which isn’t surprising I still got the flag tied to me, and she says,

“It must be nice being from a country where you can wave your flag and not be called a Nazi.”

This shit again? I wanted to tell Lily that she was wrong. That if she walked down the streets of Calgary no one would call her a Nazi, but I know some asshole would. Maybe only one in a hundred people would consider that a worthwhile joke and maybe only one in two would have the crass indignity to verbally attack a stranger like that, but someone would.

I give a similar speech to Lily that I gave to my cameraman friend and she thinks I’m a great guy. Back home most women would rather step on my face than look at me, but in Germany, by virtue of simply not being a prejudice asshole I am considered a wonderful man. Lily and Jay had to work the next day so they could not stay long and sometime after 3:00am they left.

I sat with Fabian at the bar drinking our beers and I wanted nothing more than to stay one more day in Hamburg. I wanted to hang out with Lily and Jay once more and get to know them better. I would have liked to once more hang out with Fabian who proved to be a hell of a friend, not only was he infinitely useful at gathering people together, but he was just a great guy.

Fabian and I finished our beers and decided to call it a night, it felt like we were calling it quits early, but it was 3:30 in the morning. We walked the streets of Reeperbahn where the prostitutes are militant, found some taxis and went our separate ways.

And that was the best day of my entire life.

Not surprisingly Amsterdam also proved to be a lot of fun but nothing could compete with my last night in Berlin or my single day in Hamburg. The powers of metal did much more than send me on a quest across the Atlantic Ocean; it brought a collection of friends who had never met before together. The random choice to purchase rock concert tickets online in another country has proven to be the single best thing I have every done.
I was there.