Cloud Nothings Crescent Ballroom Tuesday, February 28
When I spoke with Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings, he said he had never been intimidated by extensive touring, high-profile shows, or recording Attack on Memory, the band's latest record, with punk purist Steve Albini.
The band's excellent set at Crescent -- airtight and on-point, without being overconfident -- demonstrated how much Baldi really is on top of the game.
A Classic Education, hailing from Bologna, Italy, opened with middle-of-the-road, inoffensive power pop. Their first few songs hung in milquetoast indie rock territory; early Shins without the hooks. Any songs that had interesting guitar dynamics were locked in mid-tempo purgatory, sounding like Killers-lite. Nearly all of them were less than three minutes, too, some with only one chorus.
Frontguy Jonathan Clancy was affable enough. The band spent the day hanging out up north in Tonto National Forest and he explained that "tonto" in Italian means "dumbass," which is funny. However, when he clumsily explained that the band's latest record draws inspiration from non-violent, utopian '60s-era motorcycle gangs, "When there weren't as many rules and you found family within your friends," he said, I couldn't connect the dots.
Cloud Nothings were restless. The guys got onstage, Baldi said the name of the band and they wasted zero time tearing into "Stay Useless," Attack on Memory's anthemic gem. Baldi's backing players were sharp as a blade. Bassist TJ Duke threw down throbbing chords and drummer Jayson Gercyz snuck blistering drum rolls into almost every crevice of the opening songs.
The guys also stepped up in the clutch. Baldi told the crowd he'd been feeling sick and had to cancel the previous tour date. His voice sounded fine--perhaps a little less limber than on the record--so he actually handed over vocal duty to guitar player Joe Boyer for "No Sentiment," a strung-out screamer and one of Attack on Memory's heaviest. Boyer nailed it handily, attacking the melody like young Guy Picciotto.
It was obvious that Cloud Nothings are tired of playing their older pop-punk stuff. After seven straight tunes from Attack on Memory, the band ran through an aggressive new instrumental. "That's part of a new song," Baldi shrugged, "we thought we might as well try it out." They played only one song from previous records: the tender kiss-off "Forget You All the Time" from the band's self-titled 2011 album. It wasn't a momentum killer; Baldi earnestly delivered the vocal lead and the band kept it tight. But the strummy pop structure and middling tempo had Cloud Nothings sounding restrained, like they couldn't wait to blast off again.
Last Night: Cloud Nothings at Crescent Ballroom
Random Notebook Dump: This was the first time at Crescent I've seen the all-ages section more densely packed than the rest of the room.
Critical Failure: I showed up inexcusably late and missed local openers Otro Mundo, whose fuzzy '90s slack-rock jams definitely fit the bill way better than A Classic Education's snooze-wave indie tripe. My loss, obviously.