Saturday, April 12, 2008

Why Do Tourists Always Wanna Get So High?

Or, You Said "No No No!"

(Cloud Cult, American Music Club, and The Forms, Friday, April 11, High Noon Saloon, Madison)

I never expected to hear a phrase like "party foul!" used at an American Music Club show. It seemed about 80 percent of the crowd came only for co-headliners Cloud Cult, a band that deserves the popularity and grabs a nice chunk of the college crowd, especially here in Madison. It wasn't surprising that the Cloud Cult part of the bill seemed to be selling it a lot more than AMC, the senior band and also the one that takes a little more patience and nerdiness.

Still, maybe these fans of Craig Minowa's songs would find some sympathy in Mark Eitzel. Minowa yearns for something greater within the great tragedy of his own life. Eitzel treats all that like a sorrowful burden, though not without humor or redemption. Both of them skin the experience clean and leave it dripping with wonders and terrors, and both apparently create a fine mood for making naive miscalculations. It'll take forever to really beat this into my head, but it's true: Most people don't come to a show like this to explore, even if they've come to see something that's already unusual. (Before I get deeper into this rant, I should note that both headliners played solid sets; openers The Forms put out a decent record last year, but I think they're still fumbling for a good live sound. None of the shit I'm about the nitpick about was enough to put a damper on the general awesomeness of the show itself.)

Behaving well at a show isn't much different from behaving well anywhere else, but the people who aren't used to concerts always seem to make themselves conspicuous. Sorry if that's a snobola remark, but it's impossible not to notice that kind of thing. I am by far the most socially inept person I know, and I usually manage, so I think pretty much anyone else should be able to. I do have one theory about this: So many Americans, even modestly middle-class ones, get used to being waited upon and cleaned up after, everywhere from the five-star steakhouse to the crummy supermarket, that they've decided it's OK to act like slob-ass morons in public. Wherever they go, someone will have to smile and put up with their shitheadedry just to keep the wages and tips coming. ("Perhaps you would like me to wash your dick for you... you little shit.") Answer my dumb questions, help me find stuff I could track down myself if I wasn't such a lazy swine, tolerate my Egg McMuffin breath and irrational temper, and thank me—FUCKING THANK ME, YOU LUCKY PRODUCT OF MY EVER-FLOWING GENEROSITY WHICH HATH MADE THE EARTH BURST WITH GOODNESS—for paying your salary. I am the Customer, auditioning for the role of Caligula.

I've worked a few retail jobs (though not for very long, and my upbringing wasn't exactly blue-collar, in all honesty), and I grew up near Walt Disney World, so I'm not just laying this on college kids. This is for more or less everyone beyond puberty: Grow the fuck up, extend a little more graciousness, take more responsibility. It'll make your days a lot more satisfying. We've all been guilty of asshole-consumer behavior. Only we can redeem ourselves, and it isn't even that hard.

During Cloud Cult's set, someone did indeed party-foul us. Actually, he just spilled a drink down the bar from us, a little thing that could happen to anyone, but when someone describes it as a "party foul," he's really saying, "In retrospect, I was asking for it, broseph!" It wasn't even a particularly messy crowd, but still: Until they get the specific thing they've paid for, the thing that's already won them over, folks can often come off antsy, ungrateful, and eventually, spiteful.

Concerts are a social experience, so it's no surprise if a dozen jerks claim their spots right in front of the stage for a good view of one band and talk all through the other's set. "We're just gonna stand up here and act like dicks until the transcendental healing-rock comes up." There's always a dumbass or 50 in the crowd, so why bitch about it now? Because Cloud Cult really does seem determined to open up the best in people, against all odds and obstacles, be that war and famine or everyday chode-ness.

If some Bob Marley fans or David Bowie fans or Broken Social Scene fans or New Pornographers fans out there want to be grumpy pricks, I can live with that, but to see Cloud Cult's insane and childlike hope lost on Cloud Cult fans? That's too damn sad. Idealism in itself deserves to be treated with skepticism. Idealism coupled with results deserves to rub off. And if people don't come to Cloud Cult for that, what the hell are they getting from it? This band could likely be cashing in a lot bigger, but instead insists on self-releasing its records to ensure the CDs and packaging are made from recycled material, and keeps on following inspiration that's earnest, unsettling, abstract, and often morbid. (Not to mention that it's put out some stunningly ugly record covers.)

Not that this immediately translates into CC fans dorking out over a songwriter like Mark Eitzel. For all his rawness, he can be insular and frustrating, though I like that side of him, especially when the band starts the set with "Decibels And Little Pills," which you can stream from the Breakroom Blastbox on the right. How many people out there saw only a 49-year-old dude in a funny hat? I'm not sure, but at least one guy grumbled, "Get off the stage!" So, in effect, it's possible to go check out a group as eccentric as Cloud Cult and have absolutely no curiosity left over to spare on something else.