Strange Matter played host to some fantastic gigs over the past few weeks, and this Wednesday was no different with locals Sea of Storms and Eric Slick supporting a rare appearance by Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings.
Sea of Storms opened the night with a poised, driving set of 90s emo and post-hardcore influenced tunes showcasing their melodic chops vocally and instrumentally. It also set the pace for the night being loud as hell, especially the pummeling drums from Chris Brown.
Comprised of members of legendary Richmond acts Race the Sun, Mouthbreather, Tigershark and Wow Owls!, the veteran quartet sounded awesome thanks in no small part to live engineer Chris Compton, who recorded and mixed their 2004 debut album, Dead Weight.
Over the years the group has become more selective in terms of playing out, so definitely jump on any opportunity you get to see them. Any bill they’re on is bound to be well worth your time.
Eric Slick capped a two month tour performing next. Though he was in some ways the sonic outlier of the show, he quickly won the audience over with his infectious songs and quick wit.
“Gotta be zen!” he quipped over the mic as he and the band cut through songs from his debut album, Palisades. And in a weird, chaotic kind of way, Strange Matter was pretty zen that night.
Slick and friends exude a rolling confidence that brings their splashing, lo-fi rock to another level. During a tour-tight set of artful licks and youthful crooning, the frontman took a break between songs to point out that he turned 30 the day prior.
“Being thirty is cool, your responsibilities become deeper,” Slick joked.”You can’t use that Guitar Center credit card anymore.”
And, despite the sparkling butterfly stickers slapped across his guitar, you can’t help but hear the maturity and transcendental exploration of this garage-like, almost beachy sound.
Every big hit and sweeping chord change is filled with purpose, complemented by top-notch vocal and stage performances from his band including Alan Parker (Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass, POSER) on guitar and Alex Spalding (Avers) on bass and vocals.
Cloud Nothings played their first show in Richmond in years, and the local crowd greeted them by doing what we do best — getting to the gig. Crammed into what I can only assume was a close to sold out Strange Matter, the crowd inched closer and closer the stage during Slick’s set and jolted forward as soon as Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi hit the first notes of their set.
For their first gig in Richmond since the release of Life without Sound earlier this year, the group channeled dichotomous themes of loneliness and confidence that characterized the record. As the night progressed the group found a deep groove in their ever-present restless energy as they effortlessly bounced between songs from throughout their catalogue.
Baldi’s guitar tone, like 60 cycle hum come alive, took over the room as his nonchalant vocals reach through the mix. As the energy rose through the set, the crowd absorbed the emotion, hanging on every note. What must have been meticulously practiced tempo changes and chord movements seem to melt into the honesty of their performance.
The band’s sound is hard to put a finger on. They’re outwardly fervent; loud, fast, and extremely tight. Touching on hardcore and pop punk from the early 2000’s, they transcend these tropes to bring something new and absolutely unique to the table.
Though the intense pace and volume of drums overshadowed most possibility for dynamic change, the lead guitar licks dripped with cool factor and the driving, march-like structure of the rhythm section kept the show in good graces.
To me, Cloud Nothings is everything I always wanted out of pop punk. It’s honest, intense and boasts just the right amount of complexity in terms of songwriting and instrumentation to keep them ahead of the curve without overthinking things.
Unlike Slick’s prior set, the band didn’t address the audience or banter too much, instead choosing to pack every minute of their stage time with as many songs as possible. And for a group like Cloud Nothings, that means a long set filled with new and old favorites sure to please any fan.
Do I regret not wearing earplugs? I’ll let you know after my next audiologist appointment.
Was it worth it? Let just say this: the ringing in my ears is the least of my worries.
After another successful night at Strange Matter, I can’t help but feel a little bit more at peace with myself.
Sea of Storms