It would be easy to think of Dylan Baldi as some kind of a fraud if you didn't know any better. Going into my first Cloud Nothings show I didn't know what to make of the man responsible for Cloud Nothings. To me, it seemed confusing that one of the most ferocious bands to come out of Cleveland is the musical offspring of such a meek and unassuming kid as Dylan Baldi. Only a minute or so into Cloud Nothings' set last Friday at Mahall’s in Lakewood and I got it. Dylan Baldi evokes a strange combination of J. Mascis and Kurt Cobain, which might be blasphemous if it weren’t so true. Still, it's really hard to understand with your eyes how this gangly, well-mannered kid makes this tidal wave of beautiful, angry music that inspired a soldout crowd at Mahall's last Friday to jump up and down and even mosh without irony.
Before the show, anyone could have found Dylan Baldi mingling with the crowd. He looks young despite his attempts to hide his youth with a full beard and shaggy hair. His tall, lanky frame makes you think he could be cast as one of Michael Cera's teammates on the cross country team in the movie Juno. His smile and polite demeanor are easily apparent which defies the fact that in a matter of moments he’s going to be the center of attention performing songs that are neither pleasant nor polite.
But here’s Dylan Baldi with a tight smile and body language that makes him seem like that one friend in college that you’d dream up scenarios where you would be protective and defend him from some fist-clenched bully who wanted to fight him. And whether he needed it or not, on this night some people did jump to Dylan Baldi's defense.
The crowd at Mahall's was an awkward mix of ages from younger college-aged kids all the way to older dudes who could have been the first punk rock fans on the planet. One of those older fans, who appeared to be in his 50s, was feeling rambunctious and took an unwelcome place on stage during one of the musical interludes of the show closer, "Wasted Days." This rotund fan jumped to the vacant middle of the stage, stole Dylan Baldi's mic and started singing a big, singular note to the surprise of everyone in the room. After the confusion subsided, Baldi looked on with disgust and was only able to muster a sarcastic, "Thanks man. Thanks," as he ripped his mic back. Baldi's bass player, T.J. Duke however took a few steps toward the jackass and appeared to plant a purposeful kick in his back sending him flying. The bouncers and fans did the rest to pull the guy away, but it seemed to influence the rest of the set-ending song.
Baldi collected himself, looked around the stage a bit and then cornered himself into his small piece of real estate between his guitar pedals and amp on the right side of the stage. He tightened the grip on his guitar as he strummed it with convulsing wrists to make even more noise. With every scream and repeated phrase, "I thought... I would... be more... than this" drummer Jayson Gerycz propelled the tempo and intensity faster and further. The song finally ended with additional thrashing, but the fury that Baldi had a moment earlier was gone. He didn’t storm off the stage or show any signs of lingering anger. He calmly started packing up his gear as a hopeful crowd looked on thinking they might get an encore. It was perfectly awkward and awkwardly perfect as fans didn’t know whether to walk out or approach the stage and thank the band.
The strangeness did nothing to dampen the hit-fueled homecoming set for the trio. Other than “No Future / No Past” they played pretty much every song I could have wanted to hear them play live. And this is far from a one man band. It’s hard to imagine what this band would be without the spastic drumming of Jayson Gerycz or the noisy, staccato bass work of T.J. Duke. Cloud Nothings are a band that Cleveland can be exceedingly proud of. The band doesn’t have anything to prove and seems comfortable in their own skin, but their confidence must come with their consistent ability to take audiences and make bring them into the fold.