I imagine that queuing to get into a church is a fairly rare phenomenon these days, so it’s no surprise that the line forming outside the Unitarian Church draws some funny looks from confused passers-by. I imagine as well that leaving the church truly awestruck and amazed is also fairly rare but, for those here to worship at the feet of Cloud Castle Lake Orchestra, that’s exactly what happened.
While everyone settles into the pews, support act Deaf Joe takes to the, eh, altar, warning that his last gig was ruined by an onstage panic attack. Perhaps not the most comforting of opening lines, but any cause for concern quickly melts away. With just himself, a piano and a few effects pedals, his music, quite intense and sometimes foreboding, sounds like Bon Iver with a slightly more oppressive twist. In another setting, it could be a bit much but, here, it really fits the surrounds and sets the mood for what’s to come.
And what’s to come is a ridiculously impressive and imaginative performance, with the already experimental Cloud Castle Lake joined by an orchestra and small choir to rework their back catalogue. It’s such a showcase of talent, proficiency and creativity that even the tuning-up sounds good, and listening to everything come together is like listening to the soundtrack for a film that hasn’t been made yet: you get caught up in a different world, in an act of pure, wild escapism.
Opening with A Wolf Howling, it’s clear that every song has been given a new identity, with the emphasis being placed on the orchestra and choir. Lead vocals are buried under the almost tribal-influenced percussion, strings, horns and chanting: it’s loud, it’s powerful, and, in a strange way, it sounds a bit like Sigur Ros on ecstasy. From then on, each new song, like Two Birds In Flight and Mothcloud, instantly hooks you, with arrangements stretching from the dramatic, edgy and mysterious to the sublimely dreamlike and surreal. Every corner of the church is filled with these new and exciting sounds: there’s no other word for it than “stunning”.
With the gradually growing darkness and shadows cast through the stained glass windows, there couldn’t be a more perfect venue, lending the evening the reverence it deserves. After just under an hour, Cloud Castle Lake Orchestra squeeze down the aisle to a standing ovation. It’s hard to describe what’s just happened, because nothing like it has happened before and, I imagine, nothing like it ever will.