Half-handed Cloud, the long-running musical project of multi-disciplinary artist John Ringhofer, came to Manhattan for the first time in several years last night. Aaron Roche, a folk-leaning singer-songwriter with a smooth voice and a strong arsenal of original material, opened. Though Half-handed Cloud is sometimes presented as a full band, the Cake Shop basement found Ringhofer expertly playing all the parts himself. His chord organ rested atop a side-by-side snare and tom. Guitar, banjo, and trombone were all within reach. Within his mini (often less than 120 seconds long) pop compositions, Ringhofer often alternated between beating drums and strumming strings, belting out joyful melodies all the while. He also had a Dictaphone loaded up with backing tracks to lend a hand and employed it about half of the time. Half-handed Cloud lands somewhere between Sunday school sing-a-long and simplified circus act. There’s a pervasive sense of joy and innocence, all wrapped up in curiosity and wonder that makes the work impossible to ignore. It’s the kind of music that makes it hard to have a bad day. Though superficially they seem elementary, Ringhofer’s songs are full of subtle complexity that requires a careful listen. Wandering melodies and off-kilter time signatures prevail, making repeated listenings rewarding.
In the hour-plus that the Half-handed Cloud set lasted, Ringhofer was able to pull a few songs from each of his five albums and several from the odd EPs he’s crafted. He started off with “Let’s Go Javelin!” from 2005′s Thy is a Word & Feet Need Lamps. The song (like much of that album) is marked by a compelling rift between the sound and the content. Ringhofer’s unique, gleeful pop delivery stands in stark contrast to the macabre tales of Biblical retribution he tells. “This guy Phinehas was Aaron’s grandson / He turned God’s wrath and saved a whole lot from destruction / And then there’s Cozbi seducing Zimri / Phinehas ran them through with one trust of his javelin” the song concludes. Ringhofer’s willingness to explore many of the darker events of the Old Testament and find humor in the stories is refreshing, and the way he relates the characters as if they’re friends of his makes it easy to follow along. He also played songs from his fantastic latest full length, As Stowaways in Cabinets of Surf, We Live-out in Our Members a Kind of Rebirth, and the brand new Dove EP, the latest in a series of single-sided 12″ records (the back features an etching, drawn by Ringhofer himself) from Philadelphia’s Burnt Toast Vinyl.
For a bit more about John Ringhofer and his history, see this wonderful piece in Barrelhouse written by a former bandmate from his old band, “Wookieback.”