A unique bi-costal tour popped up at the end of the last year. It was announced that the indie buzz band, the Cold War Kids, would be playing intimate New York venues three Wednesday nights in January, before flying cross-country each Friday night to play their hometown L.A. clubs. This approach might infuriate the dozen or so people living in the vacant prairie land between New York and Los Angeles, but it’s a strategy that solidifies the band’s foothold in the two U.S. music Mecca’s in a very short period of time.
Cold War Kids’ debut album, Robbers and Cowards, is excellent. It makes for a valiant first effort that places high value on stout song structure while not succumbing to the verse-chorus-verse trap. Lyrically they are questioning, deviant and violent at times from stanza to stanza, enticing the listener to come forth. There is also an unmistakable religious fervor to the songs, calling upon, Reverends, Halleluiahs and God in multiple songs, whether robbing the collection plate, putting out the fire or drinking the red wine. Both offsetting and enveloping, the album is on par with the real thing on Sundays. Along with the holy comes passion, felt most notably in Nathan Willett’s voice, which can be soulfully commanding before breaking off into falsetto wisps.
The choir was ready and the sinners filed into the pews of Pianos on the Lower East Side for the first show on January 10th. The packed house swooned as the CWK opened the whole shebang with “St. John,” a mixed tale of revenge, rage and possible redemption backed by a scattershot sound. Willett looked the part of a ramped up Charles Napier casing the microphone like a vulture circling carrion. The whole band eschews the typical indie rock stage presence of standing around acting mopey while simultaneously trying for deep and pretty. They jump, sweat, bounce, buckle and shake on stage, enacting tent revivals in cramped bars. Bassist Matt Maust, in particular, looked as if he were going through caffeine withdrawal spastically slapping the bass, creating infectious grooves to propel the songs.
There is a sense of space also present in their playing, leaving room to breath, both sonically and lyrically. From song to song this has a different effect. Some tunes, like the gorgeous and infrequently played “Robbers”, hints at an area existing behind the song for thought and escapism. However on other numbers the gaps seem to stagnate over the music for a split second too long, which begs the question, would a fuller sound provided by a touring fifth member (whether a percussionist, back up guitar, or full time keys) enhance the palette?
As it played out there were still many highlights, while the crowd’s excitement added an air of great magnitude causing this to be more ‘event’ then straight up show. “Heavy Boots” dropped with thudding precision, lead by drummer Matt Averio’s stomps, along with perhaps their best song “Hang Me Out To Dry” which mixed the colors with rowdy applause. A new tune showed up in the form of “Golden Gate Jumpers” and it is fair to say it is still in its chrysalis stage. The show closer, however, was a flash back to the bands Mulberry St. EP called “Quiet, Please!”. Thunderous in its crescendo’s that built up before receding, “Quiet, Please!” satisfied the packed crowd of fans and friends.
On the 24th, the Kids returned to the Isle of Manhattan and invaded the Mercury Lounge. Slightly larger then the tiny Pianos the crowd filtered in for the performance, perhaps the last small show the band plays in NYC, due to their increasing popularity (as evident by their immediate sellouts of The Bowery Ballroom three nights running in April). Rousing sets from Illinois and the Virgins opened the show and then the Cold War Kids entered. Some sound hiccups occurred throughout the night, but on the whole there was a much fuller feeling to the music as compared to two weeks ago, tighter arraignments and a louder overall feel defined the performance. Rakishly garbed guitarist Jonnie Russell played with echo and strummed an eastern tinge as the highlights hit home. A hefty version of “We Used to Vacation” being one, and the requested “Red Wine, Success!” which was played with piss and vigor, growling out the lyrics before violently crashing. The off kilter isolation of “Hospital Beds” was a crowd favorite coming directly from Yossarian Yossarian of Catch-22 fame.
Seeing the new “Golden Gate Jumpers” for a second time was a treat, as the song has been in rotation a few weeks and now sounds more at home. In fact, it would not be out of place to find it as a Tom Waits b-side on the Bawlers album, off the recently released Orphans. It has an ease and flow to it that is calm without lacking urgency, a growing success. “Heavy Boots” once again rumbled like a diesel train bending dual guitars, making them touches from both sides.
The show at the Mercury overall seemed to be less of an ‘event’, corrupted by a bit more chatter and cell phones, perhaps it was the rumored surprise Clap Hands Say Yeah! late night set getting the crowd abuzz, but the musicians didn’t seem to notice, once again delivering the set closing buildups of “Quiet, Please!” this time with even more intensity. The closer was powerful, religious, cataclysmic, a bit confusing (“Quiet, Please/We’ll soon begin” to close), passionate and engaging…a perfect summation of this band and these two Cold War Wednesdays.