Cold War Kids Warehouse Live March 31, 2011
"HOUSTON: A BRACKET TOWN," read signs posted around downtown last night. HPD had begun arranging road-closures and tents were already stocked with T-shirts and Final Four swag, as the city prepared itself for this weekend's inevitable mass of tourists and March Madness basketball fans.
Cool that hoopla may be, but we (as usual) were just trying to make our way to a rock show. One detour later, we arrived at Warehouse Live for Long Beach, Calif.'s Cold War Kids - without a basketball jersey in sight.
After fellow Californian opener Baths ended his electronic set (watch this guy; we dare guess he'll be "big"), CWK took the stage to a loud crowd (and distinct scent of freshly-lit joints).
"Good evening, Houston-town," announced frontman Nathan Willett, as the band began opener "Royal Blue," a track from their third and most recent release, 2011's Mine Is Yours.
Warehouse Live was packed, but the sight still didn't compare to the first time we'd seen CWK, at 2007's Lollapalooza, when fans literally overflowed from neighboring stages to witness the band's set; they'd clearly been booked on a stage too small for their unexpectedly fast-growing hype.
Now with a bit more stage-area to utilize, Willett juggled both guitar and piano duties, often abandoning his guitar and mic-stand to roam the stage, hand flailing through the air as he sang. As expected, Mine Is Yours material was most liberally featured, including "Finally Begin" and "Skip the Charades;" but as the first few notes of "Hang Me Up To Dry," from 2006's Robbers & Cowards, were played, the crowd conveyed their endorsement of the oldie with an excited roar of approval.
As predictable and irritating it may be to witness the biggest crowd response to a band's most popular single, such wasn't the case with "Hang Me Up To Dry;" instead, it served as a reminder of how strong CWK's debut was - the song is a perfect single, with its catchy-as-hell chorus, pounding bass riff and tousled piano jangle.
Unsurpsingly, subsequent songs couldn't hold up against their catchier predecessor. In particular, Mine Is Yours track "Louder Than Ever" seemed uncharacteristically CWK - pop, even - as if designed for an arena-rock singalong.
CWK have clearly developed a broader fanbase since we'd last seen them; while those in attendance were clear fans of the band, we noticed two "camps" of fans - those who knew every lyric to Robbers verbatim, or those who were more dedicated to the recent Mine Is Yours cause.
2008's Loyalty to Loyalty was revisited with standout "Golden Gate Jumpers," as was the band's 2010 EP Behave Yourself, with the equally strong "Audience."
Robbers single "Hospital Beds" closed out the set, as Willett thanked the crowd and the band walked offstage.
As the band regrouped before returning to the stage for an encore, we compared the evening's set to past shows; while Thursday's show was enjoyable and evidently approved by the masses, it lacked a certain edge we'd witnessed before.
The initial appeal of Cold War Kids was their blues-rock rawness, Willett's unpolished, almost maniacal wailing vocals carrying the songs as he messily banged on his piano. The band seemed to lack the spirit we'd so enjoyed years prior. Furthermore, while Mine Is Yours contains its gems, its material didn't transfer as well live as older tunes.
When CWK returned to the stage, lingering fans cheered in support. But those fans in the so far overlooked Robbers camp received the royal treatment during the encore, as it was packed exclusively with Robbers highlights, "Tell Me In the Morning," "We Used to Vacation," and "Saint John."
And just like that, the Mine-heavy set was balanced, and two camps were fused. It's as if Cold War Kids read our mind.
Personal Bias: Not terrible, but certainly not the best CWK show I've seen.
The Crowd: Beer-drinkin' and pretty-faced.
Overheard In the Crowd: "They're like the Flaming Lips meets U2." (???)
Random Notebook Dump: Enough with the blinding white-light shows.
Royal Blue Finally Begin Mexican Dogs Hang Me Up To Dry Skip the Charades Every Man I Fall For Louder Than Ever Cold Toes on the Cold Floor I've Seen Enough Flying Upside Down Golden Gate Jumpers Audience Bulldozer Sermons vs. the Gospel Hospital Beds
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Tell Me In the Morning We Used to Vacation Saint John