“This is an old one — you guys know this?” Nathan Willett said to anticipatory whoops and hollers. Brooklyn Steel was a sea of cell phones held aloft as the band laid down the opening notes to “Hang Me Up to Dry.” The minor-key deconstruction of a relationship turned extractive is made more ominous as midway through, the funky guitar groove gives way to off-kilter piano. This single off Cold War Kids‘ debut album, Robbers & Cowards, catapulted the band from SoCal upstarts into mainstays of the indie rock sphere. And if references to Modest Mouse’s crossover of gritty rock and radio-friendly pop seem tempting, it will be no surprise that ex-Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer is now a Kid, or that CWK’s third album, Mine Is Yours, was produced by Jacquire King. King’s discography ranges from Modest Mouse to Tom Waits to Kings of Leon, and both bluesy, gravelly howl and southern rock are components of the CWK aesthetic.
Cold War Kids is touring in support of two recent releases — studio album LA Divine, and Audience, which is a compilation of the band’s signature songs across their six studio albums, recorded live at a show in Athens, Georgia, last fall. (The album title is drawn from the band’s 2010 EP, Behave Yourself.)
Monday evening in Brooklyn launched off with the anthemic “All This Could Be Yours,” a strutting bassline providing the backbone to Willett’s widescreen emotive delivery — I have been patient, but you’ve got to try / Then all of this could be yours, be yours tonight. “Miracle Mile,” from 2013’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts was next, and the front row shouted-sang the chorus right back at the band.
Willett and his bandmates are consummate performers, their cinematic energy making the 1,800-person venue feel intimate. Matt Maust prowled back and forth in front of Plummer’s kit and along the edge of the stage, tracing arcs with his bass, his Depeche Mode shirt a nod to the band’s New Wave influence. Plummer himself was all precision and fire (his kit included the notable addition of a mannequin hand with a bell nestled between its plastic fingers). On the opposite end of the stage, guitarist David Quon (an excellent frontman in his own right with the post-punk We Barbarians) kept a steely-eyed focus on his bandmates as the band tore through a 90+ minute set, while Matthew Schwartz multi-tasked on keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals.
At moments during the show, Maust looked all but ready to launch himself into the crowd, and Willett did in fact step out across the barricade, dragging the mic stand along. Steadied by dozens of pairs of hands, he howled like an indie rocker raised on gospel.
The night was rounded out with a cover of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” (“we were doing this before it got so popular,” Willett said with a smile), and closed with “Something Is Not Right With Me.”
Cold War Kids turns fourteen this year, making the band about as old as the teenage audience members with black marker X’s drawn across their hands. That the band continues to fill venues with thousands of fans each night is testament to their ability to transform their sound while staying true to a core aesthetic. And while reviewers use comparison points — the blues rock of Black Keys, for example, or the arena-ready dynamism of The Killers or Imagine Dragons (and I hear the intriguingly eerie crashes of piano chords that remind me of The Walkmen) — Cold War Kids have evolved around a sonic identity of their own.
Each night, when the venue background music and lights cut out and the audience roars in anticipation as the band walks onstage, I wonder if these guys think of the lines in the opening song as something of a promise fulfilled: All this is ours tonight.
Article: Vivian Wang