Cold War Kids Invigorate Fans With Passionate Performance

Photo: relief. Cold War Kids lead singer Nathan Willett fired up the crowd with his vocals at the band's performance at the Great American Music Hall on Friday.
Emma Lantos/Photo
relief. Cold War Kids lead singer Nathan Willett fired up the crowd with his vocals at the band's performance at the Great American Music Hall on Friday.

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Cold War Kids take you to church when they get on stage. Lead singer Nathan Willett's impassioned shout-singing evokes images of fervent preachers proclaiming the gospel in clapboard chapels. Bassist Matt Maust and guitarist Jonnie Russell prowl and jump around on the stage like crazed parishioners overcome by the Holy Ghost. Drummer Matt Aveiro pummels his kit like a primitive player, urging on the choir from the musician's loft to the right of the altar. On Friday night at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, Cold War Kids played to a sold out congregation. And just as believers get caught up in the communal spirit in church, it's hard not to get swept up by the dynamic energy of a Cold War Kids show.

Of course, Cold War Kids don't actually preach Christianity from the stage; though their music draws on spiritual themes and emotions, their music is purely secular. However, the undercurrent of spiritual exorcism that runs throughout their music has actually earned them some scorn. When it was discovered that in their private lives they actually are Christians (gasp!), blogs that previously championed them instantly went Benedict Arnold on them, dismissing the band they once called fresh and promising as simplistic and derivative. This betrayal seems ludicrous to anyone who has actually attended a Cold War Kids show and knows that the only kind of converts they're trying to win are believers in the Church of High-Energy Rock 'n' Roll.

The band has true intensity. Guitarist Russell and bassist Maust are the most visually electric and charismatic members of the group. Sauntering around the stage, they seemed almost out-of-body; with their warped facial expressions and contorted body language, at times it appeared unclear whether they were just enveloped in the music or if they were looking for a fight.

They opened the set with a song off their unfortunately listless new album Loyalty to Loyalty called "Every Valley is Not a Lake". The anxious crowd responded positively to the new material. But, the mild enthusiasm with which fans greeted new material paled in comparison to the uproar over classics like "We Used to Vacation" or "Hospital Beds." Their new album did just came out last Tuesday, but suspicions still remain that the new material just isn't as strong as their older, more vibrant and energetic work. Watching Russell beating the living hell out of a pair of maracas on "We Used to Vacation" was much more fun than watching him wade through the reverb-drenched, boringly nostalgic "Golden Gate Jumpers."

On "Robbers," they had all the house lights dimmed and brought out flashlights. They shined the lights on audience members as though they were the robbery victims described in the song's lyrics. This interaction added a nice atmospheric accent to one of their mellower songs.

The show's pinnacle was the pulsating "Hang Me Up to Dry." The song is built up from an insistent two-chord riff that brilliantly finds a way to build intensity and escape monotony. Encore closer "Saint John" represented Cold War Kids at their best: earthy, emotional, spiritual, energetic roots music backing intricate tales that could have taken place in the Great Depression as much as they could occur in modern times.

Now, all we can hope is that the road will help Cold War Kids find a way to bring some more energy to their green material. Although they haven't quite converted fans over to the hymns of Loyalty to Loyalty, Cold War Kids certainly keep the faith alive with their passionate live performances.

Rekindle your faith with David at [email protected]

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