The Daily Californian Online

Cold War Kids Chill Out on Warm Cal Day

By Jill Cowan
Contributing Writer
Monday, April 19, 2010
Category: Arts & Entertainment > Music > Concerts

People seemed excited for Cold War Kids, but when the band took the stage (or, rather, the steps of Doe Library) Saturday afternoon, there wasn't any deafening applause or particularly raucous cheering. Don't misunderstand-Memorial Glade was packed. More onlookers dangled their legs from surrounding ledges, while more still sat on the far benches outside the East Asian Library.

Nevertheless, the crowd exuded a sense of relaxed interest over rabid fandom. The concert started late, after perfunctory messages from sponsors, but no one seemed especially antsy. Friends reclined lazily and chatted, and parents of prospective students situated themselves on the grass.

Maybe it was a testament to the indie rockers' broad appeal that freshmen who had already cheered themselves hoarse at the Cal spirit rally and stoned hipsters from the co-ops alike showed up in droves. It's just that few in either camp seemed to truly have their undies in a twist over the music. We Berkeley kids have to maintain a hint of apathetic distance, and the weather alone was excuse enough to be outside. If Cal Day visitors had been looking to get that ever-elusive overall sense of the Berkeley student population, they were definitely in the right place.

Fortunately, the Long Beach-based quartet matched the audience's initial languor with a set that was straightforward, energetic and, ultimately, pretty satisfying. Starting with a single off their sophomore album Loyalty to Loyalty called "I've Seen Enough," for an opener and continuing with several other lesser-known songs, frontman Nathan Willett and company eased the audience into excitement.

They worked through a mix of songs at a steady clip, lending equal weight to guitar-driven melodies like "Red Wine, Success!" and numbers featuring the Cold War Kids' signature heavy piano. Willett's off-kilter wail filled the space admirably and, coupled with guitarist Jonnie Russell's animated stage presence, kept things moving right along. No self-indulgent jamming or long solos here; as Willett pointed out, we weren't at Coachella.

"This is way better than the desert," he said, and regardless of whether or not the band would've actually preferred that gig, the cool grass and mild sunshine made it hard to disagree.

The opening bass rumbles of hit single "Hang Me Out to Dry" heralded the second, more recognizable portion of the set. It was followed by what Willett called "a nice grim song for a beautiful day," but what the audience might've called "that one from the 'Entourage' soundtrack"-"Passing the Hat." The crowd soaked up the familiar cacophony and perked up like a field of daisies in a light sprinkle. At the end of the song, Willett thanked the crowd for singing along. He knew what they'd been waiting for.

The band, accordingly, started to pull out all the stops. During "We Used to Vacation," Russell grabbed a maraca and used it alternately to strum his guitar and to bang on a nearby detached cymbal. He also took his time a little with the solo. Willett pulled his hat over his eyes and savagely pounded the keyboard.

"Everybody still with us?" Willett asked before moving on to "Santa Ana Winds," which acted as a sort of upbeat foil to the heavy plodding of the anthemic "St. John." If they had drifted before, they were back now.

As the light began to turn dusky on the marble pillars behind them, Cold War Kids closed their set-just a little over an hour after they had started. Willett revealed that this was the first time they had been in Berkeley. "We didn't know what to expect," he said, "but this has been wonderful." On a day like Saturday, it couldn't have been anything else.

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