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Words & Images by: Jake Krolick
Cold War Kids :: 03.29.07 :: First Unitarian Church :: Philadelphia, PA
Psychologists believe human beings respond instinctively to the rhythmic aspect of music because our own bodies are a series of complex vibrations. Perhaps this is why one can't resist bobbing their head while listening to the Cold War Kids' robustly rhythmic brand of rock, an incisive beat that hacks into one's internal pulse.
Cold War Kids :: 03.29.07
The Cold War Kids' sticky, harsh sound isn't comprised of complex notes woven together in wild twisting patterns. Their music is firmly rooted in the simplicity of gospel and southern chain gang songs. It's not pretty but it has an edge where a tune like "Hang Me Up To Dry" can sit in your head for days upon days. It's definitely not pop music as we know it but could be in an alternate universe.
There's an iron-gated doorway in front of the First Unitarian Church. Behind this doorway, down a brightly lit corridor, sits a giant mirror. With a sharp set of eyes you can see it casting your reflection back at you before descend into the musty basement of this functioning church turned rock venue, which was stuffed full for the Kids. No alcohol was served but the amount of smuggled-in PBR Pounders was downright sacrilegious. The sweltering past-capacity room had the stench of hot, anxious fans as we settled into opener Tokyo Police Club's grand finish. Before it was over, they lit up the air with flying tambourines, fuzzy guitars and gruff vocals.
Nathan Willett - Cold War Kids :: 03.29.07
Cold War frontman Nathan Willett (guitar/piano/vocals) inconspicuously took the stage. His piercing voice flicked the switch that brought their rock machine to life. His massive chest tattoo peaked out from the neck of his tee as he pressed the keys of the piano. Drummer Matt Aveiro and bassist Matt Maust's shifts of meter and emphasis from downbeat to backbeat was truly remarkable. You couldn't get too comfortable before being jostled over to a different tempo. Even the piano was played in a very cadenced manner, almost like a drum. Willett's heavy hands forced the hammers to strike the strings violently, making them reverberate underneath the chunky rhythms, which gave rise to distinct splashes of R&B, gospel, and even hip-hop.
Cold War Kids :: 03.29.07
The scaffolding supporting the speakers shook all evening. Willett and Maust's enthusiasm was remarkable as they worked the stage like kids on a sunny playground. Only the drummer remained rooted to the same spot. As they played, they'd move around but always keep eye contact with the pack for cues and future shifts. Willett played a choreographed game of musical chairs through "Passing the Hat," where he grabbed a different instrument as he rotated spots, each of his moves perfectly timed to the backbeat.
A half hour in, the Cold War Kids invited members from both opening bands, the Tokyo Police Club and Delta Spirit, up for a freakout version of "St. John." In one fluid motion, CWK guitarist Jonnie Russell stepped away from his guitar and towards the wine bottle on top of the piano. He plucked a drumstick from the bottle and popped the proverbial cork, letting all hell break loose. The stage became a pack of smashing, rattle-shaking ruffians as Russell barked, "Tell my sister, tell, tell my sister." He shook off the words as Willett sang, "Old St. John on death row, he's just waiting for a pardon." The mob blazed brightly, showcasing their hip-hop moves.
Cold War Kids with Delta Spirit and Tokyo Police Club
Other songs like "Hospital Beds" and "Quiet Please" were tender and toned down but still a bit off axis. They tossed us a beautiful, timeless version of "God, Make Up Your Mind" and a two-song encore. It was a fast but satisfying romp through their small but growing catalog. California's Kids seemed genuine and appreciative as they stuck around to chat with their fans afterwards. I wished they'd expanded on the studio versions of their songs like they did with "St. John" but where the music lacked the stage show did not.
Check out "St. John" from this show, courtesy of Jake Krolick:
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