REVIEW: The Cold War Kids Revival and Concert

Vocalist Nathan Willet
Vocalist Nathan Willet
Published In The Daily Free Press on 4/25/13

Two things before we begin. One: Cold War Kids’ 2006 debut, Robbers & Cowards, is one of my favorite albums of all time. Two: Their 2011 record, Mine Is Yours, is one of the most disappointing albums of the decade. Yes, yes, I know — music reviewers are especially prone to exaggerations, hissy fits and everything in between. But hear me out. I swear I’ll get to the review in due time.

Robbers & Cowards is everything you need in an Indie record — it’s raw and bluesy with discordant guitar and piano, off-kilter drumming, sultry bass lines and Nathan Willett’s piercing vocals. Along with some White Stripes, Black Keys and Portugal. The Man LPs, Robbers & Cowards helped me finally take note of Indie rock.

Before my sudden epiphany, I only really cared about the Beatles, The Band, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks and other blues rock bands from of the late 1960s. I never delved into modern music, daunted by the wealth of the unknown and turned off by the sound of Top 40. Robbers was one of those albums that changed my view to the point where Indie rock is now my most consumed and talked-about genre.

Their 2008 follow-up up album, Loyalty To Loyalty, didn’t live up to Robbers but it was still great. Something happened between Cold War Kids’ second and third albums though — the band largely ignored their blues influences and muted their sound to create Mine Is Yours.

The album seems like an attempt to soften the edge and leave Indie rock behind for the greener pastures of radio play. I still enjoy three or four songs, however. Songs such as “Finally Begin” sounded emotionally contrived-verging-on-cheesy while others felt a strange combination of dull and bombastic in their arrangements. Mine Is Yours is the musical equivalent of swinging for the fences and tipping the ball before it arrives in the catcher’s mitt.

The album simply didn’t work and the blogosphere caught on. The record was largely panned and the band suffered a dip in reputation. This is likely one of the reasons their current tour brought them to the 933-capacity Paradise Rock Club in comparison to the 2,400-person House of Blues they played on their last tour.

Now it seems as if the band has done some soul searching. They’ve admitted the failures of Mine Is Yours and have returned with Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, a record that sounds more like the Cold War Kids I love. I was skeptical when the new release was announced but I find myself listening to it far more than I ever expected.

The Concert

Paradise is an intimate venue and it was great to see a band that I’ve previously seen at House of Blues and the 3,000-person Terminal 5 in NYC play in such a personal environment. Cold War Kids pulled their song choices pretty evenly from their four records. They showcased five tracks from their newest while pulling only three from Mine Is Yours.

Early classics such as “We Used to Vacation” and “Hang Me Up To Dry” got the best responses of the night, affirming that the band is forever tied to that first record that brought them so much support. Even so, I’m going to exclude their older tracks from my review — they’ve been in rotation for years and still sound as great as always.

While the older songs are still fresh, the new numbers flourished in the live setting. It would be easy to write that the latest tracks sounded as if they belong on one of the first two albums; however, they don’t. None of the new songs, sans the bluesy “Minimum Day,” would fit neatly on an older Cold War Kids album. The Dear Miss Lonelyhearts numbers signal a new direction for the band, but this time, I’m on board.

The spacious and electronic “Loner Phase” and the piano-laden “Jailbirds” are crisper and catchier than the band’s older material and were among the highlights of the night. “Miracle Mile” is a fun earworm track that will stick in your head even if you long for the sound of the earlier records. It does ‘catchy’ better than anything else on Mine Is Yours and should be a staple for future gigs.

“Fear & Trembling” and “Tuxedos” are subdued with clean guitar and earnest vocals. These two seem to replace the tranquil songs off Loyalty to Loyalty in the setlist and are a fresh and compelling change.

The band is always a riot to watch live thanks to bassist Matt Maust, who struts around stage, head-butting and lightly kicking Nathan Willett. Willett and Maust have a playful relationship that’s reminiscent of two friends fooling around and their enjoyment is contagious. Maust often planted himself at the front of the stage, staring into the crowd as he swayed to his bass grooves.

Ultimately Cold War Kids’ sold-out show at Paradise Rock Club was a redemption of sorts. If you were avoiding their tour because of their missteps, I’d implore you to reconsider. The band will never recapture the sound of Robbers & Cowards, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not putting out exciting new material.

Setlist:

1) Mexican Dogs – Loyalty

2) Miracle Mile – DMLH

3) I’ve Seen Enough – Loyalty

4) Royal Blue – MIY

5) Jailbirds – DMLH

6) Audience – Behave Yourself EP

7) Every Man I Fall For – Loyalty

8) Rubidoux – Robbers

9) Loner Phase – DMLH

10) Hang Me Up To Dry – Robbers

11) Relief – Loyalty

12) Cold Toes on the Cold Floor – MIY

13) Fear & Trembling – DMLH

14) Louder Than Ever – MIY

15) Tuxedos – DMLH

16) Hospital Beds – Robbers

Encore:

17) We Used to Vacation – Robbers18) Minimum Day – Single

18) Minimum Day – Single

19) Something Is Not Right With Me – Loyalty

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