March 6, 2012

Getting Close with the Cold War Kids at Columbia City Theater


Cold War Kids

Cold War Kids ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

For nearly a decade the Cold War Kids have been pounding out dark, soulfully sung rock, the angular and sometimes sparse playing of original guitarist Jonny Russell constrasting strongly with singer Nathan Willett’s insistent gospel voice. Russell has moved on now and in his stead is Murder City Devils guitarist Dann Gallucci, and to my mind a finer pick probably couldn’t have been made. Where Russell always seemed to exist in his own chaotic bubble on stage, on the first night of their three night stay at Columbia City Theater, Gallucci was very much a part of the band interacting on the now small-for-them stage, an easy balance of bombastic and precise that you’d likely only find in a veteran player.

Viewing the original band on the main stage at Sasquatch from the upper lawn a few years back was an impressive sight, but unsatisfying. They were spaced far apart and the size of the stage sapped any dynamic from the “show.” Even their stop at the Showbox’s not large stage was a great show, but the room still felt just too big for a band I’d been introduced to live in a suffocatingly hot (old) Crocodile where nobody knew what was hitting them, and all this band was all you could think about for weeks after. Bassist Matt Maust staring down the crowd and dangerously swinging his bass neck just inches from the crowd’s faces. (I never actually saw him peg anyone though.) The relentless pace and ups & downs of the set list. The chaotic percussion. It all added up to what felt like a very unbridled expression of their music. Not just songs to be sung quietly these are parables to be performed with determination.

This band still brings an uncommon amount of determination to the table, but in light of what I’ve experienced before, I didn’t leave Thursday night with what I was hoping to find from them on a small stage again: an entire room all awestruck by what’s going on in front of them, or myself being overly impressed for that matter. Instead it was a good band playing a few decent new songs and mostly their hits to an intoxicated, raucous and disrespectful crowd who it seemed like they would rather talk and whine to each other than listen to the music. It’s hard to fault the band for that, though I was looking for the band to command the crowd. Superhumanoids opened the night and their Morrissey fronted dream-pop didn’t ever quite rise above the din either.

Small stages popping up the in the oddest of places is nothing new, and if it makes me a snob that I prefer those settings to larger one, then yes I am definitely a snob. For me though it’s not the fact that it’s small that matters. It’s the possibility of everyone in the room being on the same page, the shared experience that a intimate space can bring, the feeling of being on the inside looking in and not just a spectator. Truth be told, and though I’d not dare to admit to such nonsense just a short time ago, Macklemore’s triumphant showing at the Key Arena during Bumbershoot was the single most moving and powerful live moment of 2011 for me. Not because I’m a die hard Mack fan. But because of the accumulated energy being focused at Mack, and him throwing it back just as hard, and the electricity that was in the air because of that.

During those first few CWK performances I experienced the intensity and anticipation in the room was palpable. “What was going to happen next?” I count myself a die-hard Cold War Kids fan, but I have to admit I haven’t felt any anticipation about this band for some time now. Though Thursday night was probably my best possible chance to get some of that back, unfortunately I didn’t. The idea of established artists touring smaller than normal venues with three-night stays though, I am anticipating the coming of that day to no end. Let’s hope this is the start of something.

Cold War Kids

Cold War Kids ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth

Cold War Kids

Cold War Kids ::: Photo by Josh Lovseth


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  1. Elliot #

    Great photos.

  2. Dave #

    I saw them Saturday night and felt exactly the same way. I couldn’t really put my finger on it though – you articulated that emotion well here. Maybe I was a bit let down because I had such high expectations of seeing a band like CWK in this intimate setting, but I also felt like the connection with the audience was lost, or never even established. It could have also been that audience, which didn’t typify audiences I’m used to seeing at CCT. That being said, the band performed well, but l was hoping to leave there speechless.

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