To get a measurable buzz from a show isn't rare, but bands don't exactly sell a guarantee for it, either. You can usually detect it once the group hits the stage. One or two songs in and you know - the performance will indeed rock.
To feel the buzz before the band even sets up-with excitement so apparent it's literally spilling out the door-well, that's another thing entirely. That was the Cold War Kids Friday night.
Clearly, it's a good sign when the normally indifferent crowd of hip boys and girls can't help but let their enthusiasm gush. With concertgoers teeming outside of Subterranean before doors even opened for the second of Cold War Kids' sold-out Chicago shows, the band's reputation, it seems, preceded itself.
But jump ahead of the spiraling line of fans, a minor inter-audience altercation, and an impressive set from openers Tokyo Police Club and you have the Cold War Kids striding onstage, ready to live up to their buzz and earn the love the audience seemed so intent on giving.
Diving head first into a rousing version of "We Used To Vacation," Cold War Kids had everyone swaying and signing along within seconds, perhaps setting a new record for audience responsiveness. The creeping rhythm kept shoulders shaking and heads bobbing as the band tossed out the catchy "Pass The Hat," walking the selection through bluesy-country grooves and fist-shaking rock.
Building to a swelling midpoint, temporarily expanding for the Tokyo Police Club-assisted "Saint John," the band hit a veritable home-run as far as crowd pleasing was concerned and primed for the second half of a performance that simply refused to slow down.
Reciprocation was the word of the night as the clearly pumped-up crowd stimulated lead singer Nathan Willette, who steered the show, to keep even the farthest rows on the floor and in the balcony rippling with energy as the set list sprawled. Jonnie Russell's authoritative guitar wrapped up with Matt Maust's striding bass lines kept a steady intensity as the band moved from Robbers And Cowards staples to a Nick Cave cover of "The Moon Is In The Gutter" and back again. Throughout the night, most notably in tracks like "Hospital Beds," Matt Aveiro's drumming added to the building empirical evidence that while Cold War Kids are good on record, they're tremendous when heard live.
Both the confidence and charm exuded by Cold War Kids (even the guy playing the maracas was working hard) is what makes their live shows something to behold. The tireless onstage efforts fed the audience as much as they captivated it. Like a band of snake charmers they lulled us all into a relaxed-but-intense trance. How else can you explain the world's most dutiful handclapping? Most crowds tucker out after a verse or two, but if it's hand clapping (or singing, or dancing or head bobbing) Cold War Kids want, it's hand clapping-and then some-they get. It's a sort of phenomenon associated with Cold War Kids' live performances, and likely the root of the aforementioned "buzz." With plenty of bands excelling at pumping out audience favorites and stretching a little with new material, the distinct connection with the crowd is what set the Cold War Kids show apart from the norm.
As these elements are simply absent from the band's albums, it's as frustrating as it is rewarding that the experience can't be easily duplicated in the studio. But perhaps that's another special thing about a Cold War Kids Show; you just have to be there.
By Kim Bellware