Cold War Kids @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg

BROOKLYN, NY—It took me longer than the average Cold War Kids fan to catch on. Back in 2007, I saw them open for Muse at Madison Square Garden. I don’t know if they got lost in the size of it all, but they lacked something. There wasn’t a sense of emotion; they had a raw sound too unrefined to be heard at the Garden. It was more of a practice session on stage, at least for me it was.

Since then the Kids have played probably well over 300 shows, and the growth is noticeable. From song one to song 17, they weaved in and out of each story with style. There wasn’t confusion as to what was going on; it was as if you were just hitting next on your iPod. Don’t get me wrong, they did have a unique sound that could only be captured live, but you weren’t getting some distorted noise that left you wondering what the hell was going on.

Whenever you go to a sold out show it’s hard to feel in tune with what’s going on. You don’t have that intimate connection you would have at a smaller show but this was one of those exceptions. Granted, The Music Hall of Williamsburg isn’t MSG, but sold out it can fit a good amount. Guitarist Jonnie Russell and bassist Matt Maust had their fair share of fun on stage and I think that fun made its way down to the floor.

Thinking back to that ‘07 show I remember the stage lights being on or off for most of the set. I remember how strange it felt, it was as if they were still setting up. I never really think much of lighting at a show, most of the time I’m too caught up in everything else going on. Well, notch lighting up in the “figured out” column. Every emotion they tried to convey through the reds and blues and yellows, they achieved. I say this because it clearly changed how fans took the music in. It wasn’t a giant sing-along all night long and it wasn’t a clap fest either; it was truly an emotional experience.

Anyone that has heard a Cold War Kids song knows they work like stories. Each song has a beginning, middle, and end, much like what Jack White does with the The Raconteurs more so than with the White Stripes. As for the crowd, they were like little kids at kindergarten during story time; everyone huddled close to listen in to their favorite stories, and they occasionally chanted them back.

This tour was set to promote their recently released EP [Behave Yourself]. They played most of it and I didn’t like it. I’d hate to say it sounded more mainstream but the pop influences on some of the tracks were just too much of a departure from their soulful indie sound. Still the songs were received well so I’m sure some fans won’t have a problem adapting to their new direction.

I’ve heard people complain when bands don’t get into a back-and-forth with fans at shows, but their playing spoke much louder and clearer than anything they could’ve said. A band you wait to see play for months, maybe even years, should do just that, play. Besides how often do you listen to a front man talk and lose track of what he’s saying when a “diehard” jumps in and yells in your ear? And how awkward does it feel when a singer tries to be funny and no one laughs?

That’s not to say they didn’t talk at all, they did. They took a moment and paused to remember the people in Haiti. Nathan Willett read a passage from The Catcher In The Rye a day after author J.D. Salinger had died. And of course the usual line about how great it is to play in NYC, which we often take for granted when we hear it, but I always take it as sincere.

For a band that only has two full-length albums it seemed impossible to disappoint fans in missing songs but I’d say there were at least three or four other songs that could have been filtered through their set.

Here’s their set list in order: “I’ve Seen Enough, Hair Down,” “Audience,” “Red Wine, Success!,” “Welcome To The Occupation,” “Coffee Spoon,” “Dreams Old Men Dream,” “Relief,” “Hang Me Up To Dry,” “Santa Anna Winds,” “Golden Gate Jumpers,” “Hospital Beds,” a cover of “Long As I Can See The Light,” “Saint John,” and “Something Is Not Right With Me.”

They could have played “Mexican Dogs,” “Passing The Hat,” and even “Against Privacy,” just to name a few. But I know they could only play for so long.

I felt so uneasy as the Kids headed off-stage after “Something Is Not Right With Me.” Most bands do encores but even then bands pick a solid song to end their set with. This song though was just, I don’t know, it just wasn’t enough. I didn’t stick around necessarily for more music but it seemed awkward to leave on that note.

They came back and played two more, transitioning from “Sermons Vs. Gospels” into “We Used To Vacation.” I heard those two songs and immediately thought, ‘Now I can go home.’