Cold War Kids: 30.January.2010 – Chicago

Bands all have their own personal motivations for putting on great shows. Some are looking to give the fans what they want or deserve while some bands play with abandon, hoping to celebrate one last time and drain their instruments of every last note and chord in order to clear the slate for the next chapter of their career.

There was a little bit of both going on for the Cold War Kids’ visit to the Vic Theater in Chicago Saturday. The show felt like we were watching a musical exorcism that lasted a quick 45 minutes. Playing as if possessed, they surged through a set filled with swelling ballads of righteous protest and freedom anthems for the people. And when the mood was right, a few somber moments of heavy heartache and sadness were mixed in.

As the show unfolded I figured the reason for the fantastically furious set was because, starting in early February, the Long Beach, CA quartet will be heading into the studio to work on their third album that, according to recent interviews, will usher in a “new” Cold War Kids sound.

But this show wasn’t about the future. The band was focused on playing in the present and celebrating the past few years. And though I might not have completely understood what Nathan Willett (lead vocals, piano, guitar) meant when he expressed his gratitude to loyal Windy City fans saying “We’ve always thought of Chicago as our secret weapon”, I definitely got the sentiment when the band launched into “Audience”, from their recent Behave Yourself EP.

As the vocal anchor Willett’s voice gives the songs a gritty edge while adding just enough pop sensibility. I don’t know how he does it or what exactly goes on inside his throat in order to produce such a beautiful mix of melody and force, but I do know I love the way his voice sounds and makes me feel. Somehow he finds a way to meld a rough punk snarl with a warm croon. It wraps around you and transfers you to places of both joy and sadness, often in the same note. In other words, his voice is an instrument all by itself–and certainly one of the most distinct in indie-rock.

The show sped on through the slow-burning and rancorous “Hang Me Out To Dry”. Jonnie Russell (guitar, vocals, percussion) and Matt Maust (bass guitar), following Willet’s lead towards utter abandonment, charged through the frantic and soulfully spastic “Something Is Not Right With Me”, while Matt Aveiro (drums) wrapped a flurry of thumping kick drums, popping snares, and crashing cymbals around his band mates. And like a band caught up in the rapture of rock and pleasure, they all stumbled about the stage as if gloriously tripping in a sonic stupor.

The final song of the nigh, and encore, was the sobering rock ballad “We Used To Vacation”. As we all walked out of the venue into the cold winter night, I heard fans singing and humming the song as if holding on to the show for one last moment. If this was the last we’ll hear of the “old” Cold War Kids then it was a triumphant way to say goodbye to the past.