Maybe it’s not fair to compare Cold War Kids to their older selves. Bands change. I get that. But there’s a difference between maturing and simply slowing down and that’s what they seem to have been doing since their second studio album, Loyalty To Loyalty, was released in 2008.
Not that the fans seem to mind. Saturday night’s show at the Vic was packed with enthused, sweaty faces who danced and pumped their fists to every word, so the band must be doing something right. To their credit, they still sound good. But it seems like they’ve settled for a sonic environment that’s pleasant and precise as opposed to messy and explosive, as their live shows used to be.
Whereas lead guitarist, background vocalist, and pianist Jonnie Russell used to spaz out and yelp across the stage with moon-eyed charm, the other night saw him bobbing back and forth in a fluid, yet repetitive groove. He was still the most dynamic member of the group, which goes to show how complacent the others have grown in their energy and stage presence, particularly frontman Nathan Willett, who appeared somewhat bored, despite claiming that Chicago was the band’s “secret weapon.” Although they seemed genuinely happy to be playing, you can tell how easy it’s gotten for them. They thudded their way through newer cuts like “I’ve Seen Enough” and the excellent “Audience” from the new Behave Yourself EP with laid back smirks and the occasional good natured shove, but brought little else to light up the evening.
Photo by Roxane Pahldad
I expected things to pick up with their older songs, which naturally lend themselves to a more varied approach than the moody sludge of most of their newer material, but they got the same phoned in treatment. Although “Hang Me Out To Dry” and “Hospital Beds” got everyone singing along, they felt tired and over rehearsed. Even “St. John”, once known for bringing the opening band onstage for a junkyard, white boy percussion jam, featured a mere extra cymbal and beer bottle to enhance the homemade vibe found on the album and nothing else.
Even though a band shouldn’t be expected to crank out the same gimmicks throughout their career, they should still try and deliver a consistent, engaging energy, or at least evolve in a way that’s risky and interesting. A Cold War Kids concert used to feel like all the best parts of going to church, but now it’s just communion; white, bland, and flimsy, but ultimately harmless.
Special thanks to photographer Roxane Pahldad.
(Note: To those of you who received the generous free bootleg of the show, “Hospital Beds” and “Tell Me In The Morning” were not included on the recording.)
I’ve Seen Enough
Red Wine, Success!
Dreams Old Men Dream
Hang Me Up To Dry
Santa Ana Winds
Tell Me In The Morning
Lord Have Mercy On Me
We Used To Vacation