SXSW Preview: Cold War Kids At The Beaumont

The “which came first” question is a common one. At a young age, children begin contemplating the foundations of life when they ask, “Is it the chicken or the egg?” John Cusack once pondered the origins of pop music by analyzing, “Was it the music or the misery?” And last night as I contemplated why I was so indifferent with Cold War Kids at the Granada in Lawrence, I consider who deserved blame. “Was it the audience or was it the band?”

As Cold War Kids walked onto stage they were greeted with an already mellow audience. The eagerness was adequate, but nothing as anticipated. There was no rushing towards the stage, no cracking voices from swooning girls screaming at the top of their lungs, there wasn’t even a drunk guy shouting “fuck yeah!” from the middle of the pit. Instead there was a respectable amount of hand clapping and a smattering of woo-hoo’s from a crowd that had been waiting about 50 minutes in between sets. The band opened with “Royal Blue” off of their new album Mine Is Yours and it was a good start to what seemed like a promising night. At nearing full capacity, the venue was already filled with smoke from the fog machine and the crowd seemed to be awakening from their trance. Then, Nathan Willet, the lead vocalist, announced after only two songs that, “There’s a lot of marijuana in the air. I hope that it works with my antibiotics.” And it all went downhill from there.

A statement like this is nearly always followed with some guy shouting, “Yeah. Marijuana!” and while this response did occur there was delay. It almost felt as though the crowd replied out of duty versus an innate desire to so. This was fundamentally the tone for the rest of the evening. While there were a few moments of excitement as people sang ardently along with older favorites like, “Hang Me Out to Dry” and a handful of newer ones such as, “Louder Than Ever” the night overall felt uncomfortably chill.

There was nothing technically wrong with the show.  The band appeared to be making the best of it, laughing at probable “in” jokes to themselves. The bassist, Matt Maust, periodically kicked or bumped into other band members for no reason other than his own amusement. There was even a light show and a fog machine which is always fun, and the band certainly played a tight set. All talented musicians, each member was in full control of every song while still moving as a cohesive unit. And no one can deny that Nathan Willet can sing. But none of their tricks were working. No matter how correctly they played, it was still just lackluster and flat.

The dissonant, sexy, grit that got into your bones on their first album, Robbers and Cowards, was no where to be found. Complaints about their subsequent albums, most recently Mine Is Yours, being too polished and refined seemed to transcend into their live show.  The bluesy rawness that initially attracted, at least myself to Cold War Kids seemed to dissolve into a world of major keys and traditional melodies. This however, was not the problem with the evening. Plenty of people were enjoying those major keys.

There was a falsity in the air. Maybe it was just the contact high or maybe it was those damn antibiotics not quite kicking in, but I think it may have been something else. The best concerts that I have experienced don’t have anything to do with the proper set list, bright lights, fancy gear or the number of beers consumed. It has to do with passion. And energy. And excitement. Not from the band, and not from the audience, but in a connection that lingers between the two. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason Cold War Kids and Lawrence just didn’t click.

Now, I assume that plenty of people had a fantastic time. Surveying the crowd, I saw handfuls of drunken, happy groups forming miniature dance parties and at least a dozen true fans singing along to every word while throwing their hand in the air, proving their enthusiasm and conviction. I’m super happy you had a good time and I would never aspire to fault your experience, but I was just plain bored. It was no one’s fault. Sadly, some things just aren’t meant to be and as the concert ended at the stroke of eleven it was apparent that things just didn’t work out.

By Erin Tuttle

Photos By Becca Armstrong

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