Another Friday night in Downtown Boulder, CO. It was one of the biggest crowds I'd seen lately at the Boulder Theater, the kind where once you're in, you're only getting out again at the expense of your standing room – it would be filled by someone else when you get back. I felt extremely lucky to have been there at all, since the show was sold out, had been for a week or more, and I only just got the call telling me I would be on the clock covering the show earlier in the afternoon. Sean Hayes was on stage when I arrived, opening and warming up the crowd for the Cold War Kids, the night's main event.
Sean Hayes and his drummer cranked out some seriously grungy, minimalist folk rock. You might remember a Sean Hayes from the TV show Will and Grace, but I'm about 99% sure it's not the same guy. Whereas the TV Sean Hayes is clean-cut and goofy, the man onstage was more reminiscent of Hugh Jackman's portrayal of Wolverine in the recent X-Men movies. Plus, I just couldn't see anyone who acts so flamboyantly on camera playing music this gritty. A storyteller at heart, Sean Hayes (the musician now) sports an overdriven acoustic guitar which he strums, pick, and thumps on. In performance, he relies greatly on an equal part heavy blues beats to fill out his sound. Rhythm is an integral aspect of his singing as well, giving his tales an almost chant-like quality. Near the end of his set, Sean Hayes had Jonathon Russell and Nathan Willet of the Cold War Kids came out to sing along with him on Alabama Chicken, a down south back-to-the-roots folk song that is more rhythmic than musical, and a ton of fun to clap and sing along to. Please don't confuse the two Sean Hayeses, you would be doing the one I saw a grave injustice.
I could feel the excitement growing in the air as the crowd prepared themselves for the inevitable onslaught that is the Cold War Kids. I've heard a lot of good things about the Kids recently - word gets around, shall we say. But with so many supposedly hot up-and-comers, made all the more accessible by the Internet, it's hard to discern who is truly hot and who is not. For me, a lot of the real appeal comes down to the live show, since there is so much inability that can be covered up in the studio, and I'd heard good things on this front about the Kids too. Known for their soul-punk style and their raw and powerful concerts, the Cold War Kids are not likely to disappoint, and Friday night's show at the Boulder Theater was no exception.
As rock bands go, I have to say that the Cold War Kids are coming up near the top of list of young favorites. Their punk-rock vigor, soulful spirits, and Indie rock charm attract a healthy mix of the young and the hip, and the all-around, Zeppelin to Wolfmother rock and roll enthusiast. The band is currently touring in support of their new album Loyalty to Loyalty, which was released earlier this year. I vaguely remember catching a fragment of the Cold War Kids' performance at Bonnaroo back in 2006, but I was struck by the big difference it made seeing them close up, and at the top of the bill. The show was on their terms, and they took every opportunity to make it exhilarating, killing the lights completely at one point, and shining flashlights out into the faces in the crowd, the sharp rays of light cutting through the blackness with dramatic effect. It was as if we were in a cave and the Soviets were looking for us, but this time, we wanted to be found.
There is something almost Cold War era about the Cold War Kids. Maybe its the tension in their music, the defiance, and the manic energy that gets everyone present all wound up, jumping, shouting, and pounding their fists in the air. With very little pause in the torrent of sound pouring off stage, the Cold War Kids rumbled forcefully through their set, rarely letting the momentum of the show fall to anything less than balls to the wall.
As Nathan Willett snarled into the microphone, hopping from the organ to the piano and back again, guitarist Jonathon Russell and bassist Matt Maust strutted and stomped around behind him, going head to head and back to back in furious harmony, and occupying every inch of the stage they could. Matt Aviero's dissonant-by-design drumming framed the band's mania, providing an angry element to the offbeat, atypical rhythms, and driving the band like a hammer drives a nail. For one song, Jonathon Russell took a turn on percussion as well, beating the shit out of a cymbal with a maraca. For a few others, he jumped on the organ or piano while Nathan Willett played guitar.
Highlights from the evening included Hang Me Up To Dry and Saint John off the band's first album, Robbers and Cowards, and Every Man I Fall For, Something Is Not Right With Me, and Relief off Loyalty to Loyalty.
Good bands attract good crowds, interesting bands attract interesting crowds, and the Cold War Kids attract a lot of each. A fair few people in the crowd knew every word to every song, and others like me, though they were unable to sing along for lack of familiarity with the lyrics, felt compelled to at least bang our heads from time to time, moving in synchrony with the music as much as we could given the cramped conditions. Present were all the signs that the audience was in full revelry; the smell of sweat, of beer, and of weed, coupled with the constant and literal push and pull of an over packed, over stimulated, pulsating mass of people.
A girl wasted on god-knows-what, probably Ecstasy, came stumbling through the crowd, groping guys and girls alike as she went, and had to be chucked out through the side door when she started making love to the staircase. It takes all kinds, I guess, but the real pity is not the brain cells she lost (who am I to tell people to stay out of the chemicals under the sink?) but the climactic finish she missed, followed by the triumphant reemergence of the Cold War Kids. Just when the stomping became so loud it could surely be heard from the streets, the band came back out for a few more songs, thanking the enthusiastic crowd for contributing their share to the electricity present throughout. I may now be addicted to the Cold War Kids, but that's an addiction I can live with!