Four years ago I probably would have died for this. Cold War Kids. For free. In Baltimore. At Artscape. It would have been heavenly. Robbers & Cowards had just been released and “Hang Me Up To Dry” and “We Used To Vacation” were some of my most listened to songs. There was a raw energy to the band that made them seem timeless, something that it would take a long time for me to forget. But three years ago, the band started to leave my radar. There was a brief comeback in 2008 when Loyalty To Loyalty was released and “Something Is Not Right With Me” repeated constantly through my head. During this comeback, I discovered the true genius that the songs “Hospital Beds” and “St. John” exude, especially this video of “St. John” (featuring Tokyo Police Club and Delta Spirit).
But then the band disappeared from my radar altogether. I didn’t even blink when I saw that the band had released Behave Yourself earlier this year. I still haven’t heard the EP. I’d gotten over this band and moved on to other things, even though I’d listen to the four songs from Robbers & Cowards I’ve already mentioned because, well, those songs are good.
When I saw Cold War Kids were playing Artscape in Baltimore, I got a little excited. Not too excited, but excited enough. There’s not much more to ask for than spending a day wandering around Baltimore looking at various art exhibits and street vendors before capping it with free music from a band I had no problem seeing for free. So Benn, myself, and three friends headed down on the scorching afternoon of July 17 to explore.
For those of you not familiar with the Baltimore area, Artscape is “America’s largest free arts festival” that takes over the downtown area for a weekend every July with art, music, food, and entertainment in general. I’d attended two years ago to catch The Oranges Band, a local Baltimore indie act, for free and was greatly impressed with the layout. I skipped out on 2009’s festival, but was back and ready for this year. But please, don’t confuse Artscape with Whartscape. Big difference. Big, big difference. (From Twitter: “Going to Artscape, its like Whartscape with less ‘Wha?!'”)
After a day spent wandering through the streets, buying “doodle-drawings” for $2 from an artist with ADHD named Christian, trying to find misting tents, killing time in Barnes & Noble, and staying hydrated, we were ready for Cold War Kids. Benn and I were able to find a great spot among the Natty Boh and Molson swilling masses for the experience, while the rest of our party stayed on the hill surrounding the amphitheater. Cold War Kids were scheduled to go off at 6:30 p.m. and we were ready.
Except they didn’t play at 6:30. Or 6:45. Or 6:55. Or 7:00. Finally, at 7:06 p.m., Cold War Kids began to play. And, as expected, the band opened with new material that I did not recognize at all. I finally drew a faint vibe on the third song of the set, “Audience,” but I really do not have the slightest idea of where I had heard that song before.
The energy of the crowd picked up during the fourth song and continued through the rest of the set when Cold War Kids performed “Red Wine, Success!” which was followed by “Tell Me In The Morning.” These more familiar and more danceable tunes really picked up the morale of the crowd and sent the show on its away.
Overall, the sound of the band was superb. Nathan Willett’s voice contains the sort of raw emotion that made me concerned about its ability to translate over into the live show, which impressed me greatly. Matt Aveiro’s drums drove the songs and added even more energy, while bassist Matt Maust and guitarist Jonnie Russell exhibited this energy firsthand, running back and forth, around the stage.
The high point of the show came about three-quarters of the way through when Willett sat down at the piano for a rousing version of “Hospital Beds.” The strain of his voice coupled with the pounding instrumentation provided a catharsis of sorts for the crowd as I found myself screaming along, “I’ve got one friend / Laying across from me / I did not choose him / He did not choose me” in the middle of the song before echoing the closing lines of “Put out the fire on us.”
“Hospital Beds” was easily the high point of the bands performance as they were hitting on all cylinders. The other high points were “Hang Me Up To Dry” and “We Used To Vacation,” as these two songs were the ones that nearly every member of the crowd knew and were happy to sing along too. In fact, after nearly every song Willett told the crowd, “Thank you for singing along.” “Hang Me Up To Dry” sounded almost exactly how it did on the album, except with a couple hundred extra voices shouting along and even more intensity.
The set closed without “St. John” much to my disappointment, but that disappointment was easily erased by the rendition of “We Used To Vacation” to send us on our way. Screaming, “I promised to my wife and children / I’d never touch another drink as long as I live / But even then it sounds so soothing to mix a gin / And sink into oblivion” with the rest of the crowd was the perfectly closing to the night, as was watching Russell play guitar and smash a maraca into an extra symbol while not playing.
In my quick mental recap of the show, I realized that it was so much better than I thought it would be. I knew Cold War Kids was a great band and had songs that I would be able to move to and that would be tight, but I was not expecting anything like what I got. Even if the band’s newer studio work does not have the same appeal as Robbers & Cowards, the live show is something to behold.
Cold War Kids
all photos by Daniel and Sarah H.