Cold War Kids at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach

Cold War Kids at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach
John Gilhooley/OC Weekly

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Cold War Kids 

August 3, 2010 
Huntington Beach

Blinded by the glare of the Pacific Ocean and of the thousands of fake Ray Ban sunglasses sported by seas of preteen hipsters, the Cold War Kids sailed through a 13-song set yesterday at the 2010 US Open of Surfing. 

The venue alongside the Huntington Beach Pier is a Californian dream: each song seemingly lowers the sun into the sea, fans dig their bare toes into the sand pit--I mean, mosh pit--every girl flaunts a floss-thin bikini (never mind the fact she's probably 15). A few daring young fans had the courage to light up a celebratory cigarette or joint while patiently waiting for CWK to take the stage. But alas, the Californian dream was shattered as the Huntington Beach Police Department yanked the smoking spliffs from whippersnappers' mouths before they could inhale. Like parents scolding unruly children, police and event security extinguished any hope of smoky rebellion.
Cold War Kids at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach
John Gilhooley/OC Weekly

Greeting the audience with coyote-like howls, the first words from lead singer Nathan Willett-- "How's it gonna feel when summer ends? Out of money, out of friends."  (from "I've Seen Enough") were probably not the best to address teen beach-bums dreading school's return. But hey, it's a free concert on the beach. 

The band followed with "Mexican Dogs," another track from Loyalty to Loyalty, their 2008 CD, before bridging into older but more recognizable tunes from their 2006/2007 record, Robbers & Cowards

Regardless of whether the song was created in a cramped Fullerton apartment half of a decade ago or in a professional LA studio a few months ago, Willett delivered a stunning vocal performance on all levels. Willett's nasal howls fused with the soulful and skillful guitar, percussion, bass, and drum performances from the rest of the CWK.

And despite performing to this relatively youthful (read: prepubescent) audience, the CWK's performance was anything but juvenile. Many songs followed a haunting personal narrative and tackled topics from war atrocities, to political manifestoes, to the plight of the disabled. 

Willett switched story-telling personas with almost every song and presented a range of generational thought, political sentiment and social commentary without losing sight of his personal identity. His vocals perfectly matched those on his recorded tracks, if not exceeding the original quality. 

For CWK fans (Read: those who didn't come to the US Open for surfing/tanning/funnel-cake/action), the performance was not a disappointment. After making playful banter with a boisterous fan ("NO! I f***ing LOVE you!") Willett acknowledged his local roots, hailing "just right up the street there [in Long Beach]."

"Hang Me Up to Dry," CWK's biggest, KROQ-infiltrating hit of 2007, inevitably drew the most vocal response from the sand pit. "Red Wine, Success!" had solid advice for teens dodging citations at the event, as it starts with the phrase "He pours his wine into his coffee cup."  Other singles from Robbers & Cowards were performed with comparable precision and passion, particularly the alcoholic and absentee-parenting narrative of "We Used to Vacation" and the morbid-resignation cry of "Hospital Beds."

The band played three songs off their 2010 EP Behave Yourself, highlighted by the new song "Santa Ana Winds." "This song is about something we all know around here," Willett began. "In between is a basin like a great divide/where the 110 swallows the 105," positions the band in the heart of South LA, just an evening commute away from their Fullerton hometown.

So maybe CWK are better suited to play in a Hollywood indie dive bar or a British alternative festival. Nonetheless, the choice to include the Fullerton-raised, soulful locals brought an eclectic, more mature tone to the US Open of Surfing, albeit for only an hour or two. 
The majority of OC kids flocking to the Open all this week will probably connect more with Switchfoot, Hot Hot Heat, Cobra Starship, and Weezer (all performing for free this week). But CWK's brought serious soul and chord-striking spirit to the week dedicated to surf, sun, and sand. 

Critic's Bias: I was still a babbling infant when the U.S.S.R. collapsed and the Cold War ended; I'm more of a Bosnian War Kid.

The Crowd: A blend of OC hipsters and surf/skate bros, mostly 14-17 years old. 

Cold War Kids at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach
Kevin Short

​The drama of watching a kid get busted for having a pipe on him enthralled about 100 fans by stage left for about 10 whole minutes.

Did I mention it was free?

Set List: 
I've Seen Enough
Mexican Dogs
Hair Down
Red Wine, Success!
Hang Me Up To Dry
Dreams Old Men Dream
Passing the Hat
Santa Ana Winds
Coffee Spoon
We Used to Vacation 
Hospital Beds

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