Cold War Kids The Observatory 11/8/13 Cold War Kids have always been a collection of contradictions. The band sprang fully formed from Orange County's vanilla confines with a loose, grimy blues sound; singer Nathan Willett sings about doubts and fears backed by music that always seems to know where it's going; the band's most accessible single, arguably, is "Something is Not Right With Me."
CWK's tour for their fourth album, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, released in April and named for a 1933 Nathanael West novel (which I haven't read), wrapped up at the Observatory Friday night. The band returned to the Santa Ana stage following a show before the album's release in February, and the sold-out homecoming was equal parts triumph and relief.
The band blasted through a 20-song set heavy on hometown references, including a Behave Yourself EP track that Willett said was "apropos" given the afternoon's weather ("Santa Ana Winds"). Willett recently told the Weekly that the band's next album, which they're already planning in their San Pedro studio, will address a lack of "hard rockers" in their catalog that can "hit and drive" at festival shows. The evening's set list seemed tailored to those concerns; songs from EPs and all four of their albums were patched together to sustain the manic energy familiar to CWK's live act.
The band's sound has expanded beyond their bluesy, minimalist beginnings, employing synthesizers and electronic drums (to mixed results) as early as 2008's Loyalty to Loyalty, but the extra instrumentation sounds more assured on the Lonelyhearts songs - the introductory synthesizer strains of "Loner Phase" crept in early in the set and settled in seamlessly with Willett's barroom piano and signature yelp.
Bassist Matt Maust prowled the stage, stone-faced and spitting, alternately leaning on and pushing off of everyone and everything he could reach. Drummer Matt Aveiro, who showed new relish for rock thump on tracks Lonelyhearts tracks like "Lost That Easy" and "Jailbirds," pounded away but was occasionally upstaged by new guitarist Dann Gallucci and touring member Matthew Schwartz, both contenders in a competition to find out who could shake their percussion assortment more enthusiastically. (Schwartz won.)
The divisive pop sheen Cold War Kids acquired on 2011's Mine is Yours may have carried over onto Lonelyhearts, but some of the Delta mud that permeated their early recordings bubbled to the surface on songs like "Fear & Loathing" and "Tuxedos." The latter, a slow, waltz-time musing on being a "stranger at a wedding," served as a brief break near the end of the set before "We Used to Vacation," the opening track from 2006's Robbers & Cowards and the one of the group's signature sing-a-longs.
Willett acknowledged the band's local roots and the influence it had on their music at the outset of the encore, saying that "there are streets in Fullerton, there are streets in Whittier, there are streets in Long Beach, that remind us of how we started here ... the early songs exist because of those streets." The singer's solo rendition of the Lonelyhearts song "Bottled Affection" was dedicated to "those of you that came to see us at Detroit Bar 10 times."
The night closed with "Saint John," another Robbers track, which opened with a "Dazed and Confused"-style intro featuring heavy bass and Willett stuttering through lyrics like 1969-era Robert Plant reincarnate. After another extended jam, the band trickled off the stage, but not before Maust climbed into the front row and distributed a half-dozen hugs to several fans pressed against the barricade. Orange County loves Cold War Kids, and they couldn't help but return the favor.
The Crowd: More female than male, at least half underage, and not afraid of plaid.
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Critical Bias: This writer bought CWK's first release, The Mulberry Street EP, at a show the band played at Biola University in La Mirada (where Willett and Maust met as students) back in 2005, and has seen them more than a couple times since.
Set List: Pine Street (new song) Loner Phase Louder Than Ever I've Seen Enough Miracle Mile Royal Blue Audience Hang Me Up To Dry Mexican Dogs Santa Ana Winds Relief Red Wine, Success! Jailbirds Tuxedos We Used To Vacation Something Is Not Right With Me Hospital Beds
Encore: Bottled Affection Minimum Day You Don't Come Through (The Band cover) Saint John