After persevering through some pre-set technical difficulties on Friday night at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theatre, Cold War Kids tore through a slick set that clearly wowed its devoted fans. The Long Beach quartet was kicking off a short, six-date tour celebrating the release of its new Behave Yourself EP, and singer Nathan Willett looked proud as he addressed the crowd: "You can't know how great it feels to be playing to so many friends and family."
His assessment of the attendees appeared to be spot-on, as they sang along with nearly everything Cold War Kids had to offer, including a drawn-out cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Long As I Can See The Light" -- never mind that the young crowd had to learn the lyrics on the spot. The same niceties were not exactly extended to the opening act, a new band led by Alec Ounsworth, the erstwhile singer of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.
Truth be told, Ounsworth -- backed by several members of the dearly departed Philly band, The Teeth -- put on a barnburner of a show. His woozy vamping from the keyboard to the mic and back again was well accompanied by the group's noisy alt-blues, which seemed to close the disparity between the two albums Ounsworth dropped in 2009 (his promising Mo Beauty and the rangier Skin & Bones). But if the tail end of his set felt like one long song, it's because it was. An extended version of the originally 11-minutes-long "Avalon's Snake Breath" did nothing to win new fans.
Plus, the competition was pretty stiff. Cold War Kids have a real knack for blustery tunes that you can sing and dance to -- and they never break the five-minute mark. Take "Hang Me Up To Dry," for instance. The song's jagged catchiness is just unhinged enough -- clanging keys, punishing guitars, pounding drums -- to ignite an audience, but that pent-up energy finds release through a chorus you can't help but shout.
"Something Is Not Right With Me" is the same way, borrowing its tense energy from dance-punk's pulse, and those two songs comprised the night's biggest moments, without question.
Some bands are all about subtlety. Cold War Kids is not one of those bands, and they're all the better for it. A particularly nervy version of "Red Wine, Success!" showcased a group that's very up front with its flavor -- all about the big notes, especially those generated by Willett's divisive vocal chords.
But most of the songs performed on Friday came from Cold War Kids' past -- 2006's Robbers & Cowards, and 2008's Loyalty To Loyalty -- and the tracks from Behave Yourself capture a band in transition. Live, new single "Audience" actually sounded bigger than its predecessors even as it eschewed dissonance for a substantial slab of blue-eyed soul that bridged Van Morrison to Maroon 5.
Likewise, "Santa Ana Winds" presented another vision of the band's sound -- something breezy and almost tropical -- and "Sermons" brought another still: a slow, crawling blues that seemed to refine the frantic boogie of "Saint John," played only a handful of songs earlier in the set.
Where Cold War Kids go with their next album remains to be seen. For now, the journey will do.
"I've Seen Enough"
"Red Wine, Success!"
"Welcome To The Occupation"
"Dreams Old Men Dream"
"Hang Me Up To Dry"
"Santa Ana Winds"
"Long As I Can See The Light" (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
"Something Is Not Right With Me"
"Tell Me In The Morning"
"We Used To Vacation"