Nothing sinks a band faster than that dreaded c-word: Complacency. At their sold-out show Thursday night at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg -- a last-minute addition to their much bigger sold-out show tonight at Terminal 5 -- the Cold War Kids played like professionals doing a job for which the thrill is gone.
I last saw the band at Bonnaroo 2007, when their debut Robbers & Cowards was just beginning to get some notice. Playing a grueling set in the midday sun, the quartet performed like they had everything to prove, ripping through booze-soaked songs about drinking, friendship, and more drinking. They made a lot of converts that day and have made a lot more since, but now that the evangelism has ended the coasting begins.
If you made a checklist of “fun live band” signifiers, the Kids would get high marks. Wander about the stage? Check. Josh around with each other, shoving your bandmates like it’s after-hours at the Bourbon Saloon? Yep. Yet even at their most apparently engaged they seemed to be going through the motions.
The crowd tried to compensate with energy of their own, but by show’s end even that felt like an obligation. “I don’t even need to sing this,” Nathan Willett remarked before the final chorus of rousing sing-along “Hang Me Up to Dry,” and he was pretty much right. After three years of performing this song nightly, Willett’s boozy holler went on Autopilot, leaving a gleeful crowd to try to compensate despite an unsteady grasp of the lyrics.
Flashes of the old passion poked through, but they were only brief glimpses of sun in an overcast set. Sitting at the piano, Willett belted “Santa Anna Winds,” off the band’s recent Behave Yourself EP, with grit and vigor, and during “Saint John”…well it’s hard to be bored when someone’s playing percussion on a wine bottle.
The Cold War Kids’ classic covers are invariably high points, and in that regard they didn’t disappoint. At Bonnaroo ’07 they took on Tom Waits and Sam Cooke; last night the Americana cover came in the form of “Long As I Can See the Light,” originally by obvious inspirations Creedence Clearwater Revival, though the swampy slow-burn failed to move an audience unfamiliar with the original.
The entire evening, the band’s energy dwindled whenever the crowd’s rose. The band put it all on the line for tunes the audience didn’t care about, while the night’s biggest crowd-pleasers received a disinterested delivery. The huge cheer that greeted the opening chords of “Hospital Beds” dwindled to a polite golf-clap by song’s end.
At one point in the evening Willett read a passage from The Catcher in the Rye as tribute to the late J.D. Salinger. He chose the section about the ducks in Central Park, but the bit about Holden Caulfield grabbing the brass ring on the carousal might have been more appropriate. After years of stretching for that ring, the Cold War Kids now seem content to just sit back and ride.
Photos by CLme (via Flickr)