It’s been more than four years since Cold War Kids brazenly appeared on the scene, brandishing chant-along vocals and one unforgettable guitar line in the form of “Hang Me Up to Dry.” And while plenty of singles (and a decent sophomore album) have come our way since, it still seems like these four lads from Long Beach are trying to find their next big hit. Tuesday night’s Santa Barbara tour stop found the Kids proving just that—though not quite definitively.
“You guys are kind of like our guinea pigs,” lead singer Nathan Willett told the crowd midway through his set, referring to the heavy mix of never-before-heard tracks making up the night’s set list. Unfortunately, among the fresh cuts off the band’s upcoming 2011 release, Mine Is Yours, few stood out against the oldies. “Louder Than Ever” got feet stomping, and “Bulldozer” did a solid job of mixing the Kids’ signature soul grooves with a whole lot of building drums and vocal harmonies. Elsewhere, though, “Cold Toes on the Cold Floor,” “Royal Blue,” and “Finally Begin” simply faded into the night, working as tolerable placeholders for what fans had come out to see.
That said, the hardcores were far from disappointed and were treated to anthemic rockers like “Hospital Beds,” “We Used to Vacation,” and “Audience” in between the unfamiliar numbers. The trouble with evaluating shows like Tuesday’s—as either a critic or a casual fan—is that you’re essentially watching a band find its footing, working out the kinks in the new material while playing numbers that they could probably shred with their hands behind their backs. Likewise, it’s almost impossible to deny the tight instrumental work and almost inhuman vocal power contained within the Cold War Kids’ four members.
Drummer Matt Aveiro can hold down a beat when needed but is at his best when he’s charging it fast and heavy; guitarist Jonnie Russell plays a mean blues guitar but excels when he’s stomping on pedals and screwing with feedback noise. And Willett, for all of his dramatics, has one of the most resonating and recognizable voices in radio rock today, capable of sustaining a melodic howl unlike any other.
In the end, only time will tell how Mine Is Yours pans out for the Kids. But hey, at least we can say we were there to see it first.