Cold War Kids at the Electric Ballroom

20th May 2009 – 5.28 pm

Touts are outside Camden's Electric Ballroom selling 'tickets for the Cold War!', which doesn't sound terribly appealing so I scurry inside. This is a great venue, relatively small yet surprisingly open for its size and offering good views of the stage. The only disappointment is the sturdy metal fence separating the audience from the stage by a few feet, which sadly seems to be in nearly every venue these days. I have managed to arrive a little early in order to catch at least some of the support act. I'm glad I do, because even though they seem enthusiastic and energetic the music does little for, and me I find it better to know this than wonder if I missed out on a future headliner.

The wait for Cold War Kids to turn up tests my rule that any sign of a roadie on-stage means the band is at least five minutes from coming on, which becomes frustrating when the stage is empty for what seems like an age, and the band must surely appear soon, before a roadie quickly checks that one cable is still plugged in. But the house lights are finally cut and the Cold War Kids walk out to a round of bemused indifference. A scatter of applause welcomes them when a couple of backlights turn on to show that they are picking up instruments to play, not to tune, and the band start in to their set.

I would normally highlight a few songs from the set, but I only picked up the second Cold War Kids album a few weeks back, in response to buying the ticket to this gig, and haven't become fully acquainted with it yet, and most of the main set is dedicated to promoting this second album, Loyalty to Loyalty. It is a little peculiar to be promoting the album, as I believe this is their second tour in support it, released eight months ago. But the songs are still getting a lukewarm reception, particularly in contrast with the two songs from first album Robbers and Cowards sprinkled in the set. It could possibly be because the predominance of slow tempo songs on the second album compares unfavourably to the upbeat debut, but even the quiet and poetic personal favourite Robbers gets a markedly different big response. Maybe the second album simply isn't as good as the first.

Whilst Cold War Kids are certainly promoting Loyalty to Loyalty, even selling the CD in the foyer where the first album is absent, they also know how to please their fans. With the main set culminating with the popular We Used to Vacation they leave to raucous applause before coming back to perform the equally appealing trio of Hang me up to Dry, Roubidoux, and St John. Improvised instruments are put to good use in the songs, with a cymbal being walloped with a maraca in one, a tambourine sitting on a tom in another, and the last having spare cymbals tossed on to the stage by the keyboardist at opportune moments.

With all the songs in the encore being from the first album it must be a little disheartening for the band that the later material doesn't receive the same enthusiastic response, particulary as the timing makes it likely not from a lack of familiarity. Hopefully, it is just the process of writing the awkward second album and Cold War Kids will push through it to create more vivifying songs that capture the hearts of the audience as those on the first album have. Their enthusiasm and obvious passion for music and performance makes me want this to be the case, so that I can enjoy their talents again another day.

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