The Cold War Kids returned to Madison last night, this time ditching Tapes 'n Tapes in favor of a well-deserved headlining gig and an Annex clogged with a sold-out crowd. The show was one of the first in a characteristically relentless touring schedule in continuing support of their 2006 blog favorite Robbers and Cowards.
In Madison music terms, The Cold War Kids approximate the honest energy of Sleeping in the Aviary without sacrificing the pop appeal of The Pale Young Gentlemen. The vocals are blatant and confrontational, with lyrics that are spouted in a style that is either drunken or Texan. Chords are simple, choruses are shoutable, dust is palpable, and raw originality is scraped off their boots and flung at the full moon.
Walking into last night's live experience felt a bit like being in a zoo with a bar. Carefully herded people lined up for the promise of a spectacle.
The promise was promptly paraded in front of them to the tune of "Wife & Children" and exhibited plenty of wild flailing, bouncy legs, and unkempt hair. Before long, the band members even began wiping the sweat off their foreheads by rubbing against each other like elks smoothing their antlers on tree bark.
But hair-raising spontaneity was the true attraction. Guitars jangled like rings of keys, lyrics rose like hopeless wails, piano benches were stomped upon, and the crowd's mood was modulated with a series of intensifying, fist-pounding beats.
The set list unfolded as expected until the song "Saint John," when opening band Delta Spirit seized the stage with an auxiliary percussion choir straight out of an alt-county junkyard (trash can lids, tambourines, maracas, and wooden crates). The crowded stage virtually rioted in cooperative creation of the complex, passionate song and established the definite pinnacle of the show.
The night took a turn as the Kids attempted traditional song structure with a unique cover of Nick Cave's "New Morning" featuring raspy piano crooning and a beautifully restrained vocal harmony. This was followed by a slow, plodding drum beat introducing "Robbers," which demonstrated a surprising vocal sincerity reminiscent of a Rufus Wainwright ballad.
The band pounded into the crowd favorite "Hospital Beds" and the bassist responded to the energy by nearly ripping the strings off his instrument. But the set came crashing down with "God Make Up Your Mind" and segued into a lulled repeating chorus in demure 6/8 time. The night finally settled with sweat dripping to the reverb of an exhausted guitar until there was simply no more to give.