The weather late Sunday night at the U.S. Cellular Stage didn’t exactly put the summer into Summerfest. It was not what anyone would describe as warm. Thankfully, clattering bluesy rockers Cold War Kids didn’t hang their fans out to dry, delivering a non-stop hour-long set that was low on frills but high on sweet tunes.
It took a little bit for the California-based band (which returns to Milwaukee to play at Turner Hall on Sept. 27) to warm up the crowd. The first two numbers were fun but not particularly memorable, and the mix was admittedly on the quiet side. The band then played the first hit of the set, their current single "Miracle Mile" off their recently released album "Dear Miss Lonelyhearts." The playful hit perked up the chilly audience, and Cold War Kids never looked back.
Well, maybe that’s not exactly true. Instead of forcing a lot of the new album down the crowd’s throat, Cold War Kids focused on the records – namely "Robbers & Cowards" and Loyalty to Loyalty" – that made them an indie band on the rise several years ago.
A couple songs after "Miracle Mile," Cold War Kids came upon their next hit, a rocking rendition of their most famous song, "Hang Me Up to Dry." The number provided another jolt for the audience, who sang along with lead singer Nathan Willett. Willett himself gave his performance and lyrics an enjoyable, almost drunken swagger.
The set continued to roll along without any sign of stopping. Interactions were kept to pretty much a minimum as Cold War Kids flew from rollicking number to rollicking number. Soon after "Hang Me Up to Dry" came the chipper duo of "Royal Blue" and "Santa Ana Winds." "We Used to Vacation" brought back Willett’s smartly stumbling performance, adding bluesy character to the song’s compellingly confessional storytelling.
"Welcome to the Occupation" and "Red Wine, Success!" both kept the blues vibe happily going, leading into the thumping rockers "Louder Than Ever" and "Rubidoux." Cold War Kids then added a little funkiness to their indie rock formula with "Something Is Not Right With Me."
The set came to a close with a duo of drawlingly cool clankers, "Hospital Beds" and "Saint John." And I don’t mean "clanker" as a negative. The unvarnished vibe gave the two songs the kind of real, addictively grimy blues-rock grit that I’m just a sucker for.
Admittedly, you kind of have to enjoy Cold War Kids’ modesty and lack of showy polish. As previously noted, there wasn’t much in the way of interactions – just some awkward teasing of their upcoming show at Turner Hall this September. There were no crazy dance breaks, snazzy light tricks or eye-catching backgrounds. There wasn’t even an encore (though they played everything I and fans would likely want to hear).
They weren’t there to provide a big show. They just played a good show with good music. And I’m okay with that.
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