The first thing that strikes you when seeing Cold War Kids is how massively jacked their lead singer Nathan Willett is. I'm not sure if it was the small venue or the relative stature of his fellow band-mates, but his arms definitely looked like they could crush my head with one squeeze. If you put him and Arcade Fire's Win Butler together as tag-team wrestlers, the WWE Intercontinental Championship would be theirs in a heartbeat. All choke-holds aside though, the cozy confines of The Doug Fir were the ideal place to see his band -- much more natural than the larger stages their borderline fame usually brings them to. This was the 3rd night of their 3-night stand at the club, part of a mini-tour where they were playing similar venue runs in Seattle and San Francisco. This small-stage stint was most likely done to gain comfort with the new lineup for the band: original guitarist Jonnie Russell recently quit to go back to school, and was replaced by old Modest Mouse guitarist, Dann Gallucci. If like me, you had never seen Cold War Kids live before, you would have never noticed anything out of place.
The crowd was hyped from the get-go, if not too excited. One coked-out ex-frat bro in front of me screamed the entire set for the tame and morbid tune "Hospital Beds," freaking out with a round of high-fives and fist-pumps when the somber tune started up. It was peculiar for sure, but a fan's a fan I suppose. More fluid crowd interactions occurred at much more expected times, like when the whole room started moving as the band kicked in on "I've Seen Enough" -- proof enough that you don't need to have a laptop on stage to provide a good 'drop.' In terms of whole room eruptions, it only fell second to "Hang Me Up to Dry" -- the song that broke the band and the one that everyone in the crowd shamelessly sang at the top of their lungs.
2011's Mine is Yours didn't grab me in the same way the first two albums did, but hearing some of its tunes live made me instantly want to revisit it. "Royal Blue" sounded so good I couldn't remember why it had turned me away in the first place. Listening back to the album now, it's easily one of the best songs they've penned yet. "Bulldozer" was great too and hinted at the notion that these guys wouldn't be upset if they became the U.S. version of Coldplay. There were a couple new tunes as well, and they followed the pattern of driven, minimalist rock that is the quintessential Cold War Kids sound. It may be a while, if ever, that they break out of the niche they've crafted, but there also may never come a reason to leave it. If people still dig it and the band's not bored, then might as well keep that train running. Things got a little too serious when the band turned off the lights and shined flashlights in the crowd for "Robbers," but it did show their comfort with an intimate crowd. That's the price of success I guess -- the bigger you get, the more you stray from the place that feels like home. From the band's own reactions on stage, it seemed like playing for a few hundred devoted fans is exactly where they wanted and needed to be.