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Cold War Kids and Crystal Antlers @ Orpheum Theater, 3/27/09

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Straining my eyes in the gloom of the Orpheum Theater last Friday, I came to the astonishing conclusion that the guitars that the Crystal Antlers were holding must be purely decorative. Pulverized by the ferocious drumming, heavy bass, and the lead singer's screaming, the guitars faded to a whimper. "They sound like they've got a pillow over them," my friend remarked, "They're all drums and cymbals." Truer words were never spoken. Although I kind of wish the pillow had been over the lead singer's mouth. Piercing your audience's eardrums with wails of passion are never the way to go, sir. With the exception of their song Andrew in which they slowed down and allowed for the interesting piano chords and guitar licks to actually emerge, most of the Crystal Antlers' show was muffled in a blanket of drumming and screams.

To give the drummers (Kevin Stuart and Damian Edwards respectively) credit, had this been a drum off instead of a concert, they would have killed it. While wearing his sunglasses at night, Edwards was mostly in charge of the cymbals. His fancy stick flips and dance moves were worth the sum total of the rest of the performance in itself. Edwards, you should seriously consider going solo with just your cymbal. People would come from miles around just to see your fancy footwork.

In contrast to Edward's style, Stuart was far more traditional in his drumming, but that dude had the arms of a hummingbird. In relentless torrents, Stuart's sticks would fly so fast all I could see was a blur of arms. It was as if he was operating on fast forward. I heard somewhere that Kevin Stuart never wears a shirt after the first song because he gets too hot. I believe it it's because the fabric of his t-shirt would ignite and his whole drum kit would go up in flames.

When the curtains lifted on the Cold War Kids, the band was enveloped in a fog. One would think that after selling out the Orpheum Theater these local boys from Long Beach might have done a victory lap around the stage or yelled something to the effect of, "Hey Mom, Look at me now!" But no, they were all sitting down in the dim light as if it was the most natural thing in the world. In fact the light was so dim, I can't rightly say that I "saw" the Cold War Kids. I saw their outlines. In fact if any of them had been on the lam that evening, they would have gotten away Scot free because there is no way I or anyone else in that theater would have recognized them.

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A giant skeleton in a car, emerged from the mists behind them giving the concert a bizarre pirate ship feel. It also highlighted the otherworldly, and let's be honest, kind of creepy nature of lead singer, Nathan Willett's voice. The band was all dressed in matching collared shirts and dark skinny pants like some sort of rock 'n' roll missionary troupe. The lack of visual distraction also forced the listener to pay close attention to the stark beauty of the Cold War Kid's lyrics.

This is a band who likes to lean heavily on discomfort. Their music unnerves us with a subtle disquiet which we all possess that lurks in the musty corners of our brains. The Cold War Kids like to sing about things we are uncomfortable talking about in polite society, whether it's their hit single about mental illness Something Is Not Right With Me to unhealthy relationships Every Man I Fall For to suicide in Golden Gate Jumpers. Contrasting this subject matter with beautiful melodies, the Cold War Kids' songs send a cold chill that goes up your spine, but leave you in a contemplative mood.

It is a pleasure to announce that the Cold War Kids are actually better live than on the record. The passion in Nathan Willett's mournful voice was palpable. While he sang, Willett waved his arms to emphasize his lyrics like a preachers do when warning his practitioners of hellfire and damnation. Bassist, Matt Maust and guitar player, Jonnie Russell zig zagged on stage like kites caught in a strong wind as Matt Aveiro some how kept time with their sporadic movements. There was a harmony to their chaotic performance, however. The Cold War Kids seem to reassure us that we can make sense of our own mad little worlds as long as we could sing about it.