When most people think about how to pump up a crowd for a rock show, poetry doesn’t immediately come to mind.
For the Cold War Kids, who brought along poet Derrick Brown on their European tour earlier this year, it was a chance to test themselves and their audience.
"It’s a really bold and dangerous thing to bring a poet into a rock show," bassist Matt Maust told Pollstar. "We like to push the envelope a little bit. …To bring that kind of a vibe into a rock ‘n’ roll setting is really, really awkward and a weird thing to do, which we liked and that really challenged everything. It challenged the performance; it challenged us."
For a band that played its first show less than three years ago, it was a pretty gutsy move and one that proves that the Cold War Kids – whose blend of rock, soul and blues has drawn comparisons to Tom Waits, Jack White and Jeff Buckley’s vocal style, and the storytelling skills of Bruce Springsteen – is pretty confident in its live show.
Their agent, Jackie Nalpant of Paradigm, was hooked after seeing the four guys from Southern California – frontman Nathan Willett, guitarist Jonathan Bo Russell, Maust and drummer Matt Aveiro – perform at South by Southwest two years ago.
"After the first song, I was in. They were just so spectacular live," Nalpant told Pollstar. "There’s a lot of chemistry between the band up front. … It’s really raw and they’re clanging bottles, they’re clanging symbols, they’re talking to each other, they’re shouting out. … It’s really fluid and alive. It’s not just a band playing songs."
The Kids’ manager and close friend, Brett Williams of New Noise Management, agrees. He has lived with almost everyone in the band at one point and currently resides with the lead singer.
"I just know that if you’re a fan of the band and see them live, you walk away completely satisfied and wanting to see more," Williams said.
Maust said one aspect of the live show he appreciates is the freedom on stage.
"I don’t feel like we ever really do the same show twice. I think we mix it up," Maust said. "Just being able to mix and match the setlist and play covers here and there is a wonderful thing."
Cold War Kids played their first show in December 2004. After their manager, who met the band through the Christian college he and three of the Kids attended, sent out their EP to 50 or 60 music blogs, they soon landed their first tour opening for Two Gallants.
"We definitely hit the Internet at this weird time," Williams said. "We started to get huge press. … We got these features in Spin that they’ve never given to an unsigned band. We got on Lollapalooza as an unsigned band. … And we didn’t have a record out yet; we just had three EPs. …We’ve gone from playing 50-capacity clubs in L.A. to playing the [2,300-capacity] Wiltern within a year and a half, two years. It’s pretty insane."
Following the tour with Two Gallants, Cold War Kids toured in support of Muse, tapes ‘n tapes and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. After fielding offers from numerous labels, the band signed with indie Downtown Records and released their debut Robbers & Cowards in October 2006.
Although the blogs may have given the Cold War Kids the extra push they needed into the limelight, the band members have always had a plan for their music, image and future.
"They talked about being a band for three months before they even played a note," Williams said. "I think that was really cool. Not a lot of bands do that."
A huge part of their image comes from the artwork adorning the cover, sleeves and the inside of their album, their Web site and their merchandise – all of which is designed by Maust.
"You can really change the way people listen to music by the visuals you give them," Maust said. "We believe that keeping as many things in-house as possible, you’re really going to put your best foot forward, do the most good."
Nalpant said the band has been "making leaps and bounds with their merchandise, with their performance, with their outlook" since she started working with them.
"Their live show was great to begin with but it’s more refined now, but in a good way, not in a sterile way, but in a pointed and directed way," Nalpant said. "Everything is really created on purpose and perfectly …They’ve built a persona but it’s not fabricated."
Cold War Kids will wrap up a three-week stint in Europe and then tour the U.S. through December before taking six months off for some R and R. During their hiatus Maust said the band will start recording their next record and "hopefully we’ll have that out before you know it." And then it’s back out on the road.
"We’ll move into bigger rooms, keep growing and be the masters of our own destiny," Nalpant said.