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Cold War Kids finally hit their stride on smaller stage

Ted Ballantine

The band kicked off a new tour in March

Cold War Kids’ smaller sound is big success in Chicago

Two years ago, Cold War Kids came to Chicago’s Riviera Theater in support of their then-newly released album “Mine is Yours.” The large venue fit perfectly the band’s newfound arena-friendly sound and allowed their back catalogue of blues-injected indie songs to be heard in an environment different than what fans were accustomed to.

Flash forward to 2013, and some things have changed for the Cold War Kids. They still found time to come to Chicago, but this time on a smaller stage; the band played at the sold-out Metro on April 6, a more intimate affair than the Riviera even as audience members packed in wall-to-wall and stood on the stairs just to get a glimpse of the stage.

The new venue is emblematic of the new approach to songwriting the Cold War Kids have clearly taken; both have been downsized, and to great effect.  The Metro is no arena, and the band’s latest effort, “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts,” is no arena rock album. In this way, the April 6 performance was a return to the Kids’ roots for many Chicago fans who have followed the band since the beginning.

The set was loaded with new tracks, although the audience received them with a decided sense of familiarity. Part of this was due to the magic of online music piracy, which allowed fans to memorize many of the refrains weeks ago. But part of the familiarity surely came from the return of the bands pre-“Mine is Yours” sound, a unique mixture of soulful indie rock and blues that audience members clearly embraced.

The new songs (“Dear Miss Lonelyhearts”, “Miracle Mile”, “Jailbirds”) translated wonderfully to the live environment and landed with the audience just as well as the tried-and-true classics (“Hang Me Out to Dry”, “Hospital Beds”, “Rubidoux”). The set started on a minimalistic note with soft drums and guitar before launching properly into the title track of the band’s latest album; it’s moments like these when you realize what could have been lost if the Cold War Kids had dropped all their subtleties permanently in favor of the arena-rock sound of “Mine is Yours.”

Indeed, the beauty of this band is the ability to balance and contrast soft moodiness with upbeat, genuine excitement; a light piano riff here, a powerful chorus there. And with Nathan Willett in front of the mic, all this makes for a truly unique and pleasurable listening experience that is only made better in-person.

Who knows where the Cold War Kids will be in two more years. But on April 6 in Chicago, it seemed they were finally right where they wanted to be.

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