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Gig Review...
Cold War Kids, Royal Bangs
Bands have different ways of filling the sonic void created by the absence of a bassist. Royal Bangs seem to deal with it by turning the guitar up as much as possible and drumming frenziedly, with any delicacy hinted at by the lightly played keyboard melodies becoming lost beneath the onslaught. The first half of their set continues in this fashion, hesitant sweet summer tunes at odds with harsh vocals and punk stylings of the heavy instrumentalism, making it seem like two bands are playing on stage at the same time in a 'survival of the fittest' battle of the bands. As the set continues though, there are moments when everything does begin to work in sync, and, while not quite anger, there is a definite deliberate dissatisfaction being rendered onstage. What is lost in discernable melody is more than made up of in growing cohesiveness, the last song approaching grinding country prog-rock, with their self-proclaimed Nashville sound being mixed in with something more epic, transfixing the audience.

Cold War Kids have changed. No longer writing the wailing odes to alcoholism of 'Robbers And Cowards', third album 'Mine Is Yours' is an altogether more uplifting prospect. While the subject matter isn't all roses, the songwriting definitely has a more hopeful bent, evoking the freedom of the American Mid-West, perfect 'convertible-on-a-freeway' music. Vocals are softer than in the past with less of a soul edge, more working-class everyman. Of course, this being the case it's the older, pain-laden tracks that stand out more. 'We Used To Vacation' retains all of its original power live, drumbeats with the finality of punctuation, and a wailing siren of a guitar.

On the newer tracks you get the impression Nathan Willett feels slightly constrained. Always eager to break into his dirty soul boy persona, it's the older tracks that allow him to do this, the newer songs giving him less of a chance to be the frontman.� Disappearing from centre stage to take to the piano for a song, it takes a while to notice what's missing on stage, even though it's clear something has changed. Song after song is dispensed with minimum fuss and varying degrees of success; 'Hang Me Out To Dry' becoming a singalong pastiche of itself and 'Bulldozer' seeming to lose its way, meandering into a lengthy bridge to nowhere.

It isn't until nearly the end that there's the beginnings of a spark. 'Hospital Beds' soars, giving the bassist and guitarist a chance to play with everything they've got, everything the show has so far lacked. An encore allows the band to play for pleasure rather than duty, and truly they let themselves off the hook, Willett letting his voice free for a workout. It all comes together, with happy faces on each band member and Willett striving for an actual performance during 'Saint John' For one song this chubby, ordinary man interacts with us and becomes a god, begging the question: Why didn't he do this over an hour ago?

Elizabeth McGeown

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Gig Details
Venue: Spring & Airbrake
Location: Belfast
Date: 18/5/2011

Related Links
+ Cold War Kids
+ Royal Bangs