With all the Splendour in the Grass sideshows taking place within blocks from one another, Melbourne is buzzing off its rocker, and it's only Tuesday. Not that the Cold War Kids are fazed: having sold out the Hi Fi's basement space, they nonchalantly take to the red-lit stage at exactly 9.40 – very nearly going undetected. The house lights dim out and after a few moments, the Californian indie-rockers – renowned for their vigorous use of keys, the sharp drawl of front-man Nathan Willett, pounding drum lines, soaring guitar and heavy bass – launch into ‘Mexican Dogs’.
The set doesn’t seem to really start, however, until three songs in, when ‘Miracle Mile’, the lead single off their latest album Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, makes itself known. The fast-paced, piano-driven, metaphor-laden track bursts forth with urgency from the stage and captures the room. And that's how it is for the rest of the set: a balance of new and old songs, but only the hits really connect.
When the undulating bass of ‘Hang Me Up To Dry’ rolls in it’s a relief to see a flicker of energy from the stage; as expected, a sing-a-long starts up and the band begins to make more use of the space. They follow with ‘Loner Phase’, another bass heavy gem off Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, and Mine is Yours’ ‘Royal Blue’ gets things all dancy and chanty.
‘We Used to Vacation’ has Willet taking over the keys duties and there is a great moment when he is required to conduct the audience with words of encouragement (“One more! One more!”) after we've all jumped in too soon after the bridge. ‘Louder than Ever’ enlivens the room with its bassy grooves and poses the perfect opportunity for another sing-along, while ‘Rubidoux’ has drummer Matt Aveiro take a maraca to his kit.
‘Hospital Beds’ is a firm favourite and it sees Willet once more where he seems most comfortable, at the keys. As soon as the echo of piano takes hold of the room, it's as though Cold War Kids have suddenly been re-energised. It may be a slower song, but the band are more animated and involved in their delivery than for much of the set.
By far the highlight, ‘Something Is Not Right With Me’ is the closer and it has the entire band (minus Aveiro) move to the front of the stage, for the first time looking properly as though they are working together. It is full of rolling bass, sharp, sunny guitar riffs, and crashing tambourines and keys, all topped off with Willet’s insistent delivery of the lyrics. These last two songs, together with brief encore ('Relief' featuring a brilliant guitar solo), boost the performance immensely, the band interacting with one another, their audience and the stage.
Cold War Kids have played what seems to have been a carefully considered set, but it's disappointing that their shining moment comes right at the close. If only the cold war had thawed a bit earlier on.