Cold War Kids, Wild Fur, Jack The Radio
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Friday, May 29, 2015
At the close of last week, I was a tangle of cognitive dissonance. Governor Pat McCrory, for instance, went against his Republican colleagues and vetoed both HB405 and SB2—the ones nicknamed by opponents the “ag-gag” and “license to discriminate” bills, respectively. “Don’t question it. Just be thankful,” I thought.
I didn’t expect a similar feeling with Cold War Kids at Friday night’s free “Block Party,” presented by 95X, at Red Hat Amphitheater. But there it was.
I listen to 95X sporadically. For me, it’s in fly-over territory on the dial between NPR, college stations and sports talk. It’s a station that seems to remind listeners that Harvey Danger once had a hit or that Linkin Park’s “Crawling” can ling up some lingering high-school neurons. To see them footing the bill for a show featuring an indie rock band with a pulse as well as giving a pair of local groups—Durham’s Wild Fur and Raleigh’s Jack the Radio—the opportunity to play to larger crowds made it difficult to connect the dots.
But other than a few announcements from the 95X crew between sets, the show lacked the promotional tone of most mainstream radio. People were free to come, sit where they wanted and simply exhale after a long week.
Of the three bands, Jack the Radio’s Southern pop was the least surprising inclusion. Their assured acoustic strumming and confident melodies would definitely find fans with ears accustomed to the Mumfords and Avetts. They’ve got a wide, honest appeal. It’s a sound that fits well in open outdoor spaces. Lead singer A.C. Hill somehow managed to survive the heat in slacks, a dress shirt, tie and a vest while belting out his choruses. Jack the Radio did not seem out of place in front of a three-quarters-full amphitheater.
Wild Fur didn’t fare as well. In smaller spaces, their music envelopes the crowd, but the amphitheater swallowed their longer verses and slower tempos, and the crowd began to drift. and the physical pressure of the sound waves makes it much more immediate. Wylie Hunter, one of the group’s founders, announced the group’s name four times and asked the crowd if they were ready to see Cold War Kids in a tone of forced excitement. He seemed to feel the pressure to take advantage of the opportunity.
Then they played “St. Gloria.” Unlike their other songs, the soaring chorus of Wild Fur’s best song didn’t get lost in the wind. The crowd perked up, hands went up, and bodies swayed. The group became less restrained, and by the end of the song, it was possible to picture them as the stars.
Cold War Kids drove Red Hat’s crowd into fits— surprising, at least to me, because their biggest hit, “Hang Me up to Dry,” is nearly a decade old, and and I’ve mostly forgot about them. They accelerated through their first five or six songs before stopping for a breath. There was little wasted time, but it didn’t feel scripted. Big, deliberate beats dominated. Lead singer Nathan Willett’s wail frayed. He hunched over his keyboard as he banged his head. Bassist Matt Maust bounced and spun wildly around stage.
When it seemed like their energy might wane, they kept going. They pushed to the point Willett’s vocal chords sounded like they were splitting. They played until the curfew, dismissing the need for a forced encore.
Against my own odds, Cold War Kids made me stop thinking. I didn’t care any more about politicians or whether or not an iHeartMedia radio station was living up to its stereotype or not. My head and my gut agreed: Good rock ’n‘ roll makes for a great free show.