Cold War Kids
@ The Faversham, Leeds

After selling out their UK tour in a flash, Californian blues-rock darlings Cold War Kids could have easily filled a venue at least twice the size of the relatively pokey Faversham, but the fanatical Saturday night crowd are no doubt happy to witness them in the intimate surroundings which best suit their stripped-back, heart-felt tunes.

The quartet have garnered critical acclaim and mainstream popularity with their first two singles ‘We Used To Vacation’ and ‘Hang Me Up To Dry’, and set to work performing an album’s worth of soulful songs, throwing themselves into proceedings with passionate abandon atop the tiny stage.

In stark contrast to their sunny hometown, their songs speak of dark events, bleak existences and the world-weary characters which reflect the titular ‘Robbers and Cowards’ of the debut album. However mournful balladry is avoided through gorgeous melodies, and an upliftng, soulful feel. And although any idiot can churn out a pretty little guitar song, Cold War Kids are easily standing out from the generic background of acoustic songwriters by displaying some deft originality. Songs are often pared down to nothing but thundering percussion, guitars are occasionally mangled to discord, and the piano is bashed randomly just as the listener is lulled into a mellow security. However the real star of the show is undoubtedly singer Nathan Willett’s powerful voice, which ranges from gruff to falsetto, recalling Jeff Buckley and Jack White as well as often sounding resolutely female.

It’s impossible to ignore the religious overtones of the whole Cold War Kids package, unsurprising as the friends met at a Christian Evangelist college and the guitarist’s dad is a preacher. Yet despite the lyrical references to their beliefs and background, this is never cloying as the enigmatic imagery and fervour of their performance help to dispel any threat of cliches or moralising. And indeed, as grown men throw their hands in the air in adulation, and girls sing along at the top of their lungs, it’s easy to imagine oneself in as gospel church where everyone believes wholeheartedly in the preachers onstage.

Kelly Waugh