Tower's PULSE! Recaps Cold War Kids Livestream Concert: 'New Age Norms 1 & 2'

[Cover photo credit to Atiba Jefferson]

Cold War Kids are taking part in a virtual tour, consisting of four different ticketed livestream concerts hosted by No Cap, each with a very different setlist, to celebrate the recent release of New Age Norms Part 2. The second of their performances, on October 25th, was specifically devoted to playing all of New Age Norms Part 1, then playing all of New Age Norms Part 2. For the new album, it was the first time they’ve played the whole album live in public. That concert is still available to view until the end of this week.

Their previous concert, on October 10th, was devoted to the 14th anniversary of their seminal album Robbers & Cowards, and that performance was also a first, the first time they played that album in its entirety in any live performance.

Coming up, there are still two shows to go, with one on November 8th that will feature a “Festival Set” from the band with “all the songs you know and love”, and on November 22nd, we will get “Deep Cuts & Fan Favorites” from Cold War Kids.

The October 25th concert, focusing in on New Age Norms Parts 1 & 2, lasted about 75 minutes, and included some intro chatting from the band members and their occasional dialog between songs, but was very much a concert-focused event.

In an opening segment which showed the band outside under white tents, ready to enter the venue, there was some discussion about playing all 16 songs together and for the first time  playing all of New Age Norms 2. There was a little subtle humor in their comments that this footage would be “unusable” footage, but it was then included in the stream.

Once a little sound testing had taken place, the band were right into New Age Norms Part 1, and the order of the tracks on the studio album proved surprisingly driven in a live setting. Starting off with “Complainer”, it was hard not to see some very current relevance in lyrics like “You say you want to change this world, don’t sit around complain about it…” and in “Fine Fine Fine”, the suggestion that nostalgia is not always very helpful, especially when we have more to learn also seemed particularly timely. We have to remember that this album was only released in 2019, so many of the issues we’re facing in society right now were already taking shape, and Cold War Kids definitely took an eerily accurate assessment of the times.

In between these songs, there was a little subtle discussion between band members, particularly from Nathan Willett, delivering their own critiques on their performance and the shuffling of papers made for a more behind-the-scenes feel than a concert usually would. It tended toward a live studio recording session in terms of the atmosphere, in a way, and that informality certainly fits our times, including the audience in soundchecks and tune ups. We may not be able to go to live shows, for the most part, but we do get the added bonus of feeling like we are actually in a room with the band, especially during this show.

The set continued with “Waiting For Your Love”, but skipped over “Beyond the Pale” to return to it at the end of the playthrough, most likely because it would take Willett down to a solo with the piano.  Instead, we got “Dirt In My Eyes”, pulling in Blues and Soul influences and picking up what was beginning to take shape of a narrative on New Age Norms Part 1 that would become even more apparent with New Age Norms Part 2, the story of a central character struggling with their place in relationships, losing grounding influences in their lives, and wondering whether they had taken the wrong path “down”.

Especially in the current global context, “4th of July” felt nostalgic, conjuring ideas of Paradise, but the subtle lament elements creeping in set the stage for bigger descents whereas “Calm Your Nerves” felt like a turning point, more of a direct emotional address offering some possibilities of hope. Maybe remembering that people can support one another to make a difference was particularly salient, and it offered some relief from the internal turmoil that plays such a big part in the album.

Coming up to second to last with “Tricky Devil” really teased out gray areas, though, suggesting the need for guidance in navigating this world, establishing a haunted and haunting feeling that left a door open for the next album to enter. The questions, “Are we devils or saints? Do we return hate for hate?” was right on the money for modern life and really pointed out how direct Cold War Kids’ music can be. 

The band decided that out of the set so far, they got “95 percent on the test”, but they still had to finish up with “Beyond the Pale”, which was soulful coda that put an interesting spin on the album. Opening up with some piano chords did feel like it was setting up a drift into the next chapter, and the camera work, usually quite documentarian, seemed to become quite poetic here, making the most of close ups and lighting.

The song itself really emphasized that possible over-arching narrative between the two albums, with the idea of temptations to start new relationships while someone is waiting for home, the pull of the road and the sound of Americana roots here, life on the road. This idea of being “starving for emotion” ended the first set with a cliffhanger of emotion.

Going into New Age Norms Part 2, the band joked about going back to do hair and makeup, a far cry from the realism they were clearly trying to establish by allowing viewers to follow them around in real-time.

The new album opened with an excellent bass line leading the audience in, and an interesting idea of wanting “my freedom” in “Who’s Gonna Love You Now” which really could be taken as a kind of extension of the narrative from the previous song, the next step if the central narrator took the wrong turn. They are definitely going “down” by this point and needing healing, emphasized by an almost Gospel aspect to the musical themes of the song.

Next up, “Obsession” takes up many of the same themes from a more ambiguous angle, showing the difficulties of being misunderstood and an outsider. There’s a family who won’t understand, a person who essentially wants to live an honest life, and is trying to make a deal for something more permanent. But you get the sense that they are trying too hard and things are unlikely to work out. Willett commented afterwards that “Obsession” was a fun song to play live and couldn’t wait to get it in front of live audiences.  He wants some “sweaty bodies on that one”.

Heading into the next few songs, it seemed like there might be some developments in terms of sound on the new album, despite the close relationships between Part 1 and Part 2. The music got a little less heavy, a little more intricate, and headed further into indie territory, with an undercurrent of R&B.

“You Already Know” shook things up with its sprinkling of references to superstitious signs, hunches, and intuition whereas “Ceiling Fan” dropped deeper into narrative with a very concrete setting and universal experience. In terms of sound, it was a little more vibey, almost psychedelic, not all that far from early Doors layering. Using words like “surreal” and talking about the difference between dreams and feelings, it posed a kind of hope through escape, a freeing of the mind. But for how long?

Things became a little more explicit with “Regret Regret”, punching that narrative again of someone who’s on a road that they find unsettling but doesn’t seem capable of finding a new way…yet. Here the Dead don’t speak, so they “can’t get to me anymore”. But the aspect of internal reflection really feels very 2020. It’s what we’re doing right now, looking at our lives and feeling the unresolved issues of the past surfacing. It feels like a big emotional breakthrough, though, when the character admits they were wrong. This suggests choice and agency that just might turn things around.

With “Somewhere”, we’re remembering a limited view of the past, and clinging on to what is still some possible dream of future, and some elements from the past prove helpful. Like the rather Punk idea of not caring what people say, emphasizing real, grounded relationships that have shaped us, and the resurgence of determination rather than a slide into giving up. This song creates another rallying point in the two album (so far) cycle.

Coming up on the last two songs of the set and the album, the band really start pushing for a reprieve and a bigger, more macrocosmic view. With “Across the Divide”, we gety angelic chords opening, then a heavily narrative feel, with a sense of unease and imbalance. Is there a possibility of love on the other side of this schism? It’s not totally obvious whether the band might be talking about ideological divides in the USA and in the world right now, but the word “divide” is used a lot in political commentary these days, and when the word “deconstruction” comes up, I almost misheard it for “reconstruction” with all its historical implications…

Lastly, “Catch Me Falling” brought in the big guns with both keyboard and piano, a plaintive, reflective song taking in the sweep of angels and heroes, but staking a claim to humanity and rejecting ideas of being a statue or a saint. Here’s the true reckoning as the narrator confronts mistakes openly, head on, and claims they “won’t hide them”. They are now definitely facing things in a new way. There’s a very focused determination to set a goal, to “Be someone who you can look up to.” The chorus of the song, “Don’t catch me falling.”, suggests a double meaning, asking for accountability for other humans to help each other stick to a more productive path. The song represents the boldest statement on the two albums and might well remind you of that truism, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

Another comical, short commentary from the Cold War Kids closed the event. “Was it good? It was cool. Why was there no clapping? Obviously, nobody liked it.”

Well, obviously.  

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