The Givers and the Cold War Kids Put On a Show

“ATL! Can this venue run on batteries? Power out, damn. Damn!”

So read the Cold War Kid’s official site when I logged on the morning after their unorthodox, spontaneity filled October 13thconcert.  The power outage, which came promptly as the opening band stepped offstage, will probably be the first thing people mention when asked about how the concert was.  Don’t let that fool you, though.  It was a show filled with memorable moments.

To be truly honest, I have to admit that most of the time when I go to a concert I let my impatience get the best of me.  Especially now, dealing with the recent Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) diagnosis and never knowing how long my energy will last, I’m tempted to get straight to the good stuff when I’m out and about.  No dillydallying here, please.  So when we arrived thirty minutes late for the concert and the opening act had yet to start, I was less than pleased.  I (perhaps pessimistically) worried about being exhausted and ready to go before the main event even began.

It was then that I learned the wonder of the Buckhead Theatre and its staff.  After being stuck in a hospital bed for four days and at home for even longer than that, I really wanted to try and make the effort to make it to the show.  So, I called ahead and asked for information about how the newly renovated theatre accommodates people who aren’t able to stand for a full concert (the small balcony has seating, but the downstairs is an open floor plan – yay, dancing space; boo, Victoria might pass out).  The theatre’s manager called me back very promptly and told me they would do what it took to make sure I wouldn’t miss out.  The balcony and its glorious seating was closed for this particular show.  Images of being plopped down in a chair amidst a throbbing crowd of cheering fans may or may not have popped into my head.  But I ventured out anyway and the kindness of the theatre staff made going out for the first time post-diagnosis into the best experience I could have hoped for.  As soon as we got there, the manager herself led us upstairs to the balcony, which James and I ended up having all to ourselves.  We relaxed.  We got romantic (PG stuff).  It was wonderful.

The Givers, from right to left: Nick Stephan, Taylor Guarisco, Josh LeBlanc, Tiffany Lamson, and Kirby Campbell

Cut back to my annoyance with opening bands.  Onstage walked the Givers, a four guy and a girl quintet from Lafayette, Louisiana.  The band’s energy was instantaneous, fueled primarily by an incredibly complimentary set of girl on guy vocals that delivered pure magic.  The feminist in me was pumped.  Female solo musicians are plentiful and wonderful, but there’s just something exciting about a girl in a band, especially playing alongside a group of guys who give her the room to shine while holding their own as talented and passionate musicians.  The band was first formed by the musical bond between lead vocal stars Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson during their years at the University of Louisiana in New Orleans.  And damn can they put on a joyful and varied ride.  Lamson herself seems to play everything, from tambourine to ukulele to drums.  Her rich, raspy vocals are the perfect balance to Guarisco’s shout-out-loud bellowing.  The band clearly draws inspiration from its roots and invokes its homeland’s Cajun sound.  Behind a beat and sample heavy rush, the Givers’ music is at once light, airy, and tribal in quality, reminiscent of bands that came before.  Think Rusted Root meets Coldplay’s latest efforts brought to you by the label that handles Mumford and Sons.  There’s also a heaping pile of folksy, indie liveliness, an effervescence that makes it almost impossible to not get up and dance (or sit down and smile, in my case).  The kids of the Givers turn their youth into an asset.  Their childish (but not immature) enthusiasm shines through with an excited, all-over-the-place quality that is nothing short of just plain charming.  Having released their first full length album, “In Light,” in early June, we can only hope they maintain their innovation and joy for many albums to come.  If nothing else, they’ve transformed this girl into an opening band convert.  When the power went out after their set, I could have almost gone home a satisfied customer.  The Givers absolutely stole the show.

The Cold War Kids, in no particular order: Jonnie Russell, Nathan Willett, Matt Maust, and Matt Aveiro

Nevertheless, after a few minutes of darkness, CWK lead singer Nathan Willett himself came onstage and managed to subdue a very excited audience enough to explain that we were just going to have to take the sit tight and pray for light solution to the blackout.  Now, I know the Long Beach based foursome is still a relatively small-scale band.  But there was something very endearing about the fact that they didn’t send a lackey out to do the dirty work.  In the end, the band decided, with the help of back-up generators, to go ahead with a stripped-down version of their usually raucous show.  They played their first three songs by candlelight on plush chairs clustered around the front of the stage.  It was a uniquely cool thing to see.  When the power returned, they even opted to take the time to re-set the stage for their full bells-and-whistles show.  Along with well-known crowd favourites, the Kids played some new ones from their January album, “Mine Is Yours,” and did a particularly sweet and moving cover of the classic soul song “That’s How Strong My Love Is.”  Understandably, having the power return in the middle of the set did give the show a disjointed feeling, but you honestly have to appreciate the effort these boys went to in order to make sure their fans got exactly the experience they expected.  “A” for effort, guys.  Indeed, the hype that has built around the Cold War Kids since their humble inception in 2004 can largely be contributed to the web-buzz regaling the brilliance of their live shows.  Lately though, the band’s media attention has turned more controversial than helpful.  Several critics claim the band’s themes, lyrics, and religious backgrounds blatantly brand them much more Christian than indie.  The dreaded categorization seems to have lost them a little of their early appeal with some fans.  But to me, nothing about the Cold War Kids really screams Christian rock.  And even if it did, what could be more natural than artists exploring their own views on morality and spirituality through their work?  Some artists, such as the quirky and poignant Sufjan Stevens and even the wildly popular Kings of Leon, walk the line between Christian and secular flawlessly, with little judgment and even some acclaim for their exploration of religious concepts.   Not liking a band’s music is absolutely one thing; but discounting their work because of possibly religious ties seems unnecessarily limiting.  I dare you to go to Cold War Kids concert and try to take your eyes off Willett, their at once enigmatic and personable vocalist.  Plus any straight-guy band innovative enough to write a song called “Every Man I Fall For,” sung from the first-person perspective of a woman damaged by her relationships with hurtful men, is just plain down with me.  Catch the intensity of the next Cold War Kids live show and I promise the last thing you’ll be thinking about is whether they spend their Sunday mornings on a pew or a barstool.