Cold War Kids know how to write a great three minute indie-rock song: fast paced, building to a catchy chorus, laced with musical hooks and adorned with some thoughtful lyrics. In their live performance, they push through with little fanfare in between numbers, so by the end of 80 minutes they’ve, surprisingly, burned through 18 songs.

And while the band excels at putting together such polished, anthemic tunes, it is in their moments of loosely controlled anarchy (such a feature of their startling debut album of ten years ago) where they are truly at their best.

At Adelaide HQ on Tuesday night this spirit took a little while to emerge, but once that happened, it turned into highly energetic and enjoyable gig.

Things started soberly enough. A crowd at 9pm on a Tuesday will characteristically be on the subdued side, while the band’s choice of ‘Don’t Let Your Love Grow Away From Me’, an obscure EP track, to open the set was a curious one, particularly given their prolific back-catalogue.

CWK1From there things got more familiar, though, and the atmosphere warmed with recognisable tracks like ‘All This Could Be Yours’, ‘Miracle Mile’ and ‘Audience’. Running counter to this, however, was the poor stage lighting, which had the artists predominantly backlit and obscured, making it difficult to fully engage.

HQ is not always the best venue for rock bands and, in addition to the lighting issues, the sound was often pushed too high, at times lacking clarity. And you can never quite escape the feeling of being in a nightclub.

When nearing the midpoint of the set, the band ripped out early hit ‘Hang Me Up To Dry’ and from there things got satisfyingly loose. The outfit were soon into a wonderfully anarchic version of ‘We Used To Vacation’, then momentarily pausing for breath with the more subdued ‘Every Man I Fall For’, only for this to open up to an extended instrumental jam at the end. Recent hit ‘First’ had the crowd singing along, before amping up the energy once again to close the set in a reckless rendition of ‘Hospital Beds’.

The high point of the gig came with the encore: a searing version of ‘Something Is Not Right With Me’ and then finishing with the gloriously haphazard ‘St John’, where items were thrown around the stage and a wine bottle used for percussion.

As a band, Cold War Kids don’t verbally engage much during a show, but they do have a Nick Cave-like energy as they prowl the stage, connecting with each other and the audience through demeanour and a commitment to performance. And armed with a new drummer, Joe Plummer (formerly of Modest Mouse), the band are in good shape musically.

From humble beginnings, this built to a highly enjoyable gig; we are fortunate that the band stopped by in Adelaide en route to Bluesfest.

Reviewed by Matthew Trainor