CWK is a band known for its soul -- less of the James Brown kind and more for the subtle dark tinge to their lyrics that spin stories and reference obscure philosophers. Their stop at Plush on Monday night -- their first "real" show in St. Louis, they said -- exploded with punchy piano lines, crashing cymbals, bass lines weaving in and out of strange time signatures, and the almost accusatory disaffection of Willett's yelping vocals. Sound like a good time? At the end of the show, while feedback from the monitors was still buzzing in our ears, bassist Matt Maust knelt at the edge of the stage and began hugging everyone he could reach in the crush of people who had been singing along with every word.
The crowd was already at near-capacity to welcome pop-punk quintet Healing Powers, each lanky member of which dressed in head-to-toe black and was introduced as "Neil." Their energetic stage presence and loud, straight-up rock got everyone bouncing in time for Cold War Kids' entrance.
Without ado, the unassuming bunch picked up instruments, grabbed microphones, and tore through several songs representing several records as though they were men on a mission. "Hang Me Up to Dry," from their debut "Robbers and Cowards," elicited ear-piercing screams from many in the crowd, suggesting that St. Louis has been keeping tabs on CWK for a long, long time.
The band seemed to gather steam with each song and subsequent burst of applause, whether they played an old one ("We Used to Vacation"), a new one ("Miracle Mile"), or a medium one ("Cold Toes on the Cold Floor"). From my vantage point on the balcony, stage right, I could see Maust restlessly prowling the stage while Willett charged from vocals to piano to guitar and back again and Dann Gallucci bent low over his guitar.
By the end of the show, Willett barely needed to sing -- thrusting the microphone toward the crowd, he got plenty of enthusiastic help on favorites like "Hospital Beds," "Louder Than Ever" and the insistent stomp of "Something Is Not Right With Me."
However, the house (plus balcony) was properly brought down by the final song of the encore, "Saint John," a strange and beautiful tune from "Robbers and Cowards" that tells the story of a man on death row and which had been requested via much shrieking from the audience. The song's rhythm meandered behind Willett's punched piano chords, and everyone in the crowd sang along with the chorus: "Old Saint John on death row/He's just waiting for a pardon."
The end of the song, and the end of the show, burst spectacularly open with this repeated wailing refrain, a crash of piano keys, and Maust ditching his bass to deliver the aforementioned hugs.