Rites of Spring is Vanderbilt University’s annual spring festival. They usually manage to book a fairly strong line-up with some pretty big names, but the actual combination turns out pretty strange, genre-wise. Case in point: last night Cold War Kids and Phoenix opened up for…Drake.
Cold War Kids – “Audience”
There is the sentiment that all California bands owe something to the state on some level. With Cold War Kids, it feels innately apparent, but difficult to pin down. Regardless, they are some of the finest raconteurs in indie rock. Every song tells a story, with clear images of desperation and disillusionment. Their piano-driven sound is soulful, gritty, and sharply percussive. New songs like “Audience” and “Santa Ana Winds” sounded just as good alongside old favorites “Hang Me Up To Dry” and “Hospital Beds.” “Saint John,” from 2006’s Robbers and Cowards was a particular standout–live, that bassline is incredibly filthy and downright nasty in all of the best possible ways. Ultimately, it was Cold War Kids that I absolutely needed to listen to when I got home from the show.
I can’t say too much about Phoenix other than that they are very talented live performers. Awesome dance party? Awesome dance party. The set focused on songs from 2009’s runaway hit Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, opening with “Lisztomania” and closing with an extended version of “1901”, though the rest of their decade-long career was not neglected. Frontman Thomas Mars’ look of perpetual surprise and self-conscious hair tousling are unexpected from someone who’s been a professional musician for so long, but maybe that’s part of the charm. They’re French, they’re fashionable, and they have the chemistry and ability to mix things up that only comes with time.
As for Drake, I honestly started laughing multiple times during his set, and I haven’t even seen more than a couple of episodes of Degrassi, which he used to be on. (It was explained to me that his character, Jimmy, was a basketball player at the school until he was paralyzed in a school shooting.) Due to the fact that he was an actor on a cheesy teen drama, Drake is faced with the dilemma of acknowledging that people don’t take him seriously versus trying to force his audience to take him seriously. Unfortunately, he obviously chooses the latter. His stage banter sounded like he had a quota for the minimum amount of time he had to spend talking about stereotypical rapper activities and Lil Wayne going to jail. He mentioned groupies and picking up girls so many times that, if he didn’t take himself so seriously, he would have gone into “Ladies of the World” from Flight of the Conchords. I have no problem with gratuitous profanity, but it seemed like he was keeping a mental tally of every time he swore. If Michael Cera put the same amount of effort into acting that Drake puts into trying to seem like a legitimate rapper, then Cera would be in Scorsese films. The secondhand embarrassment from Drake’s attempts to prevent the audience from thinking, “Where’s your wheelchair, Jimmy?” was so strong that you could throw guest Birdman’s giant watch at it and it would bounce off. That being said, Drake can actually rap, but his antics make him seem like a pathetic try-hard.