On Saturday night, Joywave, Cold War Kids and Young the Giant concluded their two-month tour with a sold-out show at White Oak Music Hall. The tour featured Young the Giant’s “Home of the Strange” album, which the band describes as a “modest coming-of-age story; a moment that will cast long, happy, shadows in the dog days.” This ambience carried through the night, with strong performances from all three bands.
Known for their rogue hit “Tongues” featuring KOPPS, Joywave has remained a hidden gem in the indie rock world. Lead singer Daniel Armbruster surprised the crowd with a strong vocal range. Dancing around as he sang and accompanied by strong drum emphasis, Armbruster had the audience moving to jams like “It’s a Trip” and “Shutdown.”
Sprinkled into the set were songs from their newest album, “Content,” which features a darker, more anxious sound than their previous pop-friendly hits. However, the band’s energetic performance balanced this moodier sound well.
By “It’s a Trip,” it was clear that Joywave was there to have fun and share their music. Members from Cold War Kids and Young the Giant crept onto stage and worked out using gym equipment. Paying them no mind, Joywave continued, following “Little Lies You’ve Told.” With the lead singer of Young the Giant doing jumping jacks behind him, Ambruster jokingly said, “If you see Young the Giant anywhere – hopefully they know how happy we are to be here.”
Finishing with “Tongues,” Joywave put on such an energetic show that I hoped for more. Their seven-song set felt truncated. While some might appreciate the shorter opening set, it was still sad to see them go. They left with a promise to return to WOMH on Nov. 28, a solo show date that coincides with Armbruster’s birthday.
COLD WAR KIDS
A 20-minute break allowed the audience to reorient and grab drinks from the many bar stations. After a few guitar riffs and flashes of light, Cold War Kids began their set with “All This Could be Yours.” Lead singer Nathan Willett accompanied the multiple guitarists on tambourine, later bringing out a rattle and guitar to add on to CWK’s signature strong instrumental support.
While Joywave had danced around in the fading sunlight, CWK strummed along in the dark with dim blue lights that highlighted the energy of the songs and band members. However, this act burned out after a few songs. The constant high-intensity nature of their newest album, “LA Divine,” failed to keep the crowd engaged as songs began to blur together. This was only worsened by extensive instrumental transitions. Despite this, Willett’s consistent vocals kept the act interesting enough.
Besides classics like “First” and “Hang Me Up To Dry,” CWK interspersed their music with two acts of interest. They broke off to dedicate their song “Mexican Dogs” to American immigrants threatened by the Trump administration’s recent action. Shortly after, the band performed a spectacular cover of Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain,” during which Willett showed off an impressive and unexpected vocal range.
Like Joywave, CWK’s set featured cameos from the other bands, who flashed red umbrellas and played discordant piano notes. This playfulness was balanced by commentary from the band. In a low voice, Willett expressed his support for Houstonians.
“The whole country’s watching, and we support you, and I hope you feel that – I hope you hang on,” he said. Finishing with “Something Is Not Right With Me,” CWK incorporated bright lights for a strong finish.
YOUNG THE GIANT
A second break let anticipation build for the main act, Young the Giant. Lights dimmed and a distorted mix of songs about America played, concluding with “XXX” by Kendrick Lamar.
“America… God bless you if it’s good for you,” crooned Lamar’s recording before Sameer Gadhia, the lead singer of YTG, started the set with “Amerika.” Standing strong in a bold yellow jumpsuit, Gadhia displayed vocals that highlighted a mix of electronic sounds.
“Amerika” is one song off of YTG’s newest 2016 album, “Home of the Strange,” which features some of the band’s most upbeat and introspective songs yet. Following the calm performance of “Amerika” came the funky “Something to Believe In,” which featured loud and defiant “hoo-hahs.” Band members made full use of the backstage to disperse sound across the stage while mesmerizing psychedelic patterns flashed behind them.
After running through lesser-known songs like “Anagram,” Gadhia paused to give a brief history of the band. The first time they performed in Houston, Gadhia said, 20 people attended.
“This is for the dreamers out there,” Gadhia said before belting out “Cough Syrup,” the song that arguably launched YTG into the mainstream spotlight. For someone like me who had grown up humming the rebellious tune, the live performance was nostalgic and wonderfully energizing.
The band also performed two songs in a distinct way – gathered close on stage in low lighting to perform in acoustic style. This staging created an intimacy between the band and audience uncommon with large-scale performances. Quietude settled over the crowd as the band performed first “Strings” and then “Firelight.”
After the acoustic set, YTG played a few more off the new album and “Mind Over Matter.” Seemingly ready to exit, Gadhia thanked the crowd before performing the signature “Home of the Strange.” Lights dimmed, and the audience sat silent for a few seconds before cheering for an encore.
Like most performances nowadays, Young the Giant took very little convincing before they arrived back on stage. Gadhia finished the night with not one, but three encore songs. While Gadhia sang, the three bands came out to dance, finishing the night with camaraderie.
With three consecutive acts over four hours, the show risked burnout and boredom. Instead, each group stood out with the help of lighting variations, well-timed breaks and distinctive vocal carries. The product was a well-paced show that accommodated people who wanted to jump and dance and those who wanted to perch on the grass with a beer and friends. The band couldn’t have picked a more perfect venue in Houston than WOMH, the remodeled Fitzgerald’s designed by Rice architecture professor Troy Schaum. Despite being outdoors, acoustics carried well. The result was a perfect end to a Saturday – filled with nostalgia, hope for the future and quiet enjoyment of good music.Home of the Strange