The Cool Kids

Hot off the heels of the one-two punch of its 2008 EP, The Bake Sale, and its 2009 mix-tape, Gone Fishing, The Cool Kids played a mid-afternoon set at this weekend’s Extravaganza.

The backpack hip hop duo represents one of the more successful MySpace stories, achieving cult status by releasing its tracks through the social networking site. The band is notable mainly because, unlike bands such as Hawthorne Heights and other so-called “MySpace bands,” The Cool Kids don’t suck.

Its shtick, a sort of high-IQ gangsta rap with a self-aware twist, plays great on record, but it loses something in the translation to the stage, especially when half the crowd has never heard the songs before. Most of the audience stood staring, trying to figure out if they knew this band or not.

But the emcees did their best to get the crowd moving with boisterous beats and slippery flow. Unlike some of the afternoon’s other acts, The Cool Kids played a perfectly paced set of listener-friendly cuts. A few of the songs even got some daylight grinding going, most notably “Gold and a Pager,” which benefited from exposure via prominent sampling by event headliner Girl Talk.

But the best moment of the show came when the duo pulled out “A Little Bit Cooler,” a jocular tune detailing various passé fashion trends that the rappers refuse to partake in. Even for an audience totally unfamiliar with the artists, a song this good remains electric.
The set was not as solid as the duo’s show-stopping turn at L.A. Weekly’s Detour Festival last fall, but this is definitely an act on the way up, not just the hipster sensation of the week. Those who showed up, and even those who missed the show, should definitely check out Gone Fishing, which is currently available for free on the band’s MySpace page.

The Cold War Kids

Hey remember how cool Maroon 5 was, circa the 11th grade? What about Kings of Leon? Or Louis the XIV? Have you ever wished that Cake was more accessible and less kinky? Or that The Dandy Warhols would stop experimenting? Do you think Jeff Buckley sounds great, but isn’t commercial enough?

Well, have I got an act for you.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with The Cold War Kids, per se. It’s just that there is nothing to differentiate the band from any other mid-tempo, blue-eyed soul act you’ve ever heard.

The Cold War Kids is the kind of indie band that Abercrombie & Fitch shoppers love. It is cool… in a totally manufactured and impersonal way.

Pretty much all the tracks are well-written and expertly performed, but none of them carry any gravitas. You could replace any member of the band in a pinch and not miss anything. In a sense, it is almost genre-defining, because it takes every single cliché from modern adult-contemporary pop and shoves them up against each other. In short, it is the soundtrack to a thousand commercials and countless episodes of “The OC.”

But the group is not hopeless. This weekend’s performance far outshined its 2007 Santa Barbara gig at a KJEE-sponsored festival. The hooks have gotten cleaner, and singer Nathan Willett’s warble seems more disciplined.

Also, their hit single, “Hang Me Up to Dry,” continues to impress, garnering a big audience response long after the market saturation of the band’s iPod advert has faded. And though the newer tracks were generally better than the older work, the show’s high point came as the alcohol- and weed-soaked crowd sang along to the chorus of “We Used to Vacation”.

“I promise on my wife and children / I’ll never touch another drink as lone as I live.”

Even when the band gets it right, the audience seems to miss the point.

Girl Talk

There was a strange feeling in the air for most of Saturday. A sort of uneasy, almost confused vibe pervaded this year’s Extravaganza. At first, it seemed as though it was due to this year’s late scheduling, which put headliner Ludacris on stage at near 11 p.m. But as the day progressed, it became clear that the disoriented vibe was actually something else altogether: déjà vu.

It’s not uncommon to feel this way at a festival. Pick any two mid-afternoon main-stage acts at Warped Tour, and you’re likely to feel the same way. But today, the feeling was more complicated, and the haven’t-I-heard-this-song-before moments were more crystal clear because the audience had in fact heard many of these songs on two different records: the individual artist’s CDs, and Girl Talk’s.

Girl Talk, a.k.a. Greg Gillis, is not a DJ, nor is he an emcee, nor is he a musician in the traditional sense. Rather, he is some sort of mad genius who has concocted a perfect formula for musical alchemy. His 2006 breakthrough, Night Ripper, completely rewrote the rules for a “mash-up” record, and his 2008 masterpiece, Feed the Animals, proved that he was no one-hit wonder. Now, thanks to national coverage of his highly controversial – and perhaps even illegal – art form, Gillis is taking his party on the road.

I had no idea what to expect from Gillis’s set. I had heard stories of dancing on stage and balloons, and manic energy, but I didn’t know if his house-party aesthetic could survive the security setup of our festival.

Luckily, Gillis did more than just play his part. The man showed UCSB how to set if off.

In an innovative and revelatory set, Gillis tore up the stage, dancing on a table while playing his computer and shouting superlatives like “It feel sooooo good!” into his microphone. The music held steady for an hour, and the dancing kept pace. Bodies of all shapes, sizes and genders bumped and grinded the night away with an almost religious fervor, as Gillis twisted Guns N’ Roses under Ludacris, as well as Kanye West on top of The Bee Gees.

In a delightfully postmodern touch, Gillis managed to fit in clips from several of the day’s other performers. In fact, his prerecorded renditions of Ludacris and The Cool Kids garnered a bigger response than did either of act’s live sets.

Not many of the live mixes carry the convoluted genius of their CD counterparts, and I didn’t hear anything nearly as mind blowing as The Jackson 5 backed by Queen, but I would line up and pay good money any day of the week to see Gillis play again.

Asher Roth

Early in the day, I heard rumors of a surprise guest. No one seemed to know who it was, and those who did weren’t sharing. I hoped it was Katy Perry, a local girl who just finished a world tour and wrote a number-one hit that seemed to be about a night of faux lesbianism on Del Playa. Unfortunately, it turns out she is in Japan right now, and our special guest was a stoned and stupid Asher Roth.

Roth might love college, but the feeling was not mutual, as the packed stadium reacted with confused annoyance at his presence on stage.

Roth fumbled his way through an excretory 20-minute set of songs from his recent debut, Asleep in the Bread Aisle. He missed cues, sang off key and totally mismatched his backing tracks.

Between songs, Roth displayed an affable demeanor, chatting with the crowd about weed and girls in an endearingly glib manner. But all the charisma faded away when the beats started to play.

The set began with a disastrous rendition of the already substandard “Blunt Cruisin’,” before moving on to a suite of tunes including “Be By Myself” (featuring a pre-recorded clip of Gnarls Barkley frontman Cee-Lo) and “La Di Da.”

By the end of the show, Roth was clearly feeling the effects of loud booing and intermittent chants of “One-hit wonder!” and “Get off the stage!” Even his hit song, “I Love College,” failed to get much of a response.

I almost pity Roth. His antics are somewhat amusing on record, but live, he just seems like a lonely kid desperate for someone to notice him. Unfortunately, his big puppy dog eyes are matched by a big piss stain on the carpet.

Sure, he’s making money now, but in two years’ time, who is going to be listening to Roth? His entire marketing gimmick is based on his age, skin color and awkward, everyman appeal. But before long, he will be that weird older guy hanging out in the corner of the party.

Roth seems more fit for an open-mic night than a stadium concert. I would say you’d have to be high to enjoy this crap, but not even the stoners standing next to me were buying it.