Shows: Hovvdy, Cold War Kids @ Stubb’s


Last Friday, a day before I was set to go see Hovvdy at Stubb’s, I heard MGMT’s recent single “Mother Nature,” and it occurred to me how much it reminded me of the ascendant Austin duo. If the two guys from Connecticut who made their name on the helium-sprinkled alt-synth-pop of “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” are finding themselves in the zone of what Charlie Martin and Will Taylor are doing here in Austin, then within the alternative space, there might just be a Moment, capital M, coming for the Hovvdy sound.

While breaking new musical ground hasn’t exactly been Hovvdy’s game, these moments and cycles come and go in indie-pop and alternative even without any new blueprints, giving us tasty variations and wrinkles on familiar themes; it’s a moon/tides-type thing sometimes. You just never know what kind of takeover might happen next. Hovvdy just might be part of a wave of “next.”

On Saturday night, opening for Cold War Kids at Stubb’s, Hovvdy fought through the February cold and provided 40 minutes of deliberate, confident and breezy indie pop in front of a pretty large crowd. Much larger, in fact, than I imagined when I walked in just after doors with no wait and figured the cold might depress the early turnout.

“We got a lotta friends in the house,” Martin (top photo) acknowledged early in the set. “We love y’all a lot.”

The down-to-Earth guitarist duo, and their companions on bass and drums, showed their love by staying true to exactly what they are in your speakers: A gentle, atmospheric and melodically strong indie act that gradually bleeds an element of folkie sensitivity and slowly but firmly sinks their claws in on you. Sometimes, Iron & Wine with just one cup of coffee feels like the appropriate comparison. Martin and Taylor take turns singing lead, but there’s little or no dropoff in impact either way.

Recent single “Forever” had the trademark Hovvdy three-steps-above-drowsy peak; “Town,” from 2022, was delivered with a bit more umph than much of the rest of the set, pushing it further down the continuum toward straight alt-folk-rock. If you’re big on matching music to its best-fit atmosphere, like I am, then Hovvdy’s is the music of twilight, ideally: a warm summer night on the deck with something cold in your glass, and the last of the sun in the distance. But it worked in the dark cold as well.

Closing with 2021 standout “True Love,” Martin led a crowd singalong of the insistent chanting outro: “Do you believe what I said? That I’m the man I say I am?” “True Love” has reached well beyond Austin, earning strong airplay on Sirius XMU during the days when the album of the same name was new, and it’s safe to say if they’re pursuing singalongs from crowds in other cities, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Martin and Taylor have been steadily and doggedly building a following, and their recording output has been prolific; their self-titled album due out April 26 will be their fifth full-length since 2018, and that doesn’t even include 2022 EP billboard for my feelings. If they’re truly building to a moment, they’ve earned it, and said moment is worth rooting for. There are environments — and temperatures — where their live repertoire would sound even better, but this show certainly did the job.

Cold War Kids
Despite their persistent retro leanings that typically jibe with my musical roots, CWK have never quite been my jam, and Hovvdy was my predominant interest in this outing. But 1) I still fully feel the “gawdI’mgettingold” impact of knowing the Kids are celebrating 20 years together in 2024, and 2) on Saturday, they exuded the easy comfort of guys who have been doing the live thing for a long time, making the whole package better than the sum of its parts even for someone who’s not a fan.

Singer/pianist/guitarist/occasional maraca-shaker Nathan Willett and bassist Matt Maust, the remaining original members, were the most demonstrative and in-the-moment showmen. There’s passion in Willett’s soul-rock belting that’s undeniable even when the dynamic highs of the music don’t fill your ears quite like they should. And sometimes, they did.

While most of the show’s peaks were predictably their best-known songs — the irresistible “Hang Me Up to Dry,” biggest hit “First” right before the encore, “Love Is Mystical” during it — I also came away impressed with “Heaven in Your Hands,” a rocking new single that shows they’re still capable of the kind of musical muscle that they too often fail to reach. “Mexican Dogs,” a non-single nearly as old as “Hang Me Up to Dry” but not nearly as famous, was another highlight. The Stubb’s yard was full, or just about so, and if I went home happy, it’s safe to say most others did, too.