Reagan Babies Play the 21st Century Blues

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"There's a degree of musicianship in every band," Willett said, "and there's a degree of what you give to the audience. And that's something we do naturally -- there's a sense that this is our heart."

If live performance is the band's beating heart, then their backbone is drummer Matt Aveiro. Aveiro is the group's newest and youngest member and his introduction to the Cold War Kids is a testament to the band's well-honed poetic memory.

"I think the moment I sat on that porch [on the day he first met the group] and listened to the first couple of different songs they played at Jonnie's house I think there, at that instant, something special pops up," Aveiro said.

His talent on the kit gave the group direction -- a linear framework for the vocal and acoustic ditties they had recorded into home-style tape recorders.

The final piece of the four-man band firmly in place, the boys were ready to face the nation. A debut album with songs about death row prisoners, alcoholic dads and hospital roommates followed soon thereafter -- the fanfare and critical acclaim coming up slowly from behind in the months to come.

"We've been friends for so long when we've just been playing music and living our lives and doing different things," Willett said. "It's not like this just happened to us."

And he's right, of course.

The Cold War Kids' success is their own. They are a good band with a well-earned reputation for putting on a great live show. They owe nothing to "the machinery" of a music industry that they are, at once, ashamed of and smitten by.

They are an "L.A. band" because they are from Los Angeles, not because a couple rock magazines say it.

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