It didn’t even feel like Manhattan; the Cool Kids concert at the Knitting Factory on Saturday felt like a Brooklyn show. The people in the audience ranged between ages 13-21, like they had been saving up their allowances just for these tickets. They eagerly pressed against the stage long before the show started, despite knowing that three opening acts preceding The Cool Kids. Four boys crossed their arms and hardened their jaws in an effort to look aloof, but sported the band’s T-shirt and glanced constantly toward the back of the stage in hopes of seeing them.
The nervous energy of a prom night rippled across the floor. This certainly was a break from the Pitchfork-worshipping cold hipster audiences compelled to constantly wear Mogwai shirts I generally find myself surrounded by. The earnestness of the crowd took the irony out of the band name. They are really just The Cool Kids. Like the ones at school—except they love talking to you.
Before their much-awaited entrance, the Chicago hip-hop duo invited their friends to heat up the audience for them. The first group, Heavy, composed of a dreadlocked man with a key-tar and vocoder, an excitable bouncing guitarist ala Guitar Hero, and a woman in a blond coif dancing in stilettos with attitude like whoa—and a pair of tambourines. She calls herself N.Ick, and has a streak feisty enough to out-Tina-Turner Tina Turner. Their music is best defined through their philosophy described on their website, "…living free and holding NO boundaries when it comes to showing our influences and working outside of the labels that everyone else sticks on us." They’re next show is playing at Harriet’s Alter Ego on June 21st – for free!
They were followed by BlesteNation, an unfortunate rap duo in their late 20’s and early 30’s who were like any other two frat boy white rappers making bad fan videos of Eminem and the Beastie Boys, posting them on YouTube in hopes that the world will care. Enough said.
The energy was saved however, by the charm and wit of hip-hop wonder Mickey Factz, who strode in wearing an Andy-Warholized Barack Obama T-shirt, space-age silver high tops and Prada "Urkel" glasses. It was as if he were speaking directly to the audience personally, the kids sucking up his words like an infatuated congregation of which he was the pastor. He worked the stage with the relaxed air of a man dancing alone in his bedroom, opening up the stage for a double whammy of the same energy when The Cool Kids bounced in to the sound of a screaming crowd.
Representative of the changing shape of the music industry The Cool Kids were born from the Internet, and in fact MySpaced and YouTubed their way into their current pied-piperdom. Best known for their 2007 single "88", their music is heavily inspired by 1980s hip-hop, their sound and energy simultaneously very contemporary and old school. Antoine "Mikey Rocks" Reed and Evan "Chuck Inglish" Ingersoll incited the kids to go wild, hands up in the air, electrical appliances glowing (iPods, cell phones, iPhones, BlackBerrys) shaking their keys to "With a little bit of gold and a pager." Their songs toy with nursery rhymes, call and response, and lyrics and sampling that pay homage to 80s and 90s original rappers.
They perform without missing a beat – to the extent that they were able to stand back while the audience sang and beat-boxed their songs to them while they watched. In fact, four young audience members were pulled on stage to try their hand at free-styling for them. To the crowd’s delight, Mickey Factz was pulled back on stage to join them for a few numbers, after the three of them encouraged everyone old enough to vote to do so, singing "Ba-Rock, rockin’ and a rollin’."
They were kind enough to speak with me after spending almost an hour after the show signing baseball caps, scraps of paper and, most of all, sneakers. "This is the best show we’ve played in New York," said an ecstatic "Mikey Rocks" Reed, arms dripping with star-struck women, "It’s because of the kids. They’ve got amazing energy."
Though the audience did seem to be mostly composed of an under-20 crowd, the band appeals to all age-groups. Still holding a fan’s high-top sneaker, "Chuck Inglish" Ingersoll exclaimed, "I have no idea why we wound up having such a young fan base, but when we play over-21 shows, we sell out. This was a great show."