Two years ago‚ you would have never found me driving four hours for a Death Cab for Cutie show. Jaded by their more popular radio singles and dismayed by their seeming affinity with the diaries of 16-year-old girls‚ my love for indie-pop had not yet fully saturated my insides enough to draw me to the writings and showings of one Ben Gibbard. To put it quite simply‚ I wasn't ready to give this band a chance. Yet due to persistent recommendations from trusted musical confidants‚ I decided to let the band in. After I quickly established a fondness for their earlier‚ more reminiscent of Built to Spill albums‚ a literally awesome closing-slot performance at this year's Bonnaroo had me hooked. Cue in a broken heart courtesy of my ex-girlfriend‚ and I had found a new favorite band.
Now don't get confused‚ just because that's how they got a hold of me doesn't mean this is only a band for the broken-hearted. Ben Gibbard is one of the most gifted lyricists of today‚ and some of your favorite songs by The Slip‚ Built to Spill‚ Modest Mouse‚ even Coldplay‚ only touch on Gibbard's ability to find such allure in the literal. The music itself immediately grasps at even the most unfocused ear‚ and Death Cab's ability to punch their songs so tightly live is something that really has to be seen to be believed. That's why I knew that State of Mind's gallant leader‚ Mike McKinley‚ was going to love this concert‚ even going into it without ever truly hearing the band.
The Chevrolet Theatre‚ once the Oakdale‚ looks nothing like the round theatre I remember as a child‚ but the new building is even better. It's big but cozy‚ and even the worst seat in the house is a stone's throw from the stage. Our seats were 2nd row‚ behind the 20 feet or so of open pit area they had in front of the band. Now‚ DCFC has a reputation of being one of the few bands that is loved by both the underground indie-aficionado and the unknowing pop-saturated preteen‚ and I won't say I wasn't hesitant about the crowd. But the majority were late-20s‚ early-30s indie-hipsters‚ and the kind who go more for the loose fit Lees than the painted on black denim. The high-school teen-dreamers were there‚ too‚ but to a much lesser degree than I had expected. In all honesty‚ there were only two distinguishing features of the crowd that stood out: One was that the bar never had a line‚ and I mean never. The ladies were pouring my Grey Goose and sodas before I even could say hello. Two was that "the thing" I like to do when the lights go out‚ well‚ I was the only one in the entire arena participating. Luckily‚ I have years of practice. Anyway...
We missed the opening act‚ St. Vincent‚ but walked right in as the lights went down for Death Cab. They opened with a huge "The New Year" off of 2003's Transatlanticism‚ and never looked back. The sound is massive for a four-piece‚ and a lot of that is due to Chris Walla's ability to play a distorted rhythm guitar like he's a drummer riding the snare. This band listens to each other‚ and Gibbard and Walla bounce off each other with ingenious co-respect. All four guys hold their own portion of each song's space and rhythm‚ and it's this blatant escape from the neo-emo chugalug that distances Death Cab from their monotonous peers. It's quadraphonic complementing at its finest -- blooming from an idealistic vision of what modern pop can be.
"Movie Script Ending" came next and I hadn't felt so immediately satisfied at a concert in a while. We'd get a raging "Why You'd Want to Live Here‚" also off of 2002's The Photo Album a little later‚ as well as cuts off nearly all of the band's nine albums throughout the night. With 100+ songs in their repertoire‚ Death Cab not only are able to switch up their set nightly‚ but are also one of the few bands on the radio that can get away with not playing all their hits each night. They played the popular "We Laugh Indoors‚" but not the uber-popular "Soul Meets Body." But even if "Soul Meets Body" is your favorite song‚ you couldn't leave this show complaining or disappointed. They played four songs off the newest album‚ Narrow Stairs‚ of which the radio hit "I Will Possess You Heart" was hands-down the crowd favorite of the night. I will admit it was cool when they busted this tune out 45 minutes into the show and waited until that moment to hit the crazy light show behind the band‚ but personally I thought "Long Division" blew it out of the water. They actually closed the set with it‚ I believe‚ because it just crushed.
Now keep in mind‚ if all you know of Ben Gibbard is the pudgy guy with glasses on the acoustic guitar in the video for "I Will Follow You Into The Dark‚" then his commanding stage presence can come as somewhat as of a surprise -- as I think it initially did with Mike. He's in full attack mode all night‚ and he fully saturated his lumberjack flannel three songs in. The "I Will Follow" was the second loudest sing-along of the night‚ only behind "Crooked Teeth" -- "You can't find nothing at all if there was nothing there all along." Ahh‚ slacker angst‚ how I adore thee.
The half-hour encore featured my favorite song of the night‚ a positively destructive "We Looked Like Giants." It segued perfectly into the closer‚ my all time DCFC favorite‚ "Transatlanticism‚" which unfortunately seemed somewhat rushed this night. But hey‚ one negligible slip in an evening of tactical crushing is nothing to harp on. Mike and I both agreed we could have gone for a whole hour more of this shockingly underestimated band‚ but the allure of my Mom's refrigerator only 30 miles away managed to keep the high spirits flowing.