Smile Politely

Death Cab for Cutie light up Assembly Hall

Saturday night’s Death Cab for Cutie show was a welcome surprise for me. It was my first non-sports event at Assembly Hall but it exceeded my preconceived notions. Granted, it was difficult to park, to get into the venue, get a wristband, etc. but after all that was sorted out I got to enjoy a big name band outside of the Canopy Club. It was a bit of a treat in terms of sound, thanks to the venue (hey, I was disbeliever too) and to Death Cab themselves. It was great to hear clear vocals once again.

Death Cab has been doing there Indie pop rock thing since 1997, which is a little crazy when you think about it. How many other bands like them have stuck around and remained relevant and respectable? Not many in my book. Admittedly, I don’t have an extensive knowledge of the band’s history or all of their songs. But I enjoy what they do and I figured they would sound good live. However, I really didn’t anticipate that they would be as entertaining as they were. Despite the mostly subdued crowd, they poured it out on stage for two hours. Ben Gibbard and bassist Nick Harmer were a joy to watch. I was transfixed in the moments when I wasn’t taking notes, or photos, or being accosted for trying to take video.

I’ll start with a criticism because I really only have one, in terms of the band. My least favorite song of the set was the opener, “I Will Possess Your Heart.” They played the full version, complete with the opening four and a half minutes of instrumental jam. I’ve gone back and forth about whether I like this song since it came out and watching it live was honestly just a little boring for me. I can see it as a good opener for a band to get them going; I’d just rather that it happened back stage.

That’s really the only bad thing I have to say about the set. “Crooked Teeth” started, the lighted backgrounds came up and there was no turning back for the band. Harmer’s bass was heavy and palpable throughout the set and Gibbard’s vocals carried through with the clarity and power available on the recorded studio versions. The crowd was pretty restrained most of the night, but came alive for the opening of “Long Division” a few songs in.

One of my favorites in the set included “Doors Unlocked” from Codes and Keys, their latest release. The opening is heavy with a bass line jam and is joined by steady drumbeats and staggered lyrics until the chorus enters. To me, it sounds like Interpol (Turn on the Bright Lights Interpol) and The Strokes got together to write a song for Death Cab for Cutie.

Other standout performances of the night included Gibbard’s solo acoustic performance of the bittersweet “I Will Follow You into the Dark” while the band took a short break. “President of What” — which Gibbard said was “from the good ol’ 90’s, when everyone had a job” — and “Soul Meets Body,” a big hit with the crowd, were a joy to watch. My favorite was “We Looked Like Giants,” which brought out a second drum set and ended with Gibbard pounding the drums across from Justin McGerr. Gibbard seemed like he was up there to have fun the whole night and that was never more evident than during “…Giants.”

I left Assembly Hall with a greater respect for Death Cab as performers, especially Gibbard. He periodically offered up some banter to try to get the crowd to liven up a bit. It wasn’t that they weren’t enjoying the songs; they were just mellow for much of the night. I appreciated the fact that what Gibbard said was actually specific to where he was. He joked that he wanted to be voted Homecoming King and referred to the infamous tailgating that accompanies a football home game. He told the crowd that he wants them to tailgate a Death Cab show the next time the band is in town. “Maybe I can come out and have some tofu scramble,” he offered. Even vegans can tailgate.

The subdued crowd reached their peak of noise when they clapped and chanted for more. They had built up to it a bit, seeming that they realized about two-thirds into the set that they were seeing something cool. Death Cab came back and closed the night with a four-song encore that began with “Home is a Fire” and “Blacking Out the Friction,” which Gibbard claimed was an “audible” on his part. He told the crowd, “We didn’t plan on doing this song tonight, but fuck it!” College kids and concert goers alike always love to hear the word “fuck.” The band transitioned into “St. Peters Cathedral” and concluded the night perfectly with the building intensity, intimacy, and earnestness of “Transatlanticism.”

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