Death Cab For Cutie
By: Sean Moore/ Photos By: Kenneth Coles
The sun had not yet begun to make its slow descent when Death Cab for Cutie took to the stage on what turned out to be an absolutely beautiful evening for a show at Thompson’s Point. The band walked out on stage, after an incredible opening set from Jenny Lewis, waved to the crowd, and frontman Ben Gibbard strapped on his guitar, swaying to the rhythm of their opening song “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” and began singing his oft-sentimental lyrics.
It’s fun watching Gibbard perform because he never seems to stop moving, like a child with ADHD. Neither does the crowd, and that may have something to do with the pop-infused sound they’ve embraced throughout their two-decades-and-counting. In fact, the band played the more dance/pop-driven songs right out of the gate, spanning five separate albums within the first seven songs of the set (including “Gold Rush” off their latest album Thank You for Today, which they’ve been touring behind), all of which fit together almost perfectly and encouraged the crowd to dance and move, before Gibbard greeted the crowd with a simple, “Hello, Portland. We’re a band called Death Cab for Cutie.” He repeated the latter phrase a few times throughout the evening, as if anyone in the audience needed that reminder, but showcased their humility.
The true magic of the evening really set in when Gibbard found his place behind the piano and began playing “What Sarah Said” from their commercially successful album Plans, which started a huge wave of popularity for the band, although they had found themselves breaking into the mainstream with several mentions and an appearance on the teen melodrama The O.C. in 2004. “What Sarah Said” can only be described as a gorgeous ode to love set in a hospital. Ben Gibbard is a master with words and phrases, for example in the crescendo of the aforementioned song, he sings “Love is watching someone die, so who’s gonna watch you die” several times as the band slowly dissipates the music into a hush that just cuts at the end. Then, Gibbard came out from behind the piano, released the mic from the stand, took a few steps down off the stage and sang the closing track from Thank You for Today, “60 and Punk,” another slow ballad that helped engage the crowd even more by singing directly at them. The sun was beginning to set and birds were flying overhead in a V-formation, during the song, which added to the ambience. With the variety of ages in the crowd it was almost like Gibbard was singing this song as a warning to the youth in the audience, while simultaneously nodding to the elders in attendance.
“You know what’s wrong with tonight? Nothing!”
The bass line for “I Will Possess Your Heart” began thumping, and Gibbard found his place behind the piano, again, as the band played the incredible extended intro to the Narrow Stairs song that stretches on for over eight minutes (more than half of which is the repetitive bass line and the rest of the band adding their own flare that builds the tension of the song).
At this point of the show, I overheard someone say, “You know what’s wrong with tonight? Nothing!”. Between the incredibly expansive setlist and the equally amazing musicianship displayed onstage, combined with the beautiful setting on-the-water, it was as close to a perfect evening as one could have hoped for. Leaving many people in the audience saying “Thank you for tonight,” to the band.
The vibe from the crowd was very chill and relaxed all night. The band ended their set with their three most popular songs “Cath…,” “Soul Meets Body,” and “The Sound of Settling,” before exiting the stage to a cheering crowd begging for more. They only had to wait briefly as Ben Gibbard came out and played “I Will Follow You into the Dark” solo to an absolutely silent crowd in nearly pitch black except for a few strategic pink and purple lights. The rest of the band joined Gibbard on stage as he spoke to the crowd, explaining, “We can’t come all the way here, from across the country, with Jenny Lewis and not attempt something,” at which point Jenny Lewis emerged from backstage, having changed from her sequin dress into more casual attire. To the utter delight and surprise of the audience they played “Nothing Better” from The Postal Service. The crowd went wild, for lack of a better term, reacting to the rare and special moment.
Death Cab for Cutie ended the night with one of the most beautiful songs written in the past twenty years, “Transatlanticism,” another eight minute opus that includes Gibbard’s masterful ability to craft a memorable lyric- “I need you so much closer, so come on…” as well as a tension-filled crescendo of sound that allows the audience to sway and nod their heads along to the beating of the drum. The crowd was left standing in awe and disbelief that they bore witness to a band that has managed to age like a fine wine and adapt to the ever-evolving music industry, gaining a wider audience along the way, while keeping their core fans satisfied with a perfect blend of alternative rock and pop that works so well and sounds even better live.