Death Cab for Cutie concert review

Death Cab for Cutie

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Death Cab for Cutie is officially a big time rock band. Try to deny it – many have – but this fact has never been more obvious than it was when the band played McCarren Park Pool in Brooklyn last Tuesday.

The first changes were noticeable immediately, before the band even took the stage. There’s the obvious one: McCarren Park Pool is the size of venue that the band had previously played only as part of festivals, and they sold it out on their own. Then there’s the less obvious one: at the back of the stage was a gigantic backdrop of the cover of their new album, Narrow Stairs. Death Cab for Cutie is a big band with a big backdrop.

Most of the other changes were also superficial, which only serve to enhance the big rock band feeling they’ve suddenly stumbled into. One need only look at frontman Ben Gibbard for proof. After ditching the geek-chic glasses (and a few pounds) and growing chin-length hair complete with atrocious mutton chops, he now looks more like a Neil Young wannabe than the nerdy, cuddly singer he’s been pegged as. In new songs “Cath” and “Grapevine Fires,” Gibbard even ditches his guitar, allowing him to show off the rock star moves he picked up from the Postal Service tour, which include caressing the microphone, twirling the cord and jumping down to crowd level.

Luckily, Death Cab for Cutie’s technical skill hasn’t changed. With three of the four founding members and the current drummer, Jason McGerr, making it through half of the band’s existence, they could probably put together a coherent performance with their eyes closed and their ears plugged. In concert staple “Why You’d Want to Live Here,” Gibbard explains, “We’re not perfect / But we sure try.” Though he may be talking about the plastic people of Los Angeles, it’s a fitting motto for the band. Try they did, through elemental difficulty after technical difficulty after technical difficulty.

The first signs of struggle appeared in the form of Gibbard’s frequent guitar tuning. Though the band is meticulous, it’s more likely that the humidity was wreaking havoc on his Fender. Eventually another guitar was rushed out to the frontman, who ended up constantly switching between guitars in order to produce a respectable show. Still, the band remained in good spirits, as Gibbard boomed, “Hello, Brooklyn! What a nice alternative to New York City you are!” before launching into “Crooked Teeth.” But by the time they reached “Grapevine Fires” a few songs later, the band seemed frustrated, as Gibbard declared afterwards, “I’ll admit I’ve played that better.”

Though Death Cab for Cutie is still dynamic live, and certainly better than just listening to their albums, he was right: The band has been better. Among all the changes the group made, the one thing that should’ve changed didn’t: the set list. New material aside, the set was almost identical to those from the tours that followed Transatlanticism and Plans. The new material hardly even counts, because they were so shy about playing it. Of the 16 songs they played, only five were from Narrow Stairs.

All of their choices were not without merit. Hearing “Company Calls” played right into “Company Calls Epilogue” is still moving, seven years later. But did anyone really need to hear “The New Year” again? 2008 is already halfway over – the year is not that new!

The band can only take so much criticism for this, because while Death Cab for Cutie may have been intent on playing until the ordinance-set time of 10 p.m., the weather had other plans. About 12 songs into their set, the forecasted thunderstorm would no longer be denied. Lightning flashed through the sky, creating a volatile yet exciting atmosphere. Chris Walla made quips about the natural light show, but ever focused, the band played on. As the crowd danced and sang along to “Sound of Settling,” the wind kicked up, causing the stage lights overhead to do a dance of their own, and the band’s fancy backdrop began bending as though it might fly away at any minute. Near the end of the song, Death Cab for Cutie’s tour manager gave them the international symbol to stop (hand at the neck). They didn’t seem to notice and even began playing the next song when the tour manager and others rushed further on stage and got their attention. The band thanked the crowd, Gibbard literally threw his guitar, and they ran off stage. The tour manager made an announcement about the weather to an angry New York crowd showering him with boos. An official from the venue repeated the concerns about the weather and urged people to exit.

As the sold-out crowd began pouring into the streets, the skies opened fire in sheets of rain and wind. It was a metaphorically heavy ending to a concert fraught with its own turbulence. There could only be one resolution: Death Cab, please come back!*

*To a different venue. And change up the set list a bit, will you?


Setlist:

1. Bixby Canyon Bridge
2. New Year
3. Why You'd Want To Live Here
4. Photobooth
5. Crooked Teeth
6. Long Division
7. Grapevine Fires
8. Movie Script Ending
9. Company Calls
10. Company Calls Epilogue
11. Soul Meets Body
12. I'll Follow You Into the Dark
13. I Will Possess Your Heart
14. Cath
15. We Laugh Indoors
16. Sound of Settling

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