'Twas a gorgeous, late-spring evening in the foothills last night, when Ben Gibbard pulled his Death Cab into Red Rocks for a twenty-two song set complete with the obligatory references to U2. Click here to see the show through our lens, or read our full review after the jump.
Death Cab for Cutie Wednesday, May 28, 2008 Red Rocks Amphitheatre Better Than: Staying at home watching Drive Well, Sleep Carefully. Again.
Taking note of the fact that I've been scribbling in my notebook for the better part of the evening, the tall guy standing next to me leans in and asks me who I'm writing for. After just barely a beat, he says, "Great band. Worst fucking crowd I've ever seen -- and I work every show. They're killing me. Quote me on that!" Death Cab for Cutie is nearing the end of its set just as he says this. And then, almost as if on cue, I turn my attention back to the stage just in time to hear Ben Gibbard sings the lines, "this is the sound of settling."
Although tall dude will go on to give the audience a passing grade a short while later (“Better,” he says, in a notably less indignant tone, well into the encore. “They were comatose before”), his assessment is pretty spot on. The audience is indeed notably listless tonight, save for the soccer stadium worthy sing-a-long inspired by “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” in which Gibbard, illuminated by a lone spotlight, gently strums the familiar chords of one of his group’s biggest hits, while the crowd serves as his makeshift choir.
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The audience’s otherwise polite yet tepid response to the bulk of the other material isn’t at all surprising or nearly as contemptuous as it might seem. Unlike the avid devotees, who’ve likely followed the outfit since We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes (it’s safe to say that only a small minority were clued in around the time of Something About Airplanes), Death Cab for Cutie isn’t a hardscrabble indie rock band that earned its renown crisscrossing the country inumerable times, playing countless shows in countless basements and bars (including 15th Street Taven, where Scott Campbell first booked the band). For them, the act is a more recent discovery. In their eyes, Death Cab is merely another soundtrack-friendly mainstream act with a penchant for writing tuneful melodies filled earnest, borderline maudlin, lyrics.
So, the fact that the audience hasn’t been dancing in the aisles or singing along with every word to every song all night doesn’t strike me as an indictment of tonight’s performance or even the songs, for that matter. Fact is, the majority of people probably just didn’t recognize the tunes. And you can’t really blame them.
Honestly, as much as I love Ben Gibbard and company – and this is coming from one of those dyed-in-the-wool early adopters -- after a while, the songs do tend to blur together. What’s more, as anyone who’s seen this band live (or in the very least watched Drive Well, Sleep Carefully) can tell you, although the guys play with workmanlike precision (tonight being no exception), overall they're pretty static -- with the possible exception of bassist Nick Harmer and guitarist Chris Walla, who've perfected the maniacal, rhythmic, emo sway pioneered by guys like Scott McGarver and Jeremy Gomez from Mineral. Anyone expecting an over-the-top, KISS-sized spectacle, however, is bound to be disappointed.
With that in mind, the stage setup tonight is fittingly minimal. With the exception of a wrap around the drum riser that incorporates artwork from the new album, the stage is completely unadorned. No backdrop, no fancy, synchronized light show. All the same, the stark presentation simply fits this particular band, a unit that’s perfectly content to play through small combo amps. Not to mention, it puts the emphasis where it belongs, on the… wait for it… music.
Aside from the fact that Gibbard made the obligatory – albiet completely understandable – allusion to Under a Blood Red Sky (which he even tried to add some levity to by dedicating the next song to Adam Clayton's afro), tossed out an equally obligatory remark about how “thin the air is up here,” and didn’t play my favorite songs (“We Laugh Indoors” and “Styrofoam Plates”), Death Cab delivered.
-- Dave Herrera Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I'm of the opinion that Ben Gibbard is one of the most unfuckwithable lyricists in the game. Random Detail: From a distance, drummer Jason McGerr looked a lot like Born in the Flood guitarist Matt Fox, while bassist Nick Harmer seemed to bear a striking resemblance to my buddy Jonah Hart. By the Way: The hike up to Red Rocks is still grueling. Start training now for Monolith!
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