Since the late 90s, Ben Gibbard and his Death Cab for Cutie cohorts have been making consistent indie rock, while embracing all the various ways to make a genre known for its clearly defined traits a little bit weird and wide-ranging. Last night at the Orpheum, they presented it to the capacity crowd for a truly enthralling show.
While most longtime fans wish that the band would go back to the days of classics like “Plans” and “Transatlanticism,” the newer material has plenty of songs that fit quite nicely into the discography the band has created over the course of 10 albums. The lowlights of the Orpheum went fully black as the band emerged, opening with a new track from their most recent album Thank You for Today. They played the song “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” which found a low-tempo drum section mixed with some minor synth work, while Gibbard's vocals crept through the sound system. For most bands, opening big is a necessity, but DCFC clearly hasn’t been doing things by the book, which is partly why they’ve been able to stay relevant and noteworthy.
While many of the songs presented yesterday did stem from their most recent albums, they didn’t strike the same chord as the great tracks from the band's early days. These latest songs aren’t bad at all, but when the band lays out a rocking, anthemic version of “Crooked Teeth,” you could see the noticeable change in the crowd's demeanor. Granted, that song is an amazing moment, which I was thrilled to hear live again, but obviously, they can’t devote an entire show to all of the older material. I actually think I noticed more than a few people reacting in a stronger way to the newer hits, like “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” and “Black Sun,” both of which played well among the mixture of tracks for the night.
As the band got to the halfway point of the show, they began gradually bringing out the big guns for tracks that everyone could get behind. “What Sarah Said” still rings with the same sadness that it filled you up with the first time you heard it, and its darkness is frankly palpable. Shortly after, we got an engaging, darkly tinged rendition of “I Will Possess Your Heart,” which at first reads like a beautiful love letter, but is really the story of a man coveting a woman so much that his love results in the possible abduction and killing of the woman he thought he loved. One small early critique for me, however, was the scratchy vocals of Gibbard. They were good, but perhaps they weren’t as fresh as would be expected. I don’t think it was his fault, though, and they seemed to get the kinks worked out as the show progressed.
Death Cab is a band that has given me plenty of solace through difficult times, and while the show was mostly a rocker, they slowed it down intermittently, often leaving me with an array of emotions to work through as the cathartic music swept over the audience and myself. Closing the main set with “Soul Meets Body,” as it gave way to the triumphant uncertainty of “The Sound of Settling,” left the crowd singing along and moving to the emphatic musical ritual being showcased. The band has this ability to be stern, yet forlorn in their lyrical content, while still making certain upbeat instrumentation play well to the juxtaposition of the music. It’s this strength that makes a crowd of adoring fans even more inclined to fall in love with the band all over again. But the band still had some bigger moments up its sleeve.
Opening the encore with perhaps the band's best-known song, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” saw Ben march back onstage, acoustic guitar in hand, to serenade the crowd with a beautiful ballad about the persistence of loss and the grief of losing your soulmate. While I know this is meant as an ode to lost love, it always reminds me of the difficulty I dealt with when I lost my closest family member: my grandmother. This song was a guiding light to both nurture and grow with the loss, but also a reminder that the pain for that individual was now depleted. It never fails to stir up emotions, and like the other two times I’ve seen them perform this song, had me feeling all sorts of regret and sadness. It’s just a perfect song and lets you grow and grieve, while remembering the best moments.
As the show came to a stirring conclusion with the nearly eight-minute opus that is “Transatlanticism,” the crowd was fully behind the band. That song is a gradual mix of quiet tenderness and uncertainty about the future, but as the minutes tick by, it swells and becomes a remarkable explosion of everything that makes the band and their message so relatable and powerful. I don’t expect to hear news of this band's dissolution any time soon, but even if they did break up, the fan base has plenty of unforgettable moments that can keep us cautiously optimistic, even when the chips seem down and all we want is to cry and lose ourselves in the company of fellow music fans. A fantastic show, and an early contender for Show of the Year.