Remembering & Rediscovering Death Cab For Cutie

Last night’s performance at Red Rocks was one of those rare occasions where I had zero expectations.  That’s not to say I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Death Cab For Cutie and Frightened Rabbit. I was looking forward to seeing them, but what I was really looking forward to was the Red Rocks experience.  An experience that turned out to be exactly what it was supposed to be — a warm (extremely warm) night, cold drinks, good friends and good music.  What more can you ask for, right?

So why the lack of expectations?  Well, I have to admit that Death Cab haven’t excited me for many years and as much as I am a huge Frightened Rabbit fan, I couldn’t help but think a opening slot (in the light of day) at Red Rocks would pale in comparison to the many times I’ve seen them headline smaller venues.  I knew the music would be good, but in reality, I felt the music would just act as the soundtrack to another night of drinking with friends.

The Scottish lads in Frightened Rabbit kicked the night off in style with a 40 min. set spanning their three albums.  They put their heart and soul into this performance, but they had a hard time connecting with the half-full venue.  People were milling around, finding their seats, grabbing beers and talking amongst themselves.  It really is a shame too, because they were on top of their game, packing their set end-to-end with highlights like Swim Until You Can’t See Land, Nothing Like You and My Backwards Walk.  Joking about how the altitude was getting to them, but they wouldn’t ‘pull a Kings of Leon‘, you would have never known by their performance that anything was wrong.  Once the sun set behind us and the lights came on, the crowd seemed to show more interest in what was going on in front of them, but when they finished The Loneliness And The Scream and walked offstage, I couldn’t help by feel disappointment.  Disappointment in a crowd who couldn’t take the time to realize what a great band Frightened Rabbit are and disappointment for the band that traveled all the way from Scotland to play an iconic venue only to be presented with a lackluster crowd.   Those of us who were paying attention were witness to one of the best opening acts at Red Rocks this year.

Death Cab are seasoned vets at this point.  The band will celebrate their 15th birthday next year and if that doesn’t make you feel old, then you probably arn’t.  For those of us who remember the years when Death Cab For Cutie were truly an independent rock band, those of us who remember when The Postal Service album came out and bought Something About Airplanes on CD at the record store in 1998, it’s hard to believe Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla are over half-way through their 30’s.  It is impressive that this band still exists in the same form (with the exception of drum duties) it did in ’97 and even more impressive that they continue to put out (arguably) relevant material.  This year’s Codes and Keys sold over 100,000 copies in its first week and entered the Billboard Charts at #3.  This might be sacrilege to the ‘indie’ crowd they helped define well over a decade ago, but I doubt anyone in the band is too worried about street cred at this point.

Starting the show with I Will Possess Your Heart, a song with a long, drawn out, instrumental intro, was no mistake.  By the time Gibbard found his way to the mic, everyone was settled in and ready for the show.   This song set the tone for the night and made me realize something, Narrow Stairs has some damn good songs.  If you would have asked me before the show, I would have said everything after Transatlanticism was mediocre and anything after Plans was boring at best, but Cath…, Grapevine Fires and I Will  Possess Your Heart stood up strong against the classics.

Speaking of classics, they didn’t skimp on them — in a set containing no less than 24 songs, well over half came from the first half of the last decade. The back-to-back We Laugh Indoors and A Movie Script Ending early in the night provided a clear message to the old school fans in the crowd, even though the first half consisted of mostly newer material.  Continuing the lack of oxygen conversation started earlier in the night, Gibbard made comments about the ‘show is taking place on top of the moon‘ and the ‘West Coast having more moisture in the air‘ but continued on like a true professional.  In fact, the band was tight all night.  Maybe too tight, if that’s possible.  ‘it’s so easy to play for a crowd such as this‘  They definitely made it look easy.

The first half was impressive, reminding me how good this band really is and making me a believer in the newer material (at least in a live setting), but it was the second half that really took the night to the next level starting with The New Year.  That classic led into Photobooth and Company Calls before bringing it back for the younger generation with Soul Meets BodyCath… and We Looked Like Giants might have been the best transition of the main set that ended with Marching Bands of Manhattan.

The encore started a little weak with Home Is a Fire, a song I didn’t even recognize from the new album — a song dedicated to the local experimental band Candy Claws, but it didn’t last long and then we were into the grand finale — Title and Registration, The Sound of Settling and of course, Transatlantism.  ‘I need you so much closer…‘ In my mind this song always brings me back to that scene in Six Feet Under with Claire and her friends rolling on E, so as I looked around and realized the crowd was as mute as they were for Frightened Rabbit, I just shut my eyes and let the memories come flooding back.  Wow, how had I forgot what a great song that is?!!!

In a day and age where recent history is anything but cool, and an album that came out two months ago is old news, I find it refreshing that a band like Death Cab For Cutie still exists.  Last night was a much needed reminder that bands like this and songwriters like Gibbard are to thank for a lot of the music we have today and I’m happy to say I have a newfound respect for these ‘indie rock’ veterans.  I doubt Codes and Keys is going to be topping any of my lists this year, but maybe it’ll grow on me — maybe, like Plans and Narrow Stairs, it just needs some  time to breath.  Maybe these songs will sound amazing when Death Cab come back around for their 20 Year Anniversary Tour.

Frightened Rabbit Setlist:
The Modern Leper
Nothing Like You
Old Old Fashion
Swim Until You Can’t See Land
Music Now
Scottish Winds
My Backwards Walk
Living In Colour
The Loneliness And The Scream

Death Cab For Cutie Setlist:
I Will Possess Your Heart
Crooked Teeth
We Laugh Indoors
Movie Script Ending
Doors Unlocked and Open
Long Division
Grapevine Fires
Codes and Keys
What Sarah Said
I Will Follow You into the Dark
Little Bribes
You Are a Tourist
The New Year
Company Calls
Soul Meets Body
Stay Young, Go Dancing
We Looked Like Giants
Marching Bands of Manhattan

Home Is a Fire
Title and Registration
The Sound of Settling

  1 comment for “Remembering & Rediscovering Death Cab For Cutie

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