It's appropriate that cool temperatures welcomed beloved Seattle indie rock act Death Cab for Cutie to the Alamo City last night for its first SA show since 2000. After all, it's much easier to embrace your wistfulness and your far off, broody moodiness when it's not hot as fuck outside. Plus: long sleeves just may be more accommodating for those wishing to wear their heavy hearts on them.
Right from the moment that the band, fronted by certifiable OG indie heartthrob Ben Gibbard, took the stage, wearing all black, it was clear that this concert was a big deal for the sold-out crowd. And, with the exception of just a few predictable and forgivable lulls that correspond to the relative lulls in the band's 22-year, nine album catalog, Death Cab did not disappoint.
One of those lulls, unfortunately, opened the show, as the band offered up three songs from its 2018 release Thank You for Today
— an album that, for my money, is just about as tepid as its title.
The evening's fourth song, "Long Division" from 2008's killer Narrow Stairs
, shook the rapt crowd to attention and reminded them why they had come and, more generally, why they love this sad ass band so damn much.
First of all, there is just something about Gibbard's voice that manages to be plaintive but never plain, threadbare but never lacking in texture, bleak but somehow imbued with more everyman optimism than any one man should be able to conjure.
The other thing about Gibbard's songs that captures people is the nebulous yet penetrating quality of the lyrics. Specific enough to be occasionally read autobiographically and yet loose enough to function like little choose your own (depressing) adventure tales, his emotional and contemplative lyrics act as mirrors that allow listeners to see themselves and their own emotional journeys as contained within the songs.
Next the band played a fan favorite in the heartbroken "Title and Registration," from 2003's now iconic Transatlanticism
, and there were people straight up weeping... which happened a few other times in the show too, and which I judge as a positive thing... I mean... it's just refreshing to see a band push itself and its fans into a space of such open vulnerability and emotion.
The next song, "Gold Rush," again from Thank You
, struck me as the closest to Bruce Springsteen that Gibbard has ever come (not sure if that is a good thing or not, really), as he sang passionately about the destruction of his hometown of Seattle at the hands of capitalistic notions of progress.
The first total freak out moment of the night came as the crowd roared for the first notes and opening words of "Crooked Teeth," a nigh-perfect song from 2005's Plans
Other moments worth noting, in what was an overall stellar show that spanned 24 songs and nearly two hours, included an impassioned rendering of Plans
' "I Will Possess Your Heart," another huge crowd-pleaser and my personal favorite moment of the night. The perfectly sequenced and executed final three songs before the encore break "Cath," Soul Meets Body" and "Bixby Canyon Bridge" served to leave everybody thirsty for more.
When Gibbard came back out on stage alone to play "I Will Follow You Into The Dark," a Plans
standout and a truly beautiful piece of indie folk balladry, there was more crying and a general feeling of transcendence.
Death Cab closed the show with two of its best songs, "Tiny Vessels" and 'Transatlanticism," putting a neat black bow atop an evening of nostalgia (for many, at least) and cathartic emotional reflection. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 20 years until the next show.
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