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Death Cab For Cutie at the Greek Theater: Concert Review

Death Cab for Cutie
Chris Godley

The Bottom Line

With a 24-song set, fans of the Seattle-based indie rockers got their money's worth, but some left wondering: was it memorable? 

Venue

The Greek Theater 
Los Angeles
(Thursday, August 18)

Death Cab For Cutie, the Seattle-based indie pop-rock band, released their debut in 2000 under the independent label, Barsuk Records. By 2003, the band had four albums under their belts, and with the critically acclaimed Transatlanticism, which was generating a great amount of attention from hungry music followers, major label Atlantic Records swooped them up.

Eight years and seven albums later, Death Cab has achieved a bonafide cult following, as evidenced by the adoring crowd on Thursday night, but whether they're still considered indie is harder to decipher as the Greek Theater was packed with fans of all shapes and sizes: from high school kids (some younger) chaperoned by their parents to young business types suited up for a night out to the ever abundant array of hipsters embracing their more mainstream impulses.

Fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Gibbard, with Chris Walla on guitar, Nicholas Harmer on bass, and Jason McGerr on drums, the band opened with “I Will Possess Your Heart,” off the 2008 album Narrow Stairs. The song’s long intro, heavy rhythm and dark undercurrent made for a powerful opening to an ultimately uneventful set.

Gibbard introduced his band to the audience and assumed his spot between Walla and Harmer before transitioning into “Crooked Teeth,” a more upbeat song from their 2005 release, Plans. Suddenly four illuminated panels appeared behind the band in vibrant Technicolor neon projections, flashing an orange glow over the audience like a warm blanket. The sight was comparable to what you’d see at a rave, but an oddly appropriate accompaniment to the pulsing percussion and Gibbard’s gentle vocals.

By the fifth song, Gibbard introduced their newest album, Codes and Keys, with the song “Doors Unlocked and Open.” Normally new songs can result in an instant lull, but not in this case. During “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” the entire audience sang along uninhibited. Gibbard dedicated the song to the single people in the audience, revealing an optimistic, romantic side otherwise lost in his glum lyrics.

Despite the fact that Death Cab has been at this for over a decade now, their set was bursting with energy. Gibbard was especially perky, at one point lifting his guitar over his head to achieve the right level of rock star badass. All in all it was almost a bit too polished.  During “Company Calls,” off their second album We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, Gibbard and Walla intentionally collided on stage, pressing their guitars against each other in symbiotic disharmony for the briefest moment of genuine spontaneity.

Even attempts to loosen up seemed oddly contrived. During “We Looked Like Giants” a second drum set was brought on stage. Gibbard, abandoning his guitar, jumped on the drums, unabashedly showing off his expertise as an all around musician with a drum solo battle between McGerr. Although the audience clapped along, Gibbard’s exhibition as a drummer seemed gratuitous and undermined McGerr’s role.

Overall, the set was enjoyable, but not particularly memorable. The audience was enthralled with their antics, Gibbard’s playful commentary, and their vivacity, despite their nearly two-hour long set.

Returning to the stage after the encore, Death Cab performed four songs, finishing with the hit “Transatlanticism,” an emotional closer that the audience reveled in. The echo of the lyrics, “I need you so much closer,” chanted by almost everyone including Gibbard, resonated in the air.

At one point in the night, Gibbard said, “I’m an Angelino now, you guys. I never thought I would be, but I am.” Needless to say, everyone at the Greek seemed glad to have him, if only for the night.

Set List:

I Will Possess Your Heart
Crooked Teeth
We Laugh Indoors
A Movie Script Ending
Doors Unlocked and Open
Long Division
Grapevine Fires
Codes and Keys
Summer Skin
I Will Follow You Into the Dark
Title and Registration
You Are a Tourist
The New Year
Photobooth
Company Calls
Soul Meets Body
Some Boys
Cath...
We Looked Like Giants
Marching Bands of Manhattan

Encore:

Stay Young, Go Dancing
Your Bruise
Expo '86
Transatlanticism