Death Cab for Cutie


Death Cab for Cutie doesn't "rawk" in a tear-it-up fashion, though it tries to. It's just that the Seattle band is at its best gliding along with finely textured, cerebral nice-guys-from-the-heart songs, which was just what fans wanted Monday in downtown Los Angeles.

Once a darling of indie rock, Death Cab has stepped up into the big leagues in recent years, especially with its current release on Atlantic, "Narrow Stairs," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. The group didn't completely fill the venue, but it came close, with many couples out for a date night to start the week.

Although the band has a distinct sound, it lacks a distinct personality — and that's the problem. Singer-guitarist Ben Gibbard has a plaintive tenor of near-innocence that often was buried in the group's thick sonic styling led by guitarist-keyboardist Chris Walla. Bassist Nick Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr whipped up shifting rhythms and an occasional backbeat, but it all almost came off as free-form, with little grounding.

Mixing new material with old, the songs were hit-and-miss, including the second-string U2 atmosphere of "Bixby Canyon Bridge," the ringing "The New Year" and the much more linear and livelier "Long Division."

It was only when Gibbard traded electric for acoustic guitar that the band revealed its heart and soul with a trio of its most recent hits, smartly reworked for the stage: a scaled-down "Soul Meets Body," the Gibbard solo for a folkish "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" and the group's slow-build epic confessional "I Will Possess Your Heart."

The set should've ended right there, but the group continued on and lost momentum; the band can't sustain a show much beyond an hour.

There's no doubt this is an earnest band when it comes to songwriting and performing. But if it wants to continue for the long haul, it needs to shift gears more often, or it'll be stuck in neutral.
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