For a few minutes last night, the vast lawn at the LC was an intimate living room. Lighters and cell phones hoisted, a few thousand sticky people sang along to with a solo, acoustic Ben Gibbard through “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” The moment was clear, genuine, unflawed. Moments like these are what Death Cab for Cutie’s loyal fans crave: the brutal, gentle expression of their innermost feelings through words and music. When this band is at its best, the show is a symphony of exquisite anxiety, regret, longing and love, filled with peaks and valleys of swelling sound.
Under that seductive spell, equipment failure is a rude awakening.
The show Tuesday night was plagued with interruptions, which were graciously explained and apologized for by the band. Their equipment was apparently damaged in the widely publicized stage collapse July 17 at Bluesfest in Ottowa; the collapse scrapped the band’s appearance at the festival.
Death Cab has a sympathetic following, and fans this morning are recounting their favorite moments. But my hunch is they won’t count this among their favorite performances by this band.
Band members (Gibbard in particular) clearly were frustrated by the technical gaffes, which forced the band off the stage late in the show, just as the band struck the first chord of “Cath…,” one of the best tunes on the “Narrow Stairs” album.
When they came back minutes later, all the anticipation had flown from the place, and they spent the next five songs rebuilding it before concluding with the “Transatlanticism” title track. And that last song was gorgeous: Its pulsing buildup is custom-built for a live performance. It’s the perfect last song, and it should have been the gong smash at the end of a frenzied, tortured buildup.
The band gave plenty of love to longtime fans, getting five songs deep into the set before playing a tune from the new “Codes and Keys.” The new album is a natural progression from “Narrow Stairs,” surging deeper into electronic sound, but its music is more challenging for a four-piece band to pull off live. So the crowd last night was treated to ghostly vocal samples on a few “Codes and Keys” tracks. The effect felt strange; I’m used to consuming these guys as a pretty straight-up band, not as something filtered through fancy machines.
A performance of the sharp-witted and bass-punctuated “Long Division” mid-show was the start of a long arc of songs that wove in and out of fresh and vintage material. The singalong reached its unsurprising pinnacle with “Soul Meets Body.”
The band played — swampy, stale air and all — 24 songs. For all they said, all they played and all the glitches they valiantly pushed through, there was so much more to say. They could have played all night, and we would have stayed, listening, sympathizing and singing along.