Death Cab for Cutie
Tuesday, August 2
Better than: New York’s skyline at dusk.
“Everybody just take a second to turn around and check out how beautiful your city is right now,” Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard says shortly into his band’s set. “Take a picture, take some video. Now turn back around.” From this side of the East River, the sun looks big and orange as it squeezes between Lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers. It’s the sort of thing that’s easy to take for granted when you live here. But it’s hard to right now, especially after the Washingtonian singer points out, “This is probably the most beautiful view we’ve played in front of.” As they begin Codes and Keys‘ “Doors Unlocked and Open”—in which he sings about “seas of concrete” and a “blinding sun,” but also California (blah)—concertgoers start turning around to snap pictures of New York’s jagged horizon, and they continue to do so throughout the night.
Sometimes an amazing setting is all it takes to transform what could be a generic gig into something special for both an audience and a band. Clearly awed by New York’s grandeur, the Seattle group put on an emotionally charged set that captivates even those concertgoers who are distracted by the Manhattan skyline.
Considering the wide variety of people in attendance, this is no easy task. Death Cab for Cutie are at a crucial point in their career. Having tasted mainstream successes with 2008’s Narrow Stairs and a song on the Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack, the band has approached their recent album Codes and Keys without regard for any one rulebook. As such, the crowd here ranges from young, camera-toting sorority girl types to buzz-cutted Brooklyn (sort of) street toughs (“Awwww, shit! Wow!” exclaimed one at the beginning of the apropos “Marching Bands of Manhattan”) to older fans who’ve followed Death Cab over their nearly 15-year career. Smoke from cloves and joints wafts through the air.
The first highlight of the night, which seems to unify everyone, comes after “What Sarah Said” from Plans. The musicians all exit the stage except for Gibbard, who’s holding an acoustic guitar. As he plucks out the first few notes of “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” a rush of cameras bolts up to take pictures of the singer (and other cameras) and the audience nearly drowns out his vocals. A lone cigarette lighter waves amongst the cameras, even after the wind blows its flame out.
The band gets similar reactions from “The New Year” and “Soul Meets Body,” as well as a surprising swell in the audience when Gibbard introduces “Company Calls,” from their 2000 album We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes—the oldest song of the night. As night creeps in, their stage, which has had screens broadcasting blurry colors that obscure the band in the dark, finally comes into its own. At the beginning of “We Looked Like Giants,” guitarist Chris Walla and bassist Nick Harmer swap instruments; over the course of the song, Walla plays piano, Gibbard plays drums alongside skinsman Jason McGerr, and each musician returns to his usual instrument, making for a fun, kaleidoscopic spectacle.
Upon returning for their encore, Gibbard says, “We’re gonna play more. We’re not lazy.” (An audience member replies with Brooklyn panache: “We’re not lazy, son!”) They play “Home Is a Fire,” the one song from Codes and Keys that the audience sings along to en masse. They later close the night with “Transatlanticism,” which has the chorus “I need you so much closer” and is about an ocean separating two lovers. The group seems impassioned, and it no doubt has less to do with the song, which they’ve played a hundred or so times since 2004, as it does with what they were taking back from the audience and their surroundings. Shortly after the show, Harmer tweets, “Thank you NYC, that show was so much fun and the view from stage was stunning. I have never seen a more beautiful backdrop…”
Critical bias: My wife’s and my first dance at our wedding was to Death Cab’s version of “Earth Angel.”
Overheard I: “Who wants tickets to Deaf Cutie?”
Overheard II: “You should watch this. Stop taking notes.” [Directed at me]
Random notebook dump: There was a young couple in front of me, and both the guy and the girl were taking video of nearly every song. Either they were planning on comparing resolutions later or they want their own feeds in case they break up.
I Will Possess Your Heart
We Laugh Indoors
A Movie Script Ending
Doors Unlocked and Open
Codes and Keys
What Sarah Said
I Will Follow You into the Dark
You Are a Tourist
The New Year
Underneath the Sycamore
Company Calls Epilogue
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