Live: Death Cab For Cutie Expand Their Sound At The Beacon Theater


Death Cab For Cutie feat. Magik*Magik Orchestra w/ Youth Lagoon
Beacon Theater
Friday, April 27

Better than: The 10th-anniversary deluxe edition of Transatlanticism that will no doubt be released—and inspire even more “Is Indie Rock Dead?” thinkpieces—next year.

“One might ask what we’re doing here with an eight-string section,” Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard calmly stated early on in his band’s set at the Beacon on Friday.

Yes, one might. But for those still keeping score, Death Cab touring alongside San Francisco’s Magik*Magik Orchestra makes a whole lot of sense. It was Magik*Magik who helped the rockers from Washington state do something different on last year’s Codes and Keys, arranging sweeping string parts that brought an eeriness to songs like the album’s title track. But it’s not the easiest album for a drummer, bassist and two guitarists/pianists to bring to life on a stage.

Throughout the nearly two-hour show, Gibbard and co. proved that touring with an orchestra wasn’t just about recreating their latest album. Sure, Codes and Keys songs came easier last night than they did during last June’s album-release show at Bowery Ballroom, where string parts had to be replaced with synth trickery and guitar noodling (or not at all). However, during the Beacon show—the first of three over the weekend—the quartet played a number of old favorites back from their Barsuk days (ah, the joys of seeing a band live between album cycles!). With the exception of a few selections during the encore, the string section worked up gorgeous arrangements on every song performed, from the vintage mope session of “Little Fury Bugs” the rollicking jam “Cath…”. There was a newfound regality to songs like “Bend to Squares,” which you can imagine Gibbard wrote in the least regal of places (perhaps some rundown house he lived in with three other guys long before he met quirkster Zooey Deschanel).

Last year, guitarist Chris Walla told me that scheduling a tour with Magik*Magik would be a nightmare. Whatever they did to finally work it out was worth it, because the band was more dynamic as a result. Even Gibbard, who’s not always the chattiest on stage, seemed reinvigorated, full of smiles and head-bobbing. He cracked jokes about cops and Hendrix, and suggested that he ripped off Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison’s look (hey, if he did, so did all his bandmates—funeral-ready biz casual was their style of choice).

For the encore of seven (yes, seven) songs, Death Cab came out for an acoustic session sans strings, starting off with an R.E.M.-channeling “Steadier Footing” and a folksy cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Still, the high point of the encore and the night was the finale, “Transatlanticism.” With Magik*Magik’s help, they turned a crescendoing, eight-minute feedback jam into something even more epic. Security guards who previously looked so bored that their sole pleasure was yelling at a dancing guy in a striped scarf were now plugging their ears with both fingers and closing their eyes, just waiting for the wall of sound to subside. The band and every fan in there carried on singing along, urging “c’mon.”

Critical bias: Transatlanticism > The Photo Album > Something About Airplanes > We Have The Facts and We’re Voting Yes > Codes and Keys > Narrow Stairs > Plans

Overheard: Several girls quietly weeping and/or sniffling during “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.”

Random notebook dump: The boys Gibbard wrote about in 2011’s “Some Boys” sound a lot like the version of himself he describes in 2003’s “Tiny Vessels” (“You are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me”). Maturity!