When Death Cab For Cutie signed to a major label, questions about “selling out” flourished. The usual negative connotations associated with that have been addressed in subtle ways by Ben Gibbard and company, but also via a solid album and accompanying live show that reflects the quality of their studio work. Indeed, the only things that have been “sold out” on this tour are the shows, including two nights at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
After some brief curtain malfunctions, the band took the stage and promptly opened with the location-appropriate “Marching Bands of Manhattan” to a surprisingly quiet reception. But it didn’t shake the quartet in the least, and once it kicked into a faster version of “The New Year,” the crowd really started to come alive.
Death Cab effectively dipped into its back catalog, which was rather surprising in two regards. Like most bands plugging a new album on a major label, those tunes tend to weigh heavily in the song selection. But on this night, a hefty mix of songs from Death Cab’s indie label swan song, “Transatlanticism,” lined the set and surprise number two: those were greeted with the most shrill screams.
Yes, its true. Ben Gibbard is a heartthrob, but it rolls right off his back. Death Cab is also a well-oiled machine; when Gibbard opted for the piano on some of the tunes, he speed walked across the stage. When finished, he scuttled back and picked up the guitar, gave it a quick tune and launched into another song.
For those who like predictability, Death Cab delivered. For those who enjoy the spontaneity of the live performance and hearing songs deviate in sound from the record, it doesn’t happen with this band. Still, flawless versions of “Soul Meets Body” and a beautiful “What Sarah Said” made it hard to really criticize this aspect of the show.
The show was highlighted by its encore, with began by Gibbard performing a solo acoustic, gorgeous versions of “I’ll Follow You To The Dark.” He captivated the audience to a remarkable hush and commanded the ballad like a veteran used to crowds this size. The night closed with a rocking “Transatlanticism,” as the line “I need you so much closer” echoed for what felt like minutes.
Indeed, the only thing different about Death Cab these days is its growing fan base. And bigger venues and crowds don’t seem to be a problem for a band clearly comfortable with its place in the spotlight.
Here is Death Cab For Cutie’s set list:
“Marching Bands of Manhattan”
“We Laugh Indoors”
“The New Year”
“Title and Registration”
“Soul Meets Body”
“President of What?”
“Different Names for the Same Thing”
“A Movie Script Ending”
“What Sarah Said”
“Brothers an a Hotel Bed”
“The Sound of Settling”
“I Will Follow You Into The Dark”
“We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes”