Death Cab at Assembly Hall

In an understated fashion typical of earthy West-coast natives, Ben Gibbard, Chris Walla, Nicholas Harmer, and Jason McGerr humbly walked on-stage and without much ado, began playing. Without even a chance for an affirmative reply from the audience, Gibbard pierced the silence of Assembly Hall with his crystal clear voice. Crooning the opening lyrics to “Employment Pages” — “we spread out and occupy the cracks in the urban streets” — Death Cab’s front man set a tone both poetically modernist and musically poignant. This being my first experience with Death Cab live, I was pleasantly surprised by their up-beat, warm, and hopeful musical executions, in comparison to the band’s more melancholic recordings.
After an anticipatory silence, the crowd erupted with glee at the first identifiable chords of “The New Year.” Because of Death Cab’s almost universal appeal, the audience ranged in age from angsty, converse-clad High-Schoolers to middle-aged hipster wannabes. Everyone can relate to love, such as the honest and simple mantra of “I loved you Guinevere” from “We Laugh Indoors.” As Gibbard sang, his past love became a current reality, not a repetitive performance chore.
Breaking his on-stage solipsism before the ironically up-beat “Crooked Teeth,” Gibbard issued a fun-loving, “Champaign, what’s going on guys?!?” to the audience. Next, Death Cab played the first piece of the set off their latest masterpiece, Narrow Stairs (2007): a mature rendition of lyrically philosophic and musically complex “Grapevine Fires.” Interrupting the smooth progression of the concert, Gibbard commented on how “f-ing weird” Assembly Hall seemed as a venue, going so far as to compare it to the Sci-fi dystopia depicted in the 76’ film Logan’s Run. However, Death Cab’s lead singer/song-writer/guitarist quickly transitioned from this distracted mood to a tone more reflective — strumming his guitar in the bright white spotlight, while serenading the audience with “I Will Follow You into the Dark.”
After the relative mellow-ness of the set’s first-half, Gibbard encouraged the audience to “dance on a Sunday!” along to the up-beat crowd-pleaser “The Sound of Settling.” Re-establishing the band’s typically somber tone, Death Cab performed yet another highlight off their latest release, the hypnotic, musically-layered “Bixby Canyon Bridge.” With that, the four indie rockers exited the stage much as they came, only to reappear minutes later for a four-song encore. Advertising the Nov. 25th reissue of the band’s 98’ debut, Something About Airplanes, Death Cab played a relatively unimpressive “Champagne from a Paper Cup,” followed by an equally subdued “Title and Registration.” The band completed the set with yet another musical reminder of heartache and woe, with “Transatlanticim”’s haunting chorus of “I need you so much closer.” Though considerably more vibrant live than the average listener would expect, Gibbard and gang keep the melancholic legacy of Seattle “grunge” rock alive.

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