Death Cab performs at the Riviera

    Photos by Sinead Flood / North by Northwestern

    With its worn-down appearance and old-school feel, the Riviera was the perfect venue for rockers Death Cab for Cutie. For many attendees, myself included, the concert was a night of nostalgia, a throwback to the music of their early teens. For others it was the chance to see what the hype was all about. Why is this band still popular after 11 years?

    The roughly one and a half hours Ben Gibbard and co. played were simply not enough to delve into their extensive discography. And not surprisingly, the band drew the majority of its set-list from their most recent albums, perhaps taking the average age of the audience into account. Disappointing as that was, Death Cab delivered a performance more than worthy of the A&O Fall show.

    So Many Dynamos, an Illinois-based band and friends of guitarist Chris Walla, opened the night with a sound starkly different from that of Death Cab. More alt-rock with a slight punk feel, the only real similarity was the use of synthesizers on a few songs; nevertheless, the band managed to charm the crowd, admitting that it was the largest group they’d ever played for.

    Then Death Cab took the stage. The band showcased their ability to put on an excellent live show. Many songs sounded eerily similar to their recorded counterparts. And although Ben’s mic could have been a bit louder, his voice easily carried over the instrumentation. One of their most recent singles, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” — and yes, they did play that four minute and 35 second long intro — cemented a statement drummer Jason McGerr recently made about Narrow Stairs. The new album really does sound the most like Death Cab live. Not to mention Nick Harmer’s bass riff, which, though simplistic, sent chills. Previously, I might have pictured a Death Cab show where the band stood calmly on stage, essentially “too cool.” But the boys definitely had a good time through the set, moving around and enjoying the music as much as the crowd. It was especially cool to see Chris singing along sans mic, just for the fun of it.

    Although about three songs into the set they played a tune off We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, that trend did not continue. Photo Album was largely unrepresented. However, songs off of Transatlanticism, Plans and Narrow Stairs received a more positive or at least widespread response from the crowd. Sweetly dedicated to “those in love,” Gibbard stood under a lone spotlight, playing his unaccompanied take on “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” one of the band’s more well-known songs. In that vein, songs from Plans seemed to be the best received — not surprising given it was their first major label release.

    Gibbard is as adorable as you would expect. As the frontman, he really personifies the band — the sweet and talented nerd you used to know and love that unexpectedly became really cool.

    Despite their newfound fame, Death Cab showed that they still love their fans by coming back for a four-song encore. Closing the night with “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” the band finished a great set but left the crowd wanting more. My junior-high fantasies have finally been fulfilled but I could have listened to another two hours of that dream-like instrumentation and the sweet, whispering sound of Ben Gibbard’s voice.


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