Before Monday night, Ben Gibbard was more notable to me for his association with Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon than for his work with Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service. I tried a few times to get into his music, but aside from a negligible awareness of the strong reputations of his two 2003 records, Death Cab’s breakthrough Transatlanticism and The Postal Service’s one-off Give Up, I’d never known his work well enough to call myself a fan. When Monday night’s show with blossoming power-pop band Charly Bliss was announced, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to immerse myself in Gibbard’s work for a few hours and give it the shot so many friends and colleagues had suggested.
The night’s opening act, Brooklyn power-pop band Charly Bliss, proprietors of one of my favorite albums of 2017, were admittedly as much of a draw for me to attend as Death Cab was, if not more so. The group took the stage promptly at 8 for a sprightly and jubilant 35-minute set, and put on a laudable performance in spite of lead guitarist Spencer Fox’s absence. In his stead, bassist Dan Shure admirably filled in on guitar, though the mix was not kind to him, relegating his lead lines far behind each of the other instruments onstage.
Frontwoman Eva Hendricks was a joy to watch, an effervescent ball of energy, though it seemed her no-holds-barred stage presence and unique vocal style was a bit off-putting to some of the unfamiliar attendees near me. The clear standout tracks of the band’s short set were electric renditions of Guppy track “Gatorade,” and new single “Heaven,” the group’s first song to be released following its debut album.
In the gap between Charly Bliss and Death Cab for Cutie, the headlining band’s impressive stage production began to reveal itself. A massive, wide screen at the back of the stage projected the album artwork from this year’s lukewarmly received Thank You for Today, and in a sweet note to the fans, read “Thank You for Waiting” just before the band took the stage at 9. The band was surrounded on all sides by intricate LED lights, which complemented the visuals on the screen behind them throughout the show.
It was clear from the moment the venue’s doors opened that Death Cab has serious staying power. A packed house on a Monday night at the Fillmore is impressive, especially when stacked up against last week’s desolate Breeders show. Throughout the duration of the two-hour main set, occasional flashes of brilliance almost convinced me that I had been missing out on something special, but these moments were simply too fleeting to sustain any real enthusiasm.
From the moment he stepped in front of the crowd, Ben Gibbard had a calm and collected, yet extremely poised, stage presence. It was refreshing to see someone front a band who projected so much confidence without slipping over the line into arrogance. At one point, he remarked to the crowd that “as west coasters” it was strange to see the sun rise over the ocean rather than set over it, “but the beach was awesome today anyway.” Small moments like this made it easy to see how Gibbard has endeared himself to his fans over the years.
The rest of the band backing Gibbard was remarkably tight throughout the show; each member did their part to bring Gibbard’s lush compositions to life without overstepping any bounds. Drummer Jason McGerr, in particular, had a knack for executing the drum part in each song faithfully while finding just the right moments to subtly venture outside the pocket.
As the show marched along, it became obvious that songs fromTransatlanticism and Plans were the clear standouts of the main set, if measured only in terms of response from the crowd. When these songs made their way into the set, the energy in the venue immediately ticked up, and the voices in the crowd that remained silent during newer tracks suddenly rang out in unison.
Trust me, I wanted to be blown away by Death Cab for Cutie’s set. What music fan doesn’t want to find a new band to love? At a few fleeting points, the show almost transcended my expectations, but it just never quite got there. Each musical moment that made me think, wow, this is pretty cool, was gone in seconds.
I don’t mean this as an affront to the many fans who came out on a Monday night and sang along to every word. I truly hoped that by the end of the show, I’d be just as into the band as they were. Unfortunately, all that Death Cab’s show proved to me is that it doesn’t rise to be anything greater than the sum of its parts.
1) I Dreamt We Spoke Again
2) Summer Years
3) The Ghost of Beverly Drive
4) Long Division
5) Title and Registration
6) Gold Rush
7) A Movie Script Ending
8) Crooked Teeth
9) What Sarah Said
10) 60 & Punk
11) I Will Possess Your Heart
12) Title Track
13) Autumn Love
14) Black Sun
15) Expo ‘86
16) Northern Lights
17) Doors Unlocked and Open
19) Soul Meets Body
20) The Sound of Settling
21) I Will Follow You Into the Dark
22) When We Drive
23) You Are a Tourist