Concert Reviews

Last Night: Death Cab for Cutie at Nokia Theatre

Death Cab for Cutie, Rogue Wave Nokia Theatre, Grand Prairie June 17, 2008

Better Than: getting stuck in traffic on I-35E on the way home. There were two bad accidents, so it took 45 minutes to get to Nokia, but one hour and 45 minutes to get home…

Is that Ben Gibbard or Neil Young? For more photos from last night's show, visit our slide show. (Daniel Rodrigue)

Death Cab for Cutie started the meter running when the band hit the stage, but most of the very young crowd at Nokia Theatre didn’t seem to really be along for the ride until they were almost half-way home.

Maybe it’s because the band drove the show the way my grandfather drove a car. He’d have his foot on the gas, then off the gas, on the gas and then off, which made for a safe, but pretty jerky drive. Likewise, Death Cab’s songs are safe and have two speeds.

And the band started out all revved-up. Ben Gibbard sprinted out on stage. He wasn’t wearing his usual black, thick-frame eyeglasses, and his hair, which is usually neatly parted and kinda nerdy, was shaggy and down to his collar. Oh, and, he had giant muttonchops. Last night, he looked like Neil Young circa 1976. But even though he looked different, but some things haven’t changed.

Opening with the buzzy “Bixby Canyon Bridge,” Gibbard still constantly sways in front of the mic stand. His trademark pivoting from left to right seemed to add extra warble to his already plaintive, wavering vocals. The song is first track off Narrow Stairs, which climbed straight to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last month after selling 144,000 copies in its first week of release. So one would expect the band to be pretty keyed up in the aftermath. Keeping the accelerator to the floor, Gibbard and Co. sped straight through the next few songs.

But after it turned the corner of “Photobooth,” the Cab coasted into a string of slower numbers. And even a good song like “A Movie Script Ending” seemed like a speed bump. Glancing around, I saw a handful of bored-looking moms and dads.

Later, during “Company Calls Epilogue” and “Title Track” the band started sounding out of sync, which was definitely the low point of the night.

And yet, when Death Cab followed those two weak ones with “Soul Meets Body,” finally, about half the house was on its feet, won over again. Next, a spotlighted Gibbard performed “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” alone. This song drew the most emotional reaction from the crowd members, many of whom were singing along with their glowing cell phones held high above their heads.

As the band regained its speed, the house seemed to wake up, and as Nick Harmer started into the opening bass line for its new single, “I Will Possess Your Heart,” they clapped along in rhythm. The song was the band's strongest moment of the night. As the band thundered through the eight-minute song, a blinding spotlight was aimed at the crowd. The audience stood to its feet as if drawn by the blinding light--think Close Encounters. --Daniel Rodrigue

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I’m not sure if it was the set list or the audience, but overall I was surprised at how energetic and lively the band was on some of the faster all-out rock songs. I’ve always thought of Death Cab as a headphones band, good for listening to while reading a book, or maybe while driving around on a cold wintry night.

Random Note: I had no idea “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” was so popular, but that’s Death Cab’s most popular song on iTunes.

By The Way: The majority of the set list was comprised of tracks on the last three albums. The band played six of the 11 tracks off the new album, five from Plans and four from Transatlanticism.