Riviera Theater – Chicago
There are two routes to success in the new music world: 1. Receive a glowing review from Pitchfork. 2. Get a song on the O.C. soundtrack (better yet perform on the show itself). After years of slugging it out with the other indies, Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie has done the latter: with their April appearance on the show (I swear to Google, I’ve never seen the show), their profile grew considerably. For good or ill, this sort of exposure brings in a different crowd, the hipsters get replaced with the drunk guy who screams “fuck yeah” repeatedly and the 2 two fingered whistler. This musical gentrification was in full effect for Death Cab for Cutie’s most recent show.
In regards to Chicago concert-going, I’ve discovered that a sold out show at the Riviera is ultimately more frustration than it’s worth. The theater is ancient; however beautiful the crumbling architecture may be, they weren’t thinking about how visible the stage would be to the standing crowd. If you don’t get there before the doors open, you’re probably going to be stuck listening to the band with a decent view of someone’s back and your 5 dollar Miller Light. Security was blocking people from entering the lowest level closest to the stage, so I decided to wander up to the multi-tier balcony. The seats were nearly packed and if you stood anywhere for too long you’d get shuffled off by security. Each seat I approached was being saved for someone, so I just tried to find a corner that I could hide in. I ended up in a discussion with the head of security, when I asked if there was any place to sit, he replied with, “Are you working tonight?” He mistook me for one of the employees of the Riv, and for a moment I weighed the merits of social engineering my way into a balcony seat.
Instead, I was honest and earned a few minutes of view as the show started. Ben Gibbard and the rest of the band bounced out to an unexpectedly loud reaction from the crowd and quickly launched into a spot-on rendition of “Soul Meets Body,” the lead single off Plans. They followed this with “The New Year” and it did a good job of illustrating the difference between the two albums. Hearing the two side by side showed clearly how the band’s tone has changed; the new songs are solid, but more subdued than anything off Transatlanticism. Before they could even start the third song, I was told to move. Sneaking up to the top tier of the balcony, I stumbled out to a good view of the stage. I looked around at the seated crowd and locked eyes with a nervous 15 year old hunched over a one-hitter. “So this,” I thought to myself, “is what kids get high to these days.” I felt suddenly old and sober, so I hid against the wall and watched the band till yet another security guard shuffled me out of the way. For the brief moment I actually got to witness the band perform, they were far livelier than I had imagined. Ben Gibbard’s mic was set far on the left side of the stage, a representation of his uneasiness at being the Rockstar center of attention. Still, there was a certian amount of levity to their onstage presence, something I just didn’t anticipate.
As an album, Plans isn’t a work of instant gratification; The album seemed to lack the pomp and spark that Transatlanticism had. Many of the songs feel truncated, ending on moments that would have been drawn out had they been on the prior album. In a live context, DCFC manages to halfway reattach their balls and put a fair amount of punch into many of the songs, though not enough to overwhelm. The remainder of the set still had a few choice moments. The performance of “Photobooth”, off the earlier Forbidden Love EP, was an unexpected addition. The bouncy, keyboard driven song was even further removed from the somber tone of Plans. The encore was probably the most successful moment of the show. I was listening to Plans on the subway ride uptown, wondering about how the show might play out. As much as I’ve quite often given my friends a ton of shit for listening to the band we’re going to see on the way to the show, I felt the need to study up on Plans. Listening to the depressing-yet-beautiful “I Will Follow You Into The Dark”, it seemed a perfect first song for an encore. I imagined the lights would come back up, Ben could return to the stage solo, and play the somber song by himself. Then the band could follow and kick into something louder… If I were to choose, it’d be the title track off Transatlanticism. Except for the addition of “Tiny Vessels” in the middle of the two, my pre-show predictions were right. The epic build of “Transatlanticism” was a perfect compliment to the restrained sound of Plans. As much as the song set my expectations high for their sound to evolve into something larger in scope than what it became, it was still a good, emotive finish to the set.
For however much they packed into the hour and a half set, the show still felt short. They skillfully paraded each song out, but something was ultimately lacking from the core of the performance. Maybe if I had a full view of the show from a comfy seat, (*cough-press-passes-cough*) the experience might have been more rewarding. Leaning against the back wall, listening to the “fuck yeah!” guy do a duet with Ben Gibbard left much to be desired. I kicked myself for passing on all those earlier Death Cab shows and waiting to see them at a sold out venue with all the O.C. fans and the yuppie scum, but at least I got to see them at all.
Previously published at Loose Record