I was going to give this foursome from Seattle, Wa., a B- for their efforts, but because of my benevolent nature and my desire to pay tribute to GW’s grade inflation policy, I’ll bump them up to a B.
It would be unfair to compare this show to other acts I’ve seen this year like Umphrey’s McGee and John Scofield, as it is unfair to expect the same kind of experience. The way performers like the aforementioned are known for their musicianship and improvisational skills, Death Cab For Cutie is known for its catchy alternative melodies, and insightful songwriting. Playing to its strong suits, Death Cab solidly delivered with a phenomenal set list chock-full of songs from their newest album “Plans,” as well as a healthy sampling of their older stuff.
A few highlights of the show were the band’s near-perfect playing of “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” the performance of a personal favorite, “A Movie Script Ending” from 2001’s “The Photo Album,” and a 10-minute rendition of “We Looked Like Giants” featuring a drum-off between lead singer Ben Gibbard and drummer Jason McGerr, and compliments of bassist Nick Harmer, some of the strangest stage dancing I’ve ever seen.
On the whole, however, I had to say I was disappointed by the lack of musicianship by the band, especially lead guitarist Chris Walla, who left the stage without playing a single guitar solo, despite many opportunities to do so. I mean, I wasn’t expecting David Gilmour or even anything close, but at the end of the night, the guitarist in me was left unsatisfied. But what the band lacked in musical ability, they made up for by rocking harder than I could have imagined. Usually, Death Cab is roped in with alternative bands like Aqualung into an emo, soft-rock category, but I saw a new side, a louder side of the band with this concert.
Although their great stage presence scored them a lot of points, the show did not go without meriting serious criticisms. When I go to see a band, I don’t want to hear the band play their songs the way they sound on the record. If I did, I would never have paid for a ticket. I want the band to add new elements, and Death Cab did not do enough of that to suit my tastes.
Also (and I know this is picky, but it does a lot for a band), the venue was totally incongruous with the feel of the music and the makeup of the fan base. Considering Death Cab’s indie-rock, underground backing, the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall, (even the name sounds ridiculous for a show of this type) with its carpet floors, assigned seating, and arena-like acoustics, was a poor match. With clubs like the 9:30 and other smaller venues, the feel of the show is more intimate and provides a band-audience connection that is often absent in grandiose concert halls with stadium seating and no bar. On a side note, maybe the switch to a larger, more professional venue represents the band’s ascent from obscurity to the brink of superstardom.
As a fan of the band, I was ultimately satisfied with the show, but for those who have never listened to the group before, the concert may not be worth the coin.