Review: Death Cab For Cutie Live in St. Louis, October 4, 2011

at the Pageant, St Louis, MO


I Will Possess Your Heart, Crooked Teeth, We Laugh Indoors, Photobooth, Doors Unlocked and Open, Long Division, Grapevine Fires, Codes and Keys, What Sarah Said, I Will Follow You Into the Dark, Your Heart is an Empty Room, You Are a Tourist, The New Year, Company Calls, Company Calls Epilogue, Soul Meets Body, A Movie Script Ending, Cath, We Looked Like Giants, The Sound of Settling, Encore: Title and Registration, Stay Young Go Dancing, Blacking Out the Friction, St. Peter’s Cathedral, Transatlanticism

I have no problem with most bands evolving. The Beatles did it, Radiohead has done it, hundreds have done it – and Death Cab has also. Not that it’s always a great thing for the fans – or the music, mind you. The Beatles and Radiohead are exceptions. The Beatles evolved during 1966-70 into the premiere studio band – no longer the lovable four playing sing-alongs in front of 75,000 screaming fans. They fucking hated each other those four years but who cares – take one listen to Abbey Road or Sgt Pepper and all is forgiven. The Beatles transcended into something so great that they set standards that have still not been met. Radiohead emerged from the alt-indie-rock classic of ‘Creep’ into the most innovative band alive right now. One listen to OK Computer or In Rainbows (released 12 years apart) and you know you have entered two entirely different chapters of greatness.


Death Cab has not evolved so kindly. Yes, the light show is prettier, the recordings sound slicker than ever, the hairstyles are cute and our former sad-story lead singer Ben has gone and married Zooey. That’s great for him. But I liked him better when he was chubby. He’s evolved – and so has Death Cab. Long gone are the songs made to be played “when the living room was on the lawn” (‘Photobooth’). In their place are too many cringing songs such as ‘St Paul’s Cathedral’….and 70% of Narrow Stairs and Codes and Keys. While Ben has evolved, his onstage presence has not. He’s lovable and genuinely clumsy on stage – dancing the same way during ‘Transatlanticism’ as he does on ‘Photobooth’. He looks uncomfortable in front of fans, hence his charm. However, that doesn’t play well to a crowd at the Pagenat that saw the entire house in the palm of Jim James (My Morning Jacket) hand – as MMJ pulled off with ease in August. There’s a difference between a great show, and greatness. Death Cab presents a great show – truly, but they had their moment of greatness during the first half of the past decade. Their setlist and performance shows an admirable attempt to remind fans that they know they were great. But if you can’t perform Transatlanticism better than you made it sound on the record, don’t play it live. There’s a reason why the Beatles didn’t tour after Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road. They didn’t need to.


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