Review: Death Cab For Cutie live at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee and Chicago Theater in Chicago. April 15-17, 2012.

Death Cab For Cutie live at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee and Chicago Theater in Chicago.  April 15-17, 2012.    Opening Act:  Low

 

Setlist for Milwaukee – April 15, 2012

Passenger Seat
Different Names For The Same Thing
A Movie Script Ending
Title and Registration
Grapevine Fires
Codes and Keys
No Joy In Mudville
Little Fury Bugs
Death of an Interior Decorator
You Are a Tourist
Bend to Squares
Hindsight
Cath…
Army Corps of Architects
What Sarah Said
Soul Meets Body
Stay Young, Go Dancing
Encore:
I Was a Kaleidoscope,  Monday Morning, Steadier Footing, I Will Follow You into the Dark, Tiny Vessels, Transatlanticism

Setlist for Chicago – night 1 – April 16, 2012

Passenger Seat
Different Names For The Same Thing
A Movie Script Ending
Title and Registration
Grapevine Fires
Codes and Keys
No Joy In Mudville
Little Fury Bugs
Death of an Interior Decorator
You Are a Tourist
Bend to Squares
Hindsight
Cath…
Army Corps of Architects
What Sarah Said
Soul Meets Body
Stay Young, Go Dancing
Encore:
Your Heart Is an Empty Room, Wait (The Secret Stars cover), Monday Morning, I Will Follow You Into The Dark, Tiny Vessels, Transatlanticism

Setlist for Chicago – night 2 – April 17, 2012

Passenger Seat
Different Names For The Same Thing
A Movie Script Ending
Title and Registration
Grapevine Fires
Codes and Keys
No Joy In Mudville
Little Fury Bugs
Death of an Interior Decorator
You Are a Tourist
Bend to Squares
Hindsight
Crooked Teeth
Army Corps of Architects
What Sarah Said
Soul Meets Body
Stay Young, Go Dancing
Encore:
Steadier Footing, I’ll Be Your Mirror (The Velvet Underground cover), Monday Morning, I Will Follow You Into The Dark, Tiny Vessels, Transatlanticism

Review

I’m sensing Death Cab For Cutie has turned the corner for the 2nd time like most great bands do.  As history often shows, all great bands go through three stages.  Stage 1 is the early we-love-you-because-you-are-young-and-brand-new phase – kind of like the excitement you get with that great new guy or gal you just met.  For those few weeks, they walk on water.  Death Cab For Cutie was in this stage for the first six years, ending with their epic masterpiece Transatlanticism.  Stage 2 is ‘ok, we’ve made it big but let’s try and keep our indie cred in tact’.   Stage 2 wasn’t so kind to Death Cab.  Their two most recent full length releases, both Narrow Stairs and Codes and Keys had some great tracks and some that had no right being included in this band’s great catalog.  They are incredibly uneven albums but still good enough to remind us why we love them.   Welcome to Stage 3, which begins with this tour.  A band now fully gelled and matured, reaching back generously over their entire catalog and no longer too prideful to realize that their best albums were cool over a half decade ago.  They’ve fully arrived.    

 

My three consecutive nights with Death Cab For Cutie and the Magik*Magik Orchestra are on the heels of the three shows I saw during the spring, summer and fall of 2011 on the more direct Codes and Keys tour.   This is no Codes and Keys tour.  Not even close.  The inclusion of the backing orchestra is the most tangible evidence of this new phase for Death Cab.  While never overwhelming any of the live renditions the orchestra have clearly brought out a newfound joy in Ben Gibbard.  Literally giddy on the opening night in Chicago he announced the name of the orchestra no less than five times in 90 minutes, gushing at their appearance with him.  The inclusion of the orchestra is in line with the jittery style of Gibbard.  Clearly a man who can’t stand still for more than 1.28 seconds you sense he always wants something new, something different, something fresh.  For right now, he has found it – and it works.

 

Equally in awe of his band’s presence at the beautiful Chicago Theater, Gibbard displayed his classic awkwardness in front of the mic between songs (no man on earth talks faster), but did so with proper quick wit, humility and charm.   Ben just has a way of making it damn hard for us to not like these guys.  The only awkward moment with the crowd was Ben declaring early during night 2 in Chicago that the crowd was better than the night before.  His reason?   Two young kids in row 1 on night 1 were mocking Ben’s dance (I’m being generous here) moves.  Gibbard played it off with a laugh but you could sense his sensitivity towards something this minute.  Awkward because many of those there for night 2 were there for night 1.  Oops.  Oh well, crank up the guitar and all is forgiven mate.  Yes, you couldn’t find a more awkward dancing pair than Ben and Chris Walla, but what they lack in slick moves they make up for mightily in high-talent hipster-cred.  It would be a step backwards for the band if these two evolved into anything different than who they are now.   Where Coldplay desires to be universally loved with the most innocuous tunes possible, Death Cab For Cutie shows a panache for staying more true to themselves. Stay likable, awkward and nerdy my friends – why change now?

 

The setlists vary slightly from night to night, most notably with the stripped down and nearly-acoustic stand-up montage that begins the encore each night.   Beginning and ending each show with tracks from Transatlanticism is a mature recognition that their recent material isn’t quite their best.  However, they argue against that themselves with powerful renditions of their five best tracks from the past five years: ‘Codes and Keys’, ‘Grapevine Fires’, ‘You are a Tourist’, ‘Cath’ and ‘Monday Morning’.  These five tracks, surprisingly, provide the peaks of the night.   Old tracks from the early albums embellished now with a full string section spring to life and enjoy the great equalizer that a live setting provides to old material.   When performed on an equal sonic platform, the old stuff sounds fresh right along with the new.   For a Death Cab devotee it’s like Christmas in April.

 

If I could change something, and this is Death Cab For Cutie blasphemy, let’s do away with the straight-from-the-album renditions of ‘I Will Follow You Into the Dark’ and the title track to Transatlanticism.    It’s time for them to be re-worked or perhaps moved elsewhere in the set or removed entirely from the show.   Why?   Because they have become too predictable, both in their sound and their location during the set.  Great tracks indeed, however Death Cab For Cutie has a catalog that can easily absorb their loss or movement.   It’s two of the more conservative inclusions of a spectacular show that thrives off the unpredictable nature of a setlist that is selected from complete random over a wonderful 13-14 year old catalog.   If someone would have told me a month ago that the new shows would open with Ben playing ‘Passenger Seat’ as an opener I would say no chance.   But it works beautifully, as does the entire ten minute opening with the remaining band members walking onstage as Ben strikes the opening chords to ‘Different Names For The Same Thing’ (another surprising choice).   As the band briskly walked out to the stage to join Ben for the 2nd song they also (probably unbeknownst to them) strolled into that final chapter of what has been a rather spectacular career.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar