Death Cab for Cutie and Stars at the Wiltern
"Ben has a cold," a girl reported before the show. She said he was on KROQ yesterday, talking about his cold and bad cough. That, plus some occasionally wretched audio problems during Stars' set, raised concerns about what we could expect from Ben Gibbard & co. There was no need to worry. The show was amazing. Yay, Ben. Yay... do the other guys' names matter? "We love you Ben!" was yelled a lot Friday night, which is to be expected. Still, if people are going to do that, it would be cool if they also showed some love for the other very talented musicians in the band. Maybe tonight? C'mon, guys! Jason McGerr is the drummer, Nick Harmer is the bassist, Chris Walla plays guitar and produces Death Cab's work, and he gets the second-most attention next to Ben. He was wearing some pretty nifty shoes Friday night, and, sure he deserves shout-outs too... but I'd especially like to hear that Jason and Nick got some of the attention they deserve. (Once at a Rilo Kiley concert after a deluge of shouted "We love you, Jenny!"s a guy yelled "We like you, Blake!" in pretty much an acknowledgement of the disparity between the attention and adulation received by singers -- or in this case the main singer -- and "the others". It got a laugh... but it was a little sad).
Despite the obstacles faced by Ben and... oh yeah, Jason, Nick, and Chris... the set was indeed excellent. They opened strong with "Marching Bands of Manhattan", and hit a highlight second song in with "The New Year". As Ben sang "There'd be no distance that can hold us baaack..." it was clear his singing voice at least  was great (he even sang during the KROQ interview and sounded good) and that audio problems were unlikely. Clad in a dark brown shirt and brown pants, Ben danced (and I don't mean emo-danced) to almost every song except for the handful of songs when he was seated at the keyboards, which is fair enough. The crowd clearly adored the band and him in particular. When Ben pauses and turns away from the mike, that is your cue to "Woo!" Evidently. Some interesting lyrics were also deemed opportunities for a "Woo!" I wouldn't have thought to respond to "What Sarah Said"'s "Love is watching someone die" with a loud, sustained "Woooooo!" but apparently that's a sexy line.
The crowd first cheered when a huge sort of pleated screen was lowered at the back of the stage... it was lit different colours (thanks to coloured "fancy lights", as Ben called them), during the show, sometimes giving a purple glow, sometimes just showing us the band members' shadows as they played... Banter was almost exclusively from Ben. Chris did want to know something about who was in Us magazine, said his subscription had lapsed while they'd been on tour. Ben greeted us with "Hello ladies and gentlemen", told us "We're Death Cab for Cutie from Seattle, Washington", swore once when mocking himself ("I'm still as unprofessional as ever"), and was altogether pretty charming.
Ben introduced "Different Names For the Same Thing" as "Sexy Beast" and dedicated it to "Stars, from Montreal". He played the first part of the song on the keyboard, acoustic, before moving to across the stage to take his guitar and lead the band in turning the song into an energetic, full-blown electronic, mildly-discoish extravaganza. I loved this, but I can see some people hating it. If you like it when bands jam and you're into the band and that particular song, it's awesome. If not, or if you don't like jams in general, you likely find it self-indulgent and boring. For me, it's about the band and the song and the moment. I've been listening to "Different Names For the Same Thing" today and I don't want to post it because it is so utterly unlike what I heard last night. I want to post exactly what I heard last night (or at least as close as a recording can come to capturing what I heard). I would love it if someone recorded the show, and in particular I guess that song. It's not that it was perfect, but it was great, well worth capturing, and I liked it much more than the studio version of the song. The studio version now feels less alive...
Crowd favourites other than those Ben-pauses: "The New Year", "Title and Registration" (huge response), "We Laugh Indoors", "The Sound of Settling", "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" (Ben's solo, and a crowd-sing-a-long)
During the set, Ben thanked us many times, and before the "last" song, said, "We love the audience." He also said, "This is gonna be our last song, wink wink wink" It's cool for bands to acknowledge that they're not really playing the last song...
Stars' set was troubled by the aforementioned audio problems. The vocals were way too loud, and I know they had a keyboardist only because I saw him. There was some truly craptastic audio mixing... an onslaught of guitar where there should be some sort of song, with bonus feedback at times... that ain't right. I still liked Stars' set because I like them and they did their best under the circumstances. They did not sound great, which I chalk up to the audio problems. They played "Elevator Love Letter", a song I adore, and while it didn't sound as good as it does on the CD, it was wonderful to hear it live. I wished they had played "Romantic Comedy". Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan share vocals (Millan also plays guitar). Pat McGee is their drummer, Evan Cranley plays bass, Steve Ramsey plays guitar... Great band, and the crowd responded well to them. "Good" set, fun to watch... didn't always sound so good... Campbell is a great frontman.
Death Cab Setlist:
edited; I can do that now, hooray! Setlist tweaked. I think it's good now
1. Marching Bands of Manhattan
2. The New Year
3. A Movie Script Ending
4. Title and Registration
5. Soul Meets Body
6. Summer Skin
7. For What Reason
8. Company Calls
9. Crooked Teeth
10. Different Names for the Same Thing (mixed acoustic/extended electronic jam)
11. Pictures in an Exhibition
12. What Sarah Said
13. We Laugh Indoors (from the John Byrd EP)
14. Expo '86
15. The Sound of Settling (from Transatlanticism)
16.I Will Follow You Into the Dark (solo by Ben)
17. Tiny Vessels
18. Transatlanticism (Stars briefly joined Death Cab on stage, only to clap a bit, and encourage the crowd to do the same and to sing about this much: "I need you so much closer/So come on." Stars: great. An opening band joining the "main" group for the closing song: great. However, I'd encourage Death Cab to choose a less poignant song than "Transatlanticism" for a jaunty sing-a-long-with-Stars. Also, it might have been very cold backstage but when I saw Stars singer Amy Millan come onstage wearing a jacket my first thought was, "Wow, she can't wait to leave)