Death Cab for Cutie w/ Jack’s Mannequin @ The Eagles Ballroom
Dec. 2, 2008
Subdued and sentimental, Death Cab for Cutie remains an odd fit for the increasingly brash realm of alternative radio, but the band has nonetheless forged an unlikely home there, offering a whiff of bookish college-rock in a format otherwise marked by the stink of Seether and Shinedown.
The band is little changed for all the radio play. They still write whimpering little tunes that don't so much build to grand payoffs as they do crawl to their natural conclusions. Where other songs explode, theirs smolder precisely until their fuse is fully extinguished. "I Will Possess Your Heart," the nearly nine-minute lead single from their latest album, Narrow Stairs, pours water over the ashes, just to be safe. Slow and hypnotic even in its leaner radio edit, it was just about the least commercial single to make a dent on commercial radio this year.
Though over their last three albums the band has amassed enough big, wonderful moments to keep a crowd singing along, their concerts are hardly the communal experiences expected from marquee rock shows. As if mounted to their designated position on stage, each band member twisted and flailed in place self-consciously (save for bassist Nick Harmer, who tottered about and thrashed enthusiastically, as if in his head he was listening to a song that rocked considerably harder than the one he was performing). The band barely made eye contact with each other, let alone the crowd.
"I need you so much closer," Ben Gibbard sang in the climactic, set-closing moments of "Transatlanticism," while his body language suggested just the opposite. The crowd followed his lead, swaying with arms folded in shared solitude.
Gibbard's reticent demeanor stood in amusing contrast to the cheerful antics of Andrew McMahon, the showboating heartthrob behind piano-rock openers Jack's Mannequin. His rock-star aspirations undisguised by a transparent veneer of emo bashfulness, McMahon belted out his bold and pouty tunes as he thrust his pelvis into his piano and smiled boyishly, eliciting shrieks from hordes of young followers who no doubt yearned to be that piano.