Fifteen years after Ben Gibbard started the band in Bellingham, Wash., Death Cab for Cutie can still pack a big crowd into a large venue.
Sunday night, nearly 2,000 fans watched the band perform at Crossroads KC. The show was initially booked at a place half that size, Liberty Hall in Lawrence. It was moved to Crossroads and then sponsored by Yahoo.com as part of its celebration of Tuesday’s All-Star Game. And though the subject of baseball came up vaguely once or twice, this night was all about the band and its 15-year catalog of music.
Gibbard opened the show with a solo, acoustic version of the folky love song “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” Then the band joined him for something more dynamic and typical of its sound, “Home Is a Fire,” then “I Will Possess Your Heart.” If there is such a thing as classic indie-rock, this is what it sounds like: guitar rock with melodies and structures that are anti-pop and lyrics that aim for places cerebral and emotional. Whatever heart Gibbard possesses, he will wear it on his sleeve.
The band went all the way back to “Pictures in an Exhibition” from “Something About Airplanes,” its debut album. It was one of several deep cuts in the set list.
At least up front, most of the crowd was familiar with whatever was played, from “hits” and favorites like “Crooked Teeth,” “You Are a Tourist” and “Cath” to lesser-known tracks, like “Photobooth” from “The Forbidden Love” EP. The career-spanning set list revealed how the band has evolved and experimented with its sound without employing drastic changes for their own sake.
Live, their music is typically more dynamic than the recorded versions. At times some of their instrumental flourishes recalled Radiohead. By nature, Death Cab is contemplative and mid- to upper-mid-tempo. There’s not a jot of funk or soul in its sound, even when things get hard and stormy. But every once in a while, it laid down a groove (“The New Year”), and the crowd turned from passive observers singing to themselves to fans in motion. Gibbard showed off his musical prowess, hopping from guitars to keyboards and drums.
Yahoo laid out a purple carpet outside the VIP entrance to welcome any celebrity guests. For a while early in the show, one of those observers was country star Zac Brown, whose band is on Death Cab’s label, Atlantic. The Zac Brown Band was also scheduled to perform at Monday night’s Home Run Derby.
Gibbard mentioned the game in passing and got a lukewarm response. He aroused a bigger cheer when he alluded to the church protesters who had been outside the venue and then his support for marriage equality, a hot political topic in Washington state.
All that seemed to tie in with one of the closers, “Blacking Out the Friction,” which begins with the line, “I don’t mind the weather ” (It had cooled off a bit by sundown). Then: “The hardest part is yet to come.”
Lessons learned by a band that has stayed intact and nurtured a big audience for a decade and a half, which is no small feat these days.
Will Follow You Into the Dark
Home Is a Fire
I Will Possess Your Heart
Why You’d Want to Live Here
Doors Unlocked and Open
You Are a Tourist
The New Year
A Movie Script Ending
Pictures in an Exhibition
We Looked Like Giants
Soul Meets Body
Blacking Out the Friction
Marching Bands of Manhattan