Death Cab for Cutie gives unemotional concert

Opening act My Brightest Diamond performed with surprising vivacity while Death Cab seemed tired.

I was really looking forward to the Death Cab for Cutie concert that played on April 4 at Cain’s Ballroom. I got there at 7:00 and stood a respectable four heads away from Ben Gibbard’s face. If I have one thing to compliment the band on, it’s their professionalism. The show started at 8:00 on-the-dot, with My Brightest Diamond playing for a brief 30-minute interval. Death Cab started at 9:00 and had us out by 11:00. The whole show moved like clockwork, smooth and metallic. But similar to a clock, Death Cab’s portion of the concert felt heartless.

Now that I’ve seen Death Cab, I’ve completed the trifecta of bands that I listened to during my freshman year of high school (The Decemberists and The Mountain Goats round out the group). While I’ve enjoyed all of these shows, I find it frustrating that the bands I love keep touring for new albums I don’t. Death Cab was touring for their 2018 album “Thank You For Today,” which I have yet to make it all the way through in one listen. It just doesn’t have the same nostalgia that, say, “Plans” or “The Photo Album” has for me.

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie
performing at Cain’s Ballroom. photos by Emily Every

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of me listening to music, and being an early 2000s baby, a lot of the music my parents played in the car was Death Cab. I have this one specific memory from when I was maybe four or five, of singing along quietly to “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” on a night drive home. I noticed my mom was crying, and when I asked her why, she told me it was because I sounded so beautiful. I guess in some ways Death Cab sparked a love of music for me.

All that said, when I went to the concert, everything felt a little tired. Ben’s hair flopping sadly in the fan. When they came back for an encore and finally played “I Will Follow You Into The Dark,” the whole crowd sang along so raucously that Gibbard didn’t sing the last chorus, instead letting the audience take it home.

I guess this all goes to say, I had expected to leave the concert in tears, and I left with two very dry eyes. Objectively, the band gave a terrific performance (they sound exactly like they do on the CD), but it was definitely a performance. Death Cab put on a show for us — the same show they put on for Houston and Kansas and Dallas. The performance felt the tiniest bit contrived. I felt bad for the band, and kept wondering, “Do they even want to be doing this?”

Death Cab is the sort of band that you listen to passively. You don’t even realize that you are listening to them until you notice yourself humming along. It’s fitting then that the concert felt the same way. I nodded along most of the time, content for the most part, and left with one ringing ear and the realization that I had enjoyed the show.

More notable than Death Cab’s performance, however, was their opening act, My Brightest Diamond. Shara Nova, vocalist and creator of the band along with drummer Jharis Yokley, played a short set, but boy, did it pack a wallop. Nova brought a sense of vigor to the stage, dancing and telling anecdotes in between songs. A classically trained vocalist, Nova’s control over her voice was astounding.

Shara Nova of My Brightest Diamond. photos by Emily Every

They closed their act with perhaps my favorite song of the night, “White Noise,” which Nova prefaced with “This is a song about my white skin.” A friend turned to me with a “Oh gosh hope this isn’t racist” look on her face. What we were met with was a funky and self-aware song complete with bubbly pop background vocals. “Are you mad?” Nova sang, adding, “You ain’t mad enough.” The backbeat of the drums along with Nova’s charming and surprisingly good dance moves brought a vigor to the show that was lacking in the rest of the night.

Now don’t get me wrong, Death Cab played a good show, maybe even a great one. But you can bet your boots that when I got home, the first song I played was “White Noise,” not “I Dreamt We Spoke Again.” Death Cab was the music of my childhood; I guess it makes sense that when I went to their concert, it felt like I had outgrown them.

Post Author: Emma Palmer