Ben Gibbard is a man of few words. Monday night at the Orpheum Theatre, the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie and his bandmates let the music do the talking-and that was all the audience needed.
Gibbard is the anti-rock star. In fact, he looks more like someone who would be your high school biology teacher than the frontman of an emo band. At Death Cab for Cutie concerts there are no showy backdrops or flashy strobe lights and stage banter is minimal-save for a few modest "thank you's." But, when Gibbard straps on a Fender Telecaster or sits down behind a piano, the sounds he produces suggest that he has found his true calling.
The group (Gibbard, guitarist Chris Walla, bassist Nicholas Harmer and drummer Jason McGerr) delivered an hour and a half-long set Monday that featured a random sample of material from its entire eight-year discography. Fewer than half the songs played were from the recently released Plans, Death Cab for Cutie's fifth full-length album.
It is debatable how many members of the audience had their first introduction to Death Cab through watching "The OC," on which the band has performed live and are constantly plugged by central character and devout fan Seth Cohen.
Nonetheless, those in attendance, while often mellow and subdued, showed strong favoritism for older tunes like "We Laugh Indoors" and "Title and Registration," the latter of which featured an electric drum in place of the traditional cowbell.
Some songs, like the night's opener "Marching Bands of Manhattan," suffered when played live due to the excellent production quality of Plans. The samples of strings added on the album were replaced with heavy distortion at the concert, and the result was far inferior to the recorded version.
For the most part, however, the excellent acoustics of the Orpheum allowed every note to come out sounding clean and fresh, especially on slower, piano-driven tunes like "What Sarah Said."
Other highlights included a four-star rendition of "Soul Meets Body," the first single from Plans, whose "ba-da-ba da-ba-da" chorus resulted in Gibbard being backed up by a choir of audience members. When songs like "Company Calls" from 2000's We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes were played back-to-back with new songs like "Crooked Teeth," it only served to highlight the progression of the group's sound over the years. Death Cab's recent material is tighter and more structured than previous albums, which is an aural demonstration of how the members have matured both collectively and individually since they began.
The main set ended with a rousing take on "The Sound of Settling" from 2003's Transatlanticism, the band's "breakthrough" album that earned them a borderline mainstream following. This high-energy number was juxtaposed with the first encore-an intimate solo performance by Gibbard of Plans' soft, acoustic "I Will Follow You into the Dark" that earned a warm reception of the crowd.
As has become a staple for Death Cab for Cutie, the show ended with "Transatlanticism," the group's eight-minute-long epic that is the emo equivalent of a power ballad. As the crowd chanted "I need you so much closer" along with Gibbard over pounding drums and bass, it was evident that, although the band satiated its fans temporarily, they were left eagerly awaiting more.