Death Cab for Cutie’s big wine-and-cheese party



What a long, strange cab ride it’s been.

Death Cab for Cutie, former bedroom pop heroes out of the soggy Northwest, carried the indie banner to the sold-out Hollywood Bowl on Sunday night, delivering a performance that wasn’t so much an exclamation point on their 11-year-career – though it might look that way on the resumé – as it was a soundtrack for picnickers on a crisp, picture-perfect date night. There was wine and cheese, glitterati and literati, the L.A. Phil and fireworks, but scant sign of the nervy asperity that drew me to Ben Gibbard’s likably boyish and (still) stunningly literate articulations on the fear of love and of not being loved.

The Ben Next Door has moved away, to the Los Angeles he famously bashed in “Why You’d Want to Live Here,” to an artistic place where I couldn’t imagine his writing another song like “Styrofoam Plates,” to a “A Movie Script Ending,” name-checking a song Death Cab did play on Sunday.” Which is all OK, to tell you the truth, and not just because Los Angeles is so forgiving that you can wax lovelorn while being engaged to an actress.

Gibbard and bandmates Chris Walla, Nick Harmer and Jason McGerr paid their dues – or as Sunny Day Real Estate’s Nate Mendel (one of many Friends of Ben in attendance) said during a break, “I remember when we couldn’t sell out Spaceland on a Tuesday night.” The Grammy-nominated quartet has also honed its songcraft

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so adroitly that nearly that nearly everybody under the stars finds that magic five minutes in the DCFC catalog that speaks to them personally. Emphasis added, so you know when to squeeze your date’s hand.
Suffice to say some of that magic was lost in the vast expanse on Sunday.

Death Cab did not rock the Hollywood Bowl, by any means, certainly not in the manner veteran acts such as the Cure and R.E.M. did on separate occasions last year. Like Sunday’s two opening acts, genial Canadians the New Pornographers and even more genial Canadians Tegan and Sara, DCFC struggled to mount any kind of sonic assault. It’s the curse of the spare instrumentation favored by indie bands (Modest Mouse was similarly ineffectual when I saw them at the Bowl). Only “President of What?” – off last decade’s “Something About Airplanes” – hinted at any fury, and that seemed almost an anachronism compared to embraceables such as “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “Cath…”

Of the first dozen songs, “New Year” and “Photobooth” came closest to getting folks off their fannies, but after the quartet was joined by conductor David Campbell (Beck’s father) and the L.A. Phil, the concert provided some memorable moments. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” seemed especially poignant considering the setting, as did “Grapevine Fires.” Nothing compared, however, to the big finish – my magic five (or, in this case eight) minutes in the DCFC catalog, “Transantlanticism.” The title track off the band’s 2003 masterwork has always seemed larger than life, and with Campbell and the orchestra behind it, the song found its mark even before the fireworks went off.

I left the big ol’ crowded Bowl smiling at the unintended irony of its chorus: “I need you so much closer.”