Friday, June 30, 2006

London Calling

Death Cab for Cutie onstage at the Brixton Academy, London, June 28th 2006

I have no idea how many of you will be at Oxegen next weekend. I’m sure the sub-set of you who are there that attend the ‘Pet Sounds’ Stage is even smaller. But if you are there on Saturday night, and you’re watching four thirty-something Seattle-ites then I know one thing. You’ll know I was right.

It absolutely flabbergasts me that Death Cab for Cutie isn’t everyone’s favourite band right now. I know I go on about them a fair bit and I accept that I am prone to superlatives, even when it comes to things that I know I’ll have forgotten about in six months time. But really – why do so many people have blank expressions when they hear their name?
On Wednesday night I got to see Death Cab live for the first time in Brixton Academy in London. Apart from the fact that I really, really wanted to see Death Cab, it had long been an ambition of mine to actually get to a gig in the Academy before I’m too old – though from the looks of the crowd there on Wednesday, that ship may have sailed already.
I’ve never seen a band that was so much less like what I expected them to be. Death Cab’s reputation for being slightly on the dreary side - lyrics about death and heartbreak, as well as Summer’s "One guitar and a lot of complaining" comment from ‘The O.C.’ haven’t helped – completely belies the ferociously energetic live show. For a miserable bunch, they sure bounce around a lot. Front man Ben Gibbard especially – From listening to the records I’d imagined him as soft spoken, shy and a little overly earnest – maybe more from the Michael Stipe school of talking to the audience as little as possible, and mumbling when he does – but that’s not the case. Yes, he seems almost nervous. Yes, he seems like he’d rather sing than talk. But no, he is not the reluctant showman, cursing the day people started to remember his name. He seems genuinely thrilled when the audience recognises a song and starts singing it back to him, and even more thrilled just to get to play them for people. The other three band members seem even more content to play along, to just play their instruments and let Ben bounce off them – the only time I heard bass player Nick Harmer speak through the gig was to crack a very, very inside joke about The Cribs. I’m not saying that DCfC is a one-man band, though – just that there are no egos on stage.

Now the downside. There are dozens, if not hundreds of musicians out there more technically gifted than any member of Death Cab (with the possible exception of guitarist/producer Chris Walla, who gives off a bit of an elder-statesman vibe). There are plenty of more talented songwriters than Ben Gibbard and I can name a half-dozen to a dozen more innovative bands without pausing for breath. But I can’t think of a single reason not to like Death Cab. I can’t stand still while listening to ‘The Sound of Settling’ and apart from ‘Nightswimming’ I can’t think of a better "drunk and heartbroken-but-oddly-happy-about-it on a hot August night" song than ‘Passenger Seat’ (which is an oddly specific and probably inaccurate description, come to think of it).
If you’re going to Oxegen, please, please, please take a few minutes out to go see Death Cab. What are you going to miss? The Chili Peppers on their seven-thousandth Irish show? Then go buy ‘Plans’ and ‘Transatlanticism’ at least. Call MTV, or FM104, or 2FM or anyone, and ask them to play Death Cab. Maybe they won’t be your new favourite band – but at least you’ll know what you’ve been missing.

Anyway, seeing as that rant’s over, let’s have a few more notes from London:

  • Somebody broke the tube! Honestly, I love travelling by Underground but there wasn’t a single trip that we took by tube over there where the Central line was running properly, be it from signal failures or a person under the train at Bond Street on Wednesday night.
  • I’m not a big football fan, so the World Cup is kind of a non-event for me, but I did watch France vs. Spain on Tuesday night in a bar on Edgware Road which, by happy coincidence was full of French and Spanish folks. And there’s nothing better for enjoying a game than being surrounded by people who really, genuinely care about the outcome. A few pints of Kronenbourg didn’t hurt either.
  • There were cheerleaders in town! I don’t know if they were a US national team or what – they did have ‘Team USA’ backpacks – but anyway, there were about thirty or so of them (tall girls, tiny shorts) wandering around Picadilly Circus on Thursday afternoon. When my wife gets home, I’m going to be in trouble for saying this – but God bless cheerleaders. There. I said it. I regret that I have but one life etc.
  • Didn’t plan on doing any shopping over there, but I got ridiculously low prices on ‘The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most’ by Dashboard Confessional’ and ‘Who’s Next’ by The Who. Warrants mentioning, though I’m not sure why.
  • I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Death Cab’s support act, Viva Voce, from Portland Oregon (though originally, Alabama). They are Kevin and Anita Robinson, a husband and wife team who play drums and guitar – which sounds vaguely familiar except that a) they’re not as creepy as Jack and Meg White (I realise that Jack and Meg may or may not actually be brother and sister, by the way. I’m using the ‘husband/wife’ rumours for the purposes of this exercise. Bear with me…) and b) nobody’s kidding themselves into thinking that what the Robinsons are doing is somehow an extension of the Blues. Anyway – Viva Voce: tremendously catchy. You know one of their songs (Lesson No. 1) from a Motorola ad a couple of months back. It’s the one that goes ‘So keep your head up…’ and so on. Trust me – you’d know it if you heard it. I’ll be buying the new album ‘Get Yr Blood Sucked Out’. You should too…
Anyway, that’ll do it for today. I’ll be back with more rantings sooner or later.