Last Night: Death Cab for Cutie at Comerica Theatre

Death Cab for Cutie Comerica Theatre Monday, August 15

There's always been something I've resented about Death Cab for Cutie, but I could never really put a finger on it. Last night's show at Comerica Theatre defined it perfectly.

The band hasn't been truly "underground" since its earliest days, but when Top 40 radio picked up their chiming, smooth, indie rock sound, the band changed. So did the Death Cab crowd, becoming a mix of scene kids that look toward frontman Ben Gibbard as a style god, suburban kids, and wandering Nickelback fans. The band started receiving airplay, and playing bigger and bigger venues, finally landing in downtown Phoenix last night.

From the start, the general vibe of the place was cold. The crowd stood with crossed arms and aloof looks. Death Cab specializes in sweet, soft tunes, but the crowd's lack of energy was surprising. Concertgoers seemed more concerned about taking photos of themselves and of the stage, just to show their Facebook friends that they were so there, even if they couldn't be bothered to pay a lick of attention.

The general "meh" of the crowd could have been overlooked if Death Cab didn't do the exact same thing with most of their music. Sadly, it really felt like they were phoning their Phoenix stop in. It seems like they really, really wanted to try, but found themselves lacking energy once they got on stage.

I saw the band at Mesa Amphitheatre a few years back, and group at least had a little charm to work with then, due in no small part to the hyper-intense, metalesque bassist Nick Harmer. Now, touring their seventh studio album, Codes and Keys, Gibbard and Co. seem to have lost their spark.

I guess you can't blame them. Death Cab's music has never quite settled into being an "arena rock" band. This is a band that probably never should have been bigger than a Marquee stop and a few spins on 103.9, but here they are in Comerica Theatre, trying to fill the expansive venue with jammy melancholy.

Gibbard got behind the keyboard for opener "I Will Possess Your Heart" and began a series of half-hearted spastic moves alongside a shaky voice. His layered, shoulder length haircut was at the center of the show for a good 20 minutes. That coif is the perfect combination of world-famous rock star and not-give-a-fuckedness and it bounces up and down, back and forth as Gibbard shakes. His hair had the most energy out of anything on stage or in the crowd.

It felt a bit like the Ben Gibbard show. Look, there's Ben Gibbard on a guitar! Now he's behind the keyboard. And hey, look at that! A drum kit at the front of the stage had Gibbard pounding out rhythms to "We Looked Like Giants." It was entertaining, but where was the passion?

If the band hadn't captured the crowd's attention by then, it just wasn't going to happen. At one point, a girl in front of me turned around and sat on the seat behind her, looking back at the crowd with crossed arms and dead eyes. That's the sort of vibe that ran through the venue, smacking down any hope for fun. It was a two-fold energy suck, both on the band's part and the crowd's, but my hopes for this show were crushed. Given the chance to see this exact same show again, I would take the option to stay home and watch reruns of Wipeout.

Death Cab for Cutie's set list:

I Will Possess Your Heart
Crooked Teeth
We Laugh Indoors
A Movie Script Ending
Doors Unlocked and Open
Long Division
Grapevine Fires
Codes and Keys
What Sarah Said
I Will Follow You Into the Dark
Title and Registration
You Are a Tourist
Stay Young, Go Dancing
We Looked Like Giants
The Sound of Settling
Styrofoam Plates

Last night: Death Cab for Cutie at Comerica Theatre.

Personal bias: I seem to have a dissenting opinion about Narrow Stairs and Codes and Keys. I liked those albums, and they were some of the best songs out of the bunch last night.

The crowd: How did I end up at a Neon Trees show?

Overheard in the crowd: After Gibbard announced they'll be playing songs from Codes and Keys, smug suburbanite #13 chimes in with "Yeah, and it sucks!"

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Christina Caldwell