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Death Cab For Cutie, April 25, Morrison Center


I have a hard time with sit-down concerts. After spending my formative teenage years perfecting smoky-dive rock show etiquette—the melodic head bob, the arm cross, the foot tap, the appropriately timed fist pump—I’m clueless on how to rock appropriately in a chair. Do you fingertap the arm rests like a drum line kid assaults his desk in high school? Or do you mumble the lyrics quietly, waiting for the song to end so you can clap your hands together in a rocking crescendo? Even with these lingering concerns, as I approached the Morrison Center for my fourth Death Cab for Cutie concert, I must admit, I was looking forward to a seat.

As much as I love them, Death Cab puts on one snoozy show. Though their steadily rising success over the years has brought them more stage accoutrement—droopy red velvet curtains to cover unsightly gear and tricked out vertical Radiohead lights for visual entrancement—I still find it hard to stay focused. There’s something in Ben Gibbard’s fey, slightly nasaly voice that just isn’t quite as dynamic live. But that’s not to say that the sold out Morrison Center crowd last Saturday night—high heeled 30-somethings, tight jeaned teens and an assortment of grandparent-types—didn’t totally loose their minds anyway.

Promptly at 7 p.m. the sweet-stringed strum of Syracuse’s Ra Ra Riot floated out into the packed lobby. An assortment of lingering concertgoers—teens hovering over well-stocked merch tables and of-agers glugging down glasses of wine and beer not allowed in the auditorium—still remained outside. Though I found out later that, due to an assortment of issues, Ra Ra Riot had squealed into town just barely before their set, you couldn’t tell by their composed performance. Wesley Miles' voice alternated between a soothing coo and a microphone-strangling yelp and was punctuated by Rebecca Zeller’s welling cello and Alexandra Lawn’s striking violin. I tapped my toes to the beat, as the six-piece wrapped things up with a gorgeous version of “Dying is Fine” off their recent release The Rhumb Line.

After a brief intermission, California’s sinfully attractive Cold War Kids stormed the stage. Though I didn’t catch their show last fall at the Lux, I’ve heard endless chatter pumping up their live set. And woah did they deliver. When lead singer Nathan Willett stepped behind the piano for “Sermons V The Gospel” and belted out “Lord, have mercy on me” with strands of foggy light pouring out from behind his scruffy head, I had something close to a religious experience. Or at least got some serious arm-hair erections.

When DCFC shuffled onstage, a palpable buzz flitted through the auditorium. The foursome finally implored the audience to forsake their chairs and rise to their feet. Bouncing giddily as the band struck their first chords, the adorable teen couple in front of us paused between side hugs to snap several cell phone photos. Though Death Cab did an admirable job of balancing their set with old and new hits—playing "Champagne from a Paper Cup" off Gibbard’s first cassette tape release You Can Play These Songs with Chords and also the radio smash "Soul Meets Body" from 2005’s Plans—I was predictably fidgety and glassy-eyed as the set drew to a close. Though one of my concert buddies was also aching to scram, we somehow managed to stick it out through the encore. And I’m so glad we did.

Gibbard re-emerged solo with an acoustic guitar to play the tear-jerker "I Will Follow You into the Dark.” With only the quiet squeak of chord changes and a low light fixated on him, you could hear the soft echo of the entire audience singing along. One clever kid even held up an iPhone with a picture of a flickering lighter to the amusement of several people around us. The show ended with Gibbard on keys, once again joined by the full band, for the chillingly sparse "Transatlanticism."

As we scurried out of the auditorium, trying to beat the bathroom line, I mulled over a comment Gibbard had made onstage about playing a seven-night run at the Neurolux the next time their fancy fleet of tour busses roll into town. But looking around at the widely varying ages and styles of those trickling out of the auditorium, I realized that Death Cab’s smoky-dive rock show days are over. But, hey, sometimes rocking in or next to your seat isn’t half bad.

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