On October 18th, a couple thousand people gathered in Anaheim for Death Cab for Cutie’s long-awaited return to Orange County.
What would turn out to be the most crowded, sold-out event I have ever attended at the House of Blues Anaheim, was Death Cab’s first show back in OC in over five years. Currently on tour in support of their latest full-length, “Asphalt Meadows,” Death Cab brought a very special guest to open the show for them.
New Jersey’s indie rock trio Yo La Tengo started the evening off, and I think the band Turnstile said it best with their lyric, “You really gotta see it live to get it.” Before experiencing Yo La Tengo in person for the first time, I didn’t consider myself a fan, however this would change in the early minutes of the band’s set. For their first time performing in Anaheim, the band made one hell of an impression.
The band is led by multi-instrumentalist Ira Kaplan, who in 2012 was named by Spin Magazine as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. To try and describe Yo La Tengo’s sound in a paragraph would be an injustice to their extensive catalogue of amazingly dynamic songs, so I’ll leave that to the diehard fans. Considered by many as the ultimate critics’ band, they have a plethora of studio albums that they pulled material from and some of their more popular songs found their way into the set.
There were very loud, aggressive moments, and then moments that were so quiet I could hear the sound of my camera shutter over the song. Kaplan has an extremely delicate vocal styling that layers perfectly over any number of different instruments the three musicians might be playing at any given time. Each band member is truly a master of their craft and doesn’t shy away from exchanging instruments when necessary.
“For You Too” is an upbeat song with a subtle delivery that has since become one of my favorite songs from their set. With her impressive vocal abilities, drummer Georgia Hubley at one point left her drum kit and positioned herself at the front of the stage to sing “Satellite.”
Their crowd favorite, “Sugarcube,” instantly got the fans moving. With the buzz saw keys, driving drum beat, and insanely aggressive guitar playing there was palpable energy spreading throughout the crowd.
When Yo La Tengo’s set ended, I noticed very little movement in the crowd. A room full of Death Cab fans cemented themselves in place as they eagerly waited.
It wasn’t long before the stage lights went out and the song “Workinonit” by J Dilla began projecting through stacks of speakers that sat on each side of the stage. The intro track continued for about a minute before suddenly ending and segued right into the first song off their latest album, “I Don’t Know How I Survive.” The calm, steady drum/clap beat combined with the groovy, clean guitar riff was a goosebump-inducing moment as a single spotlight shined down on singer Ben Gibbard. As the song jumped into that first “big” moment in the song, the stage illuminated from all angles with beams of bright LED lights and it felt like the show was truly underway.
“Roman Candles” was the first song released off “Asphalt Meadows” and was second song in the set. Moments in the song that were otherwise effect-heavy vocal moments for Gibbard, were instead left for the crowd to sing. The crowd participation made for some very awesome moments.
“So this is the new year” are the opening lyrics of the third song in the set, “The New Year,” a powerful song that is impossibly hard to not sing along to. The onstage energy during this song made this my favorite of the night.
“Cath…,” “A Movie Script Ending,” and “Here to Forever” came next in the set and the venue was packed wall to wall with people. The band continued to power through crowd favorites like “Crooked Teeth” and ”Rand McNally” before jumping into their wildly popular radio hits “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” and “I Will Possess Your Heart.” Gibbard’s dancing and onstage movements are not what you might expect from such an ataraxic voice and he is incredibly entertaining to watch even during otherwise low-energy parts.
“Your Heart is an Empty Room,” which is arguably one of their more popular non-radio singles, “Asphalt Meadows,” “You Are a Tourist,” and “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” were just some of the final songs of the night. With 10 full-length albums and several EPs, Death Cab for Cutie has some difficult decisions to make when constructing their set lists. I was personally most excited to hear “Soul Meets Body,” however that moment wouldn’t come until later in the set. There are many crowd favorites that the band must consciously leave out of the set to make room for newer, lesser-known tracks. This, however, wasn’t the case for “The Sound of Settling,” one of the more recognizable songs off 2003’s “Transatlanticism.”
“Foxglove Through the Clearcut” off their new album was the final, pre-encore song of the night. A gentle drum beat and dreamy piano progression create a soothing bed of calming music while Gibbard explains to the audience how honored they were to play with Yo La Tengo, and that they wouldn’t be a band without them. Without warning, Gibbard’s pre-song speech transitioned into the spoken word lyrics of the aforementioned track off “Asphalt Meadows.” It is a beautifully written song that crescendos into a huge ending, which was pulled off flawlessly live. The venue went dark, the band left the stage, and the crowd began the expected “one more song” chant.
The band crept back onto the dark stage and began their inevitable encore. “Brothers on a Hotel Bed,” “Pepper,” and “405” were three of the four songs included in the encore. Each song was preceded by a moment of wondering “Is this going to be ‘Soul Meets Body?’”
That long-awaited moment finally came and it was an amazing experience to see them perform a song I have quite literally heard a hundred times (and oftentimes, unintentionally). “Soul Meets Body” had the entire venue singing along to the “Ba-da-ba-ba-ba” part and it was an awesome ending to an incredible show.