PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Death Cab For Cutie + Stars

Dave Brecheisen

It showed on their faces and echoed through the rafters: for many, this show was more sacred than church, more meaningful than a homily.

Death Cab For Cutie + Stars

Death Cab For Cutie + Stars

City: Washington, DC
Venue: 9:30 Club
Date: 2009-10-24

On a cold, rainy D.C. night the 9:30 Club became a cathedral of warmth and happiness, one that reached deep into the imagination. For many in attendance this show was more sacred than church and more meaningful than any homily or sermon. It showed on their faces and echoed through the rafters. First, there was Stars -- a Montreal band with a proper following of its own. Part of a burgeoning (or burgeoned) Canadian music scene, Stars' latest release, Set Yourself on Fire has generated a lot of buzz. The crowd arrived early and in large numbers for the opener -- a rare feat indeed. For those familiar with the band I can only imagine that the lush pop orchestration and bright melodies was everything they expected. For those (such as me) that had heard only the buzz, the show was an equal treat (although I will admit that the slow motion dancing confused me a bit). My confusion was short-lived, however. How is it possible to be confused in the face of such terrific pop music? I was completely taken in by the alternating male/female vocals of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Both "Reunion" and "Ageless Beauty" were terrific. It was all smiles and hugs, and the good mood carried over into Death Cab for Cutie's set. Following a cordial "hello", the gentle hum of Chris Walla's organ and Ben Gibbard's pristine vocals began with "Marching Bands of Manhattan". As soon as the opener came to a close, the hammering rhythm of Jason McGerr began "We Laugh Indoors", this in turn was immediately followed by "The New Year", again without so much as a pause in the music. It's hard to say just how good these songs were; I was having a hard time listening critically; I was too enthralled. I suspect many of my fellow concert goers were having a similar experience: I noticed a number of dropped jaws and awestruck eyes. Finally, after "The New Year", the band took a break and thanked the audience.

Much of the set's songs were from Death Cab's latest release, Plans, but there were frequent trips into the past. "Summer Skin" was followed by "Photobooth", which sent the crowd wild. This homage to summer was followed by "President of What?" from Something about Airplanes. As Death Cab continued to weave through the set, which included "Different Names for the Same Thing", "Company Calls," and "Company Calls Epilogue", I was amazed -- one after the other, each song was emotional and beautifully heartbreaking. Each song seemed to make the audience feel as though Gibbard was singing directly to them; that every note was completely their own. It occurred to me at this show that Gibbard and Death Cab write songs that immortalize watershed moments. Whether that moment for each of us is the moment love begins or ends, passing romances, death or chance encounters, there is a Death Cab for Cutie song about it. And everyone at the 9:30 Club was reached by a song like that at some point of the show. Even the ever-stoic bartenders at the 9:30 Club perched themselves atop the bar to see the band performing their favorite numbers. Before closing with blistering versions of the bombastic "We Looked like Giants" and the crowd-pleasing "Sound of Settling", Death Cab gave the crowd the highlight of the night: "What Sarah Said". Slow, patient, and haunting, Gibbard's voice was sublime. So moving was this moment that at the mid-point of the song, during the poignant pause following, "I thought about what Sarah said, that love is watching someone die," not a single audience member even stirred. This is not an exaggeration; only the gentle piano and a single car passing outside through the rain were audible. It was an absolutely perfect moment. The encore was equally impressive. "I Will Follow You into the Dark" was met with the same reverence as "What Sarah Said". The only difference was the ever-so-slight murmur of the audience singing quietly along to the chorus. "405" followed by "Prove My Hypotheses", closed the show and the crowd erupted in applause. In today's rock landscape it isn't hard to become cynical about the state of music, but a show like this restores lost faith. It serves as a reminder that good, honest music still exists and that the connection between musician and fan can be a very real thing.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.