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Monday, April 16, 2012

Death Cab for Cutie w/ Magik*Magik Orchestra and Low @ The Riverside Theater

April 15, 2012

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Before Death Cab for Cutie released its latest record, 2011's Codes and Keys, frontman Ben Gibbard mentioned in an interview that some fans would find the string section that's featured on the album off-putting compared to the band's previous guitar-driven work. But the pairing isn't all that peculiar. String sections in rock bands really aren't groundbreaking—if anything, it's a little astonishing that this is the group's first use of it. While incorporating the extra accompaniment slowed the pace a bit, unsurprisingly it fused well with the melancholy indie-rock. The same group of players that helped arrange the strings on the album, Magik*Magik Orchestra, was invited on tour to provide the lush melodies from Codes and Keys. At Sunday night's sold-out Riverside Theater performance, however, the orchestra was less the focal point and more just another piece of the puzzle for Death Cab for Cutie. It heightened Gibbard's gloomy, jangling tunes but didn't overpower them.

If Gibbard was worried about appeasing fans with this "difficult" record, then his giddy, playful stage presence helped to mask that doubt. Gibbard remained chatty through a great deal of the night, mostly with self-aware pandering about hometown sports after coincidentally name-dropping Rollie Fingers' mustache. Although much of it was the requisite "Thank you" or "Brewers," his cordial interaction kept bolstering the crowd after heaps and heaps of downtrodden songs. The more than 90-minute show compiled material spanning the band's 15-year career, never dropping into one era longer than necessary. That seemed to please both newer, post-Transatlanticism fans and the older crowd who stuck around to listen to the band's earlier work.

It was hard not to focus on all the people making out during the set, as if Gibbard's nostalgia of foolish, heart-on-your-sleeve teenage love transported the entire crowd back to underneath their high-school bleachers. It's perhaps fitting that the closer was the shimmering title track from Transatlanticism, a touching point for both groups of fans and a track dripping with forced intimacy (Gibbard repeats "I need you so much closer" a couple dozen times, which was an easy excuse for everyone to rub up on each other). The Magik*Magik Orchestra, ever-present throughout the night, save for a few songs during the encore, projected that lovesickness to even greater altitudes. Their flourishing addition to "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" careened that one-man-and-his-guitar desolation into a sweeping jaunt that cloaked the actual moroseness of the song. Perhaps the string section's finest quality, however, was just blending into the background and allowing Gibbard to do his thing.

The sometimes-booming set from Low that opened the night couldn't outweigh the distracting chatter heard throughout the gigantic theater. It's a shame, because the Minnesotan three-piece churns through beautiful, snail-paced, reverb-laden masterpieces that could have sounded grand resonating off the room's walls.

Photo by CJ Foeckler