Death Cab for Cutie


or: A curmudgeonly concert critique

Carina took me to the Death Cab for Cutie concert last night. I’d never listened to any of their music, but took it on Carina’s word that I’d enjoy it. It’s important to note that this isn’t the first time I’ve gone to a concert with little to no understanding of the music that was to be played. Indeed, my very first concert was Alice Copper, from whom I had only ever heard one song. I had a great time, which is probably why I’ve continued to take the risk to see bands without really knowing their music. Carina was right: the music was very enjoyable. The concert itself, however, was not entirely so.

We arrived just a little early – say, ten minutes before the doors opened – and the line was already down the block. It was, I later learned, a sold-out performance. I was surprised by the youth of the people in line. I guess I assumed that most of the audience would be relative to my own age. I laughed a bit as the teenybopper behind me complained to her teenybopper friends about having to call home regularly to check-in with mom and dad. She did indeed call home, at least twice while we stood in line. This made me realize that every single person in line for the concert had a cellular phone. The teenybopper behind me called several of her friends as well, providing situation reports on her location in line, her after-concert plans, and several other items of conversation I ultimately tuned out.

In my day, we had to make plans before the show, and then wait until the next day to tell one another about it!

Carina and I staked out a location with reasonable visibility for her – my height makes this a non-issue for me most of the time – and waited for the opening act to begin. The audience was still fairly sparse as Ted Leo + Pharmacists took the stage. These were an interesting bunch: an energetic guitar-playing titular front man, a bearded drummer who looked like he was mumbling something other than the song lyrics through the entire performance, and a bass player who’s boldest move was a slight nod of the head. About halfway through the set I realized that the band was basically an opportunity for Ted Leo to satisfy his ego, while a couple of his buddies came along for the ride. Neither the drummer nor the bassist appeared to be having a good time; Ted didn’t introduce either of them; and Ted took every opportunity to keep the attention on himself. Which, ultimately, was a bad thing since his guitar kept going out of tune. He’d turn his back to the audience and attempt to tune it quickly while the drummer pounded out a steady beat on the bass drum.

I was shocked at the number of digital cameras in the venue. It felt as though Carina and I were the only people who chose not to bring a camera! The entire evening was punctuated by the flashing of cameras from throughout the concert hall.

Back in my day, you couldn’t just waltz in with a camera!

After Ted there was a very long delay as the roadies set the stage. Lots of electrical tape was put down. One technician was seen servicing one of the background lamps, which prompted me to comment to Carina, “You know, I don’t think anyone would have noticed if that light hadn’t worked. No one would have said 'Gosh, that would have been a great concert if only they could have fixed the damned lighting!‘”. Finally, Death Cab for Cutie came on.

A further note about lighting: who in the concert planning business thinks it’s a good idea to blind your audience? Maybe I’m at a disadvantage, due to my height, but at most concerts I’ve been to this decade there have been lights that sweep vertically from ceiling to floor and back again. These lights always pierce my retina and make me want to gouge out my own eyes, they’re so bright. They completely distract me from the concert.

Speaking of distractions, the fellow next to me was sending instant messages with his Blackberry for the bulk of the show. He likely would have chatted through the whole show had it not been for his female companion leaning over and saying, very loudly, “You know, I paid a lot of money for these tickets.”

During one of the sweeps from the lights, I looked away from the stage for a moment, and marvelled at the sheer number of cellular phones being held aloft. Some, I’m sure, were snapping crappy phonecam pictures. I can’t fathom why you’d want a phonecam picture of a band, but I’m certainly not going to stop you. Most of the phones being held up, though, had the mouthpiece toward the stage. These people were sending the concert to someone on the other end of that call! Truly the mind boggles: why would you want to listen to a cellphone transmission of a concert? The audio can’t possibly be that good, you can’t see anything that’s happening, etc etc.

In my day, if you wanted to bootleg the concert you had to sneak in a tape recorder! Which is precisely what I had a friend do, once. Freshmen year in high school, I was in the fall drama – Our House. Even though I only had one line, in the very beginning of the play, I was excited about the opportunity to attempt to make a name for myself with the directors, in hopes of better roles in future years. This was in 1988, the year Metallica released “…and Justice for All”, and I greedily purchased a ticket for that concert. To my eternal disappointment, the concert was on the same day as Opening Night of the school drama.

I pleaded with my parents to let me skip the play – future acting opportunities be damned! – and to instead let me go to the concert. They resolutely refused. It never occured to me to simply lie to my parents and skip out on the play. So I purchased a microcassette recorder and a pack of Marlboro 100s. I carefully cut the cigarettes so that I could place the recorder into the box and conceal it with the tips of the smokes. It worked surprisingly well! I then gave this to my friend Morgan, who was going to the concert.

The next day, I hungrily snatched back the recorder from Morgan and started listening. I was crestfallen, as the washed-out audio played underneath Morgan’s incessant “WHOOO!”. I never found out if he intentionally held the recorder next to his mouth as his screamed his support for Metallica, or if it was just a crappy recorder I had purchased (probably both). The happy ending, of course, was that I had a successful and happy acting career in high school, and earned the lead role in my senior year.

But these kids today! No effort was required. No Macgver-like thinking was necessary. They simply wandered in with their cellphone, no doubt pressed a speed-dial button, and then instantly broadcast the concert to their friends.

I enjoyed the music, even though I didn’t understand all of the lyrics. I was impressed with the band’s musical diversity: the guitarist and bassist switched instruments once; both of the guitarists took turns playing keyboards; and the lead singer played an extended drum set on a second set of drums that were brought out. Clearly they’re a talented bunch. They didn’t talk much, or interact with the crowd too much. None of the band members were introduced, which was really disappointing to me because now I’ll forever think of the bassist as Damon Zex! Watching the bassist play reminded me a great deal of watching Damon dance at Outlands… alas, such a thing is difficult to describe: you really need to see it to appreciate it.

Carina had a good time, and really enjoyed listening to the band play live. I’d definitely see them again, if they come through Columbus; though I’d be sure to arrive late if Ted Leo is opening again.

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