Gibbard Taps Death Cab, Postal Service, Nirvana at Showbox

Gibbard probably could've farted into the microphone for 90 minutes and made everyone in the room happy.

Click the photo to view a slideshow of the concert. All photos by Michael Alan Goldberg. Ben Gibbard

Date:  May 20, 2007

Venue:  The Showbox

It's good to be the king ... of Seattle indie-rock.  In front of a sold-out, absolutely adoring all-ages Showbox crowd Sunday night for a solo acoustic performance, Ben Gibbard could do no wrong—I'm not sure I've ever seen an audience already so won over before the headliner even walked onstage.  Gibbard probably could've farted into the microphone for 90 minutes and made everyone in the room happy, but instead he played pretty much every Death Cab for Cutie and Postal Service song a fan could desire, with each tune turning into a vast sing-along and every bit of between-song banter, no matter how picayune, greeted with cheers and googly-eyed grins. It's certainly odd to stand in the middle of hundreds of swooning teenage girls cooing, All the girls in every girlie magazine/Can't make me feel any less alone, up to the stage, but whatever.

Opening with a cover of Donovan's "To Sing for You" (containing such lyrics as When the night has left you cold and feeling sad/I will show you that it cannot be so bad/Forget the one who went and made you cry/I'll sing a song for you, which perfectly set the table for the melancholy sentiments to come), the sweet-voiced Gibbard eased into the Postal Service's "Brand New Colony," then  hit 'em with such lovelorn Death Cab numbers as "Title and Registration," "Crooked Teeth," and the Los Angeles slam "Why You'd Want to Live Here," which afterward provoked a humorous exchange between Gibbard and a fan intent on defending the City of Angels. Setting down his guitar and moving to a piano at the left of the stage, Gibbard dove into perhaps the most impassioned segment of the 22-song set, delivering an inspired, affecting rendition of "Soul Meets Body" and a spirited cover of Squeeze's "Up the Junction."  There was a sort of samey-ness in energy and execution to the rest of the main set, although the audience participation only grew more fervent when Gibbard strummed his way through "Recycled Air" and "I Will Follow You Into the Dark."

Returning for a six-song encore, Gibbard launched into a so-so version of Neil Young's "Harvest Moon," then headed back to the piano for a cover of Nirvana's "All Apologies," before which he alluded to the online chatter that he shouldn't be playing the song.  "But fuck it, I'm gonna do it—haters be damned!" he exclaimed, then concluded the tune by stomping the ground with his feet to emphasize the point.  The audience ate it up, and went even crazier when surprise guest Jenny Lewis came out onstage to perform the Postal Service duet "Nothing Better"; opening acts Dave Bazan and Johnathan Rice then came out to share the microphone with Lewis on a closing rendition of "Such Great Heights."Reporter's NotebookOpeners:  Playing material from his recent EP Fewer Moving Parts (newly rereleased by Barsuk), a healthy smattering of Pedro the Lion songs, and some choice covers (Radiohead's "Let Down" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," which he called prior to performing it a "guilty pleasure"), Dave Bazan's 45-minute acoustic set was absolutely engrossing and extremely well-received.  In particular, Bazan's version of the Pedro song "I Do" was showstopping, and his rich, pitch-perfect voice has never sounded better, in my opinion— the note he hit when he sang "alright" in "Bands with Managers" was alone worth the price of admission.

Scottish-born Johnathan Rice, who kicked off the show, was strong-voiced as well, but he made the unwise decision to complain about all the talking going on at the back and side bars during his set.  The first comment or two was funny, but after the 18th time of glaring at the chatterers while emphasizing the word "DIE!" in the chorus to his "We're All Stuck Out in the Desert" (which he got the folks in front to sing along with), and even changing the lyrics at one point to say how distracted he was with all the talking, it just came off as petulant, and Rice ended up leaving the stage in a bit of a huff after only four songs.

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