Death Cabs, Pornographers and Twins – a normal night out in lalaland

To fill the gaping hole that is the weblog of my soul, I’m re-posting (aka C, V) my tipsy recollections of a pretty awesome Hollywood Bowl concert on the 5th of July, featuring: The New Pornographers, Tegan and Sara, and Death Cab for Cutie with the LA Phil.

As a biased, pretty easy-to-please fan of the 3 bands and the LA Phil, I had a great time at the Hollywood Bowl on the 5th of July.

The opening act, The New Pornographers were an excellent start to the night. With quite a lot of airplay from KCRW in recent weeks, their sound was familiar and the odd moment of recognition from my co-attendees was amusing to watch. @kcirtapu in particular commented on the strong similarity to one of our favourite acts: Belle and Sebastian. A fair description, I would say, as both bands have hints of folk melodies and 60s influences in their songs. As a live band, they were proficient, a good warm-up and mildly chatty, sticking to only a couple of quips (to paraphrase: “comments were made about our name, but come on, death cab? for cutie?”). I only mention chattiness for comparison to the next act: Tegan and Sara, who have (to quote my own tweet) no internal verbal filters.

If not for their fabulous voices and on-the-money lyrical commentary, Tegan and Sara should be chat show hosts of the late-night variety. But fortunately, they appear to really enjoy making music and engaging with their audience. They would have won the “Best Live Act of the Night” if there was one. They are a pair I would love to see again, preferably in a small venue with a longer set. As an aside, another thing I love about Tegan and Sara is the inability to put them in any musical category. To call them indie/alt/experimental/eclectic is like calling toro* food.

The same difficulty in categorising applies to Death Cab For Cutie, who, at various points in their career, have been tagged as grunge, emo, indie (which no longer applies post-Atlantic Records deal), punk and every other variation of rock… No small feat for a 4-person band, but hardly surprising after 12 years of hard work. That history was apparent at the Hollywood Bowl, with a set-list spanning from President of What to the sadly optimistic (or optimistically sad**) I Will Possess Your Heart.

As a live act, DCFC are pretty energetic and absolutely riveting***. They were pretty tight in the first half of their set, with a small tuning problem slightly marring our enjoyment of The Sound of Settling. I was hoping for some Chris Walla magic, but was happy enough with the aforementionedI Will Possess Your Heart multi-axe GWS**. Ben Gibbards all-important lyrics were clearly audible (by and large; there were moments where my memory had to fill the gaps), and despite occasional muddiness, the sound as heard from section M was crisp^. A strong driving bass and really clean drumming made the whole greater than (fill in the rest of this cliche yourself).

The second half of their set with the LA Phil felt like the evening was, like this review, running out of steam. I must admit that I wasn’t sure how much the LA Phil could add to the DCFC sound, save for a few songs. Gladly, they did not disappoint, and chose mostly songs that benefited from massive orchestral backing: I will Follow You Into the Dark, Soul Meets Body being my favourite two DCFC-LA Phil collaborations of the night. There were again a few duff moments, but I’ve already forgotten them, as insignificant as they were on the night. The song that I felt had the most promise, but perhaps suffered from lack of rehearsal or sound checks, was Grapevine Fires, the most operatic and melodic track of their latest album Narrow Stairs. It could, and should, have been the most memorable song of the night, but it’s thunder was stolen by the fireworks-Transatlanticism-heart-stealing combo finale^^.

The fireworks were an appropriate end to a pretty awesome concert. With that last act of showmanship, I could forgive the short setlist^^^ and paltry attempts at audience engagement by DCFC (understandable in the 17k+ seating Bowl). And you can be sure that will be a talking point for a while (so long as someone actually managed to catch it on film/mp4).

In summary, great opening acts, professional and entertaining DCFC, small contribution by the LA Phil, and a great ending. Add it all up, and it’s more than worth the 8 hours that the whole thing took.

Obligatory footnotes…
*Substitute your favourite “gourmet”-style food, carnivorous or vegan.
**Whichever way it goes, I still think of it as the “Guitar W*nkfest Song”.
***Although I see from the shoutouts from the night that they have been more energetic in previous engagements. But hey, I only went to one concert…
^Which makes me think the sound is optimised for the “super seats” in G/H. Who knows how it sounds in the expensive seats… Not me with my limited budget…
^^I’d link to a youtube video, but have yet to find one sans screaming audience. Yes, they screamed/cheered for every firework…

Death Cab for Cutie Setlist Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA 2009

And as a wee bonus for you faithful skimmers of this weblog, on the bus home, @kcirtapu had a startling insight that had escaped all of us DCFC/PSB fans:
Ben Gibbard is none other than Neil Tennant in disguise1.

1 Honestly… How could I have missed that after this collaboration: The Postal Service?


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