Death Cab for Cutie
Emo's, February 13 There were so many doe-eyed faces lined up outside Emo's, you might have mistaken this for the much-anticipated Weezer show. But no, this wasn't a sunny, "Buddy Holly"-type evening. The dreary pea soup in the air branded this night with an unmistakably Pacific Northwest feel. Fitting, then, that the object of the affection was Death Cab for Cutie, the region's fastest-rising heroes since Modest Mouse. Or Built to Spill. In fact, Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard's wispy vocals bear more than a passing similarity to those of BTS's Doug Martsch. Where Martsch packs a wallop with his emotive guitar soloing, however, Gibbard merely adds a shot of flavor to the group's mild jangly brew. His lemon-honey vocals are the focus here, the singer deliberately mouthing out every word with his eyes closed the entire show; Gibbard's mantra-like state and the matted bowl of brown hair on his head conjured the Charlatans' Tim Burgess, circa 1990. And the similarities don't end there. A case can be made for Death Cab being the Charlatans for a new decade -- catchy, dreamy pop music where the distinctive vocals only add to the vibe. And though Death Cab's twangly guitar swell isn't nearly as distinctive or as organ-laden as the dense "Manchester" sound of Some Friendly-era Charlatans, the effect can be just as alluring, as evidenced by the giddy demeanor of the decidedly young crowd packed like herring into Emo's front room. The outside stage was shut down on this evening as preparations were being made for the expansion of the club via a new open-air section to the left of the main stage that debuted at the Wesley Willis/Brown Whörnet show on Saturday. No such creature comforts this night, though the warm, comfortable packets of song kept the crowd mollified despite the lack of elbow room. Even when the tide of sound flowed at a high ebb and Gibbard cut loose with what might be considered a shriek, it still never registered as a wake-up call, filtered as it was through his delicate set of lungs. Death Cab for Cutie's music is safe, comfortable, and unobtrusive, but with very few of the negative connotations those words might imply. Incapable of a knockout punch, the quartet employs a dart-and-jab approach that over time throws the listener into a happy little swoon, leaving behind a faint smile and soft, sugarplum dreams.