On the day Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber topped Forbes’ list of the richest and most powerful celebrities, Death Cab for Cutie showed Toronto you can still thrive in the music biz without big money or gimmicks. The Seattle-area quartet put on a no-nonsense, no-frills, no-BS performance at the Phoenix on Wednesday that showcased their stellar musicianship and Ben Gibbard’s flawless vocals.
Kicking off with a lengthy intro to “I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab rolled through a two-hour set that featured several songs from the upcoming “Codes and Keys” album, the band’s seventh and first since the 2008 monster “Narrow Stairs.”
Highlights included Gibbard’s acoustic rendition of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” which turned into a singalong (“You and me have seen everything to see/From Bangkok to Calgary”) and “Soul Meets Body,” which, well, really soared into the atmosphere. Gibbard is one of the rock world’s best male vocalists at the moment, sounding the way you might imagine Morrissey sounding if he were heterosexual.
Although the new album isn’t out until May 31, the first single was already a crowd favourite. The guitar hook of “You Are a Tourist” sounds more and more like “Love Spreads” from the Stone Roses every time I hear it — and that’s a good thing. It’ll be a big hit and “Codes and Keys” figures to do very well, despite its more low key, less guitar-oriented songs. The band buried any worry that the new stuff would bring down the energy of the show. For one thing, they’ve got such a catalogue built up that there’s a mix of songs of various tempos to draw upon.
What was missing was energy from the crowd. The Phoenix was packed, with the audience filling the balcony and stretching to the back wall of the concert hall, but you saw mostly head bobbing from the men in plaid. Might have something to do with the lack of familiarity with the new songs or, more likely, with the two-ticket-per-order limit, meaning you’re going with a date or one friend, or if you got things coordinated maybe a group of four. That’ll damper the party atmosphere. Death Cab is also one of those bands that people in these parts don’t know a ton about outside of the big hits from “Narrow Stairs.” It could be the audience had a lot of newcomers to the group, which is fine. That’s how you end up growing your fan base, and pros like this deserve your attention.
Death Cab will be back in town at the end of July at the Molson Amphitheatre.
UPCOMING TORONTO CONCERT TIP: Check out Glasvegas at Lee’s Palace on May 29.