Death Cab for Cutie Rise from Mercury Lounge to the GardenSeptember 14th, 2015
Death Cab for Cutie – Madison Square Garden – September 12, 2015
Hundreds of bands pass through Mercury Lounge each year. It is the lonely and unsexy work of being a small touring act, playing small rooms to a bouquet of strangers. Only a select few can say, as Ben Gibbard and his band—Death Cab for Cutie—did Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, that they have traveled the 34 blocks and five avenues from one of Manhattan’s smaller venues to its largest. Gibbard, in a blue dress shirt and a pair of black jeans, didn’t miss the power of the moment, marveling to the crowd about his group’s first show at the Merc 15 years ago, pausing a bit to gaze out at the thousands of strangers assembled in a basketball arena, remarking, finally, “This is really a mind fuck.”
Despite the wheeling career vertigo, Death Cab, in this post–Chris Walla iteration, sounded polished and tight, opening with “No Room in Frame,” from their most recent long-player, Kintsugi. Gibbard drew the album’s title from the Japanese art of piecing pottery back together with gold. The allegory is a one-to-one: His marriage to Zooey Deschanel imploded, his cofounding bandmate left the band. This record, like his life, would be mended with gold, and few people do the beauty of devastation better than Ben Gibbard. Enjoying the broken decadence of the new album on Saturday night, Death Cab played about half of its contents—songs like “Black Sun,” “Little Wanderer” and “No Room in Frame” acting as both elegy and rebuke to the pain of the past few years.
Gibbard worked Death Cab’s classics into a capacious 22-song set. The crowd joined in on the predictable power of the band’s most well-known ballad, “I Will Follow You into the Dark,” and alighted to the power of long jam “I Will Possess Your Heart” and deeper cuts like “The New Year” and “Company Calls.” The night’s penultimate song, “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” was one of those moments when even a rock star like Gibbard revealed New York City’s outsized place in his—and our—cultural imagination. “If I could open my arms and span the length of the isle of Manhattan” framed a grammatical conditional now seemingly outdated. And for a night, Gibbard held more of New York than he ever could have imagined. —Geoff Nelson | @32feet