Director Justin Mitchell (Ted Leo's Dirty Old Town) returns with a well-done documentary / live performance DVD that covers Death Cab For Cutie’s Spring 2004 tour. The whole thing was shot on 16mm film giving Drive Well, Sleep Carefully a beautiful and professional look to it. Mitchell’s editing is also excellent as interview clips that cover everything from why Ben Gibbard writes predominantly somber songs to the psychology behind touring, the band’s explosion into mainstream culture via "The OC," and the move to a major label carefully interwoven with live performances from across the country.
Death Cab has always been known for their lively sets and Mitchell captures that here. Two camera angles at each show allow for a full view of all the dancing and high-energy antics of the band. Fans of Death Cab’s older material may be a bit disappointed as “Company Calls,” “Prove My Hypotheses,” and “Bend To Squares” are the only pre-Photo Album tracks offered on the DVD, but otherwise the song selections are a good mix of the band’s last two albums.
Mitchell not only gives an idea of the band’s performance style, but also of their off-stage personas. Drummer Jason McGerr is reserved during his interview in a drum school where he most likely teaches, while Chris Walla beams like a proud father as he shows off his modest looking studio, and Gibbard comes off like an indie nerd who still can’t believe his band is a success. In the end, all the guys in Death Cab exhibit that they are not rock star wannabees, but simply down to earth people who love playing music.
If the feature section of the DVD suffers from anything it is that it flows like a Death Cab album. There are exciting, attention grabbing moments, and then there are mellow, slow moving sections. If you are ready for some introspection and reflection on the part of the band you will be fine, but if you are looking for a quick blast through a tour that will keep your ADD at bay you may have some problems. Think about it this way: If you put Transatlanticism on while doing 80 down an empty stretch of highway, you are probably going to want to skip through the morose triple threat of “Tiny Vessels,” “Transatlanticism,” and “Passenger Seat,” but if you are lying back on your bed with headphones on you will allow the whole album to play out like the soundtrack to your daydreams.
The extras don’t offer much to get excited about. The three-song acoustic set from San Francisco is entertaining, but the other bonus material is far from it. The extra interviews are short and not very insightful, the “Lightness” demo montage comes off like a low budget music video, the rehearsal of “Stability” is more interesting sonically than visually, and Ben Gibbard walking around on the street as “behind the scenes” footage is not very electrifying.
This is a great DVD that succeeds because of its high level of quality and attention to detail. These are not clips that are simply thrown together, but instead scenes that form a cohesive whole. The film may open by stating that, “This is simply the story of a band on the road,” but there is nothing simple about the captivating end results.