Death Cab for Cutie / Frightened Rabbit - live in London (Cover Artwork)

Death Cab for Cutie / Frightened Rabbit

live in London (2008)

live show

London: the only English city Americans have heard of. The most overwhelmingly stressful transport system I've ever encountered. It's a big, confusing place and I hate going there. Unless, y'know, Death Cab are playing there.

The Brixton Carling Academy is a beautiful old theatre, with a seating balcony, a sloping floor and the remnants of ancient Greek scenery at the sides of the stage. We wandered up to the front to wait for the opening band, who shuffled on stage at about half past eight.

I'd never heard of Frightened Rabbit before, and assumed they would be an uninteresting indie pop/rock band with some jangly guitar parts and silly haircuts, as is usual for the opening band for a band of Death Cab's level (see: Sparkadia opening for Jimmy Eat World on their last UK tour). I was, thankfully, happily and overwhelmingly proven wrong by a `90s style emo/post-punk band that sounded like the very first Snow Patrol album (they were Scottish, OK? Accents that strong can be hard to get past at times) crossed with Death Cab or American Football.

The big, echoey room did no justice to the guitar parts, but made the drums and the near-constant "ooh"s of the backing vocals sounded incredibly haunting, slicing through the usual support-band chatter. They were good. Too good to be relegated to a half-hour opening set. It was like they had no right to be that good, and we made a note to pick up some copies of their records. I reccomend that you see this band if you get the chance.

By now you've probably made your mind up about Death Cab for Cutie. After six albums, they've either put out at least one that you like, or strike you as terrifyingly dull (I once heard them described as Sunny Day Real Estate-lite). I like everything they've done, but their two newest records, Plans and Narrow Stairs, failed to wow me for the most part, so I was understandably worried that I'd hear nothing but those two albums. My jaw physically dropped, then, when the first song they played was "The Employment Pages" off their second album, We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes, an incredible and very welcome surprise. The set list was varied enough so that any lulls from too much of the obligatory massive singles from Plans and new material from Narrow Stairs was forgiven with the breaking out of a classic from an earlier record.

The band was as tight as you'd expect from someone with as much experience/fame, never missing a beat. The only thing that was really missed were Ben Gibbard's now-absent mutton chops, and "Brothers on a Hotel Bed," the only great song off Plans. Every time Gibbard or Walla headed for the piano, I was filled with hopes, only to have them dashed seconds later. Ah well, you can't have everything,

Set highlights included the chiming, pounding "The New Year," the swirling noise of "Bixby Canyon Bridge" before they headed off before the encore. Also, mid-set, the rest of the band sat down on the edge of the drum riser to watch Gibbard pick up an acoustic guitar and play "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" under a lone spotlight.

Of course, I wish I could have stayed for the encore, but the complexities of the London Underground made this impossible (the tube station right outside the venue was CLOSED!). I wish I could have seen Death Cab four or five years ago, before their shows were filled with crowds of teenage girls screaming and pulling out camera phones as soon as "Crooked Teeth" is played. But what can you do? This was still a very good show with some great surprises. I honestly can't complain. Too much. Just a little.

Set list:

  1. Employment Pages
  2. Your Heart Is an Empty Room
  3. The New Year
  4. We Laugh Indoors
  5. Crooked Teeth
  6. No Sunlight
  7. Grapevine Fires
  8. Title Track
  9. Soul Meets Body
  10. I Will Follow You Into the Dark
  11. I Will Possess Your Heart
  12. Cath
  13. A Movie Script Ending
  14. Long Division
  15. The Sound of Settling
  16. Bixby Canyon Bridge
  17. What Sarah Said
  18. Title & Registration
  19. Expo '86
  20. Transatlanticism