Everybody knows how Death Cab For Cutie came into their lives. For me, it was freshman year of college when a girl I had a crush on burned me copies of You Can Play These Songs With Chords, Transatlanticism, and Plans before we left for winter break. On the state-spanning ride back to my mom’s house, I devoured them. Sure, my urgency could be explained by how much I liked this girl, but it became about much more after those first few minutes. Those albums captured exactly how I felt – my harsh yearning across new distance for someone who had become vital to me in what seemed like no time at all – while simultaneously clarifying that I was emotionally clueless.
That same year, my friend Meredith (who took the accompanying photos) tasted her first teenage rebellion when she downloaded DCFC’s entire discography from iTunes on her dad’s credit card in eighth grade – without his permission, of course. She had heard them on a ‘Canadian Indie’ mix (I guess Washington State is close enough to our northern neighbors?) and immediately fell in love.
For how important Death Cab became for the generation that grew into the 20 and 30-something crowd gathered on the first rainy night of the Hideout Block Party / A.V. Fest, you could bet that it’d take very little provocation for these “first time” memories to rise to the surface. When the band did hit the stage, it was easy see the role their music played in their audience’s lives, in their personal coming-of-age tales.
The set kicked off with “I Will Possess Your Heart”, the lead single off 2008’s Narrow Stairs, and there wasn’t a face in sight that wasn’t beaming. The band sounded as crisp and fresh as ever, full of conviction and a need to tell their stories, though some songs were now sixteen years old. Though it was Chris Walla’s last North American show, no time was spent parading the fact. If anything served as tribute to his time with the band, it was their decision to only play “old tunes,” as Ben Gibbard put it. Highlights and deep cuts from We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes gave Walla plenty of room to live in his element for one of the last times anyone would be able to watch. He fiddled with knobs and faders, hopped back and forth between the piano upstage and his guitar rig down left. Up through his last moments with the band, he was the consummate producer – the man in charge of the aural slant that brought Death Cab international attention in a sea of confessional indie rockers.
The mix of nostalgia and keen live production turned the rainy industrial park into a house show. Compared to the Dismemberment Plan set the next night (Travis at one point admitted defeat against the expanse, saying “It’s not right! We have to get into a small room and touch each other!”), Death Cab found a way to create unparalleled intimacy. The energy buzzed as the audience grew younger with every song. The admirably hip and super-chic girl next to me began playing with her hair like the nervous sophomore she used to be as Transatlanticism tracks came and went. A bro-y dude in a white baseball cap threw up devil horns for singles from The Photo Album. You got the sense that if 80’s kids learned how to court each other from John Cusack movies, 90’s kids definitely learned how to fall in love (and be broken up with) from Gibbard and Walla. Death Cab is undeniably woven into our generation’s fibers and for the entirety of their 50 minute set, they gave us the opportunity to face and accept who we were in the rooms and school hallways we grew up in.