I first discovered Death Cab For Cutie about four years ago as a sophomore in high school with Narrow Stairs. The album was great, but did not immediately click with me; perhaps I had a bit of maturing to do. After all, it turns out that 15-year-olds don’t know much about adulthood. Who would have thought? So I went along only to discover them again a year later when Codes and Keys and the band’s signature album, Transatlanticism, presented themselves to me at my local record store. On a whim I thought to try the band out again.
This moment forever changed my life.
Never before had I heard a band (aside from my first awkward encounter with Death Cab that occurred a year prior) with such depth and meaning. My simple, pop-punk-tuned ears were exposed to instrumental intricacy I had never had the patience to experience earlier in my life. Not once had I connected with lyrics so deeply as I did with Benjamin Gibbard’s. The creative stories and metaphors surrounded me like an ocean of bliss, shaping every essence of my being, making me feel the desire to apply each song to my life. The song “Title And Registration” perfectly exemplifies this complexity lyrically, as it brings a connection between the glove compartment of a car and heartbreak. As my younger self, I thought, “Wow that’s doesn’t make sense. Why does he drone on and on about why the glove compartment needs a name change?” It turns out Gibbard was answering my question all along with, “Behind its door, there’s nothing to keep my fingers warm. All I find are souvenirs from better times.” After growing up a bit, I realized that Gibbard uses the simple object as a way to convey the deeper message the song carries of a lost relationship. “Brilliant. That is absolutely brilliant!” I marveled.
So, to my delight, when I caught word that Death Cab For Cutie was playing the Northrop Auditorium on May 2, I immediately snatched up tickets. I was going to see Death Cab For Cutie. Excitement of this scale could not be contained.
We arrived at the University of Minnesota campus, where Northrop Auditorium is located, and set out to find food. That was when it happened. Sitting right there in front of us eating a Klondike bar was bassist, Nick Harmer. I never thought I would ever have the chance to be that close to a member of my favorite band, let alone shake his hand! So, I somehow suppressed the 13-year-old fanboy inside me who so desperately longed to tell him my life story and how his band helped shaped it, and politely shook his hand while avoiding being seen by security.
One slice of pizza and a Nick Harmer encounter later, it was time. We found our seats up on the second balcony and I stared down at the Kintsugi backdrop in shock. This was it. I was about to hear the songs I had listened to hundreds of times over the course of a few years. Songs that guided me through the tough times of breakups, losing friends, starting college, and even the good ones—simple hang outs with my friends, long car rides, or bonding with my father over the music.
Finally, the auditorium went black. A backtrack began. Kintsugi’s opening track “No Room In Frame” filled the room. Wow. I hadn’t fully noticed all of the complexities present in their music until seeing them. Drummer, Jason McGerr, executed hidden subtleties with finesse. Already, the show was giving me a whole new appreciation for the band as I stared in awe. They quickly burst through all of my favorites like, “Photobooth,” “What Sarah Said,” and “Cath…” It was inspiring to see that they were not there to put on a show, but instead, to play their songs because that was what they simply loved to do. This was so refreshing. Rather than being what most bands seem to be, cocky and self-obsessed, Death Cab For Cutie was so genuine, so real, just as it had been with Nick Harmer earlier.
The set list included many surprises, treating the longtime listeners like myself. One of my highs came with Transatlanticism track “The New Year.” The hard-hitting, bass driven “Bum-Bum” rang out as green lights flashed in unison. My body could hardly resist movement to accompany the rock song as the auditorium sat in awe.
The set ended with the 8-minute bass jam, “I Will Possess Your Heart.” The passion oozed off of the stage and the whole band rocked out to the mesmerizing track. The last note rang out and Gibbard thanked us for coming. I stood in shock, with an insane-looking grin on my face.
Fortunately they were not gone for long. Gibbard returned with the pianist for the haunting “Passenger Seat.” Goosebumps flooded my skin. A memory of a late night summer drive, and deep talks with people who meant the most to me rushed back in, transporting me to that faraway time. I stayed in the trance throughout the rest of the encore and then finally, it had come. The song I was waiting for, the band’s 7-minute ballad “Transatlanticism.” This song, although not my outright favorite, single-handedly changed how I view songwriting with its deeply poetic verses. The emotional track built up to its grand finale with such power, as Gibbard sang the chilling words, “I need you so much closer” and “So come on…” repeatedly. The aura of the song left itself in the auditorium, and the band waved their goodbyes. After imagining this moment for so long I can confidently say, it exceeded all expectations. I hope everyone gets a chance at a similar experience with his or her favorite band.