BFAM Day 4: You’re the Only Song I Want to Hear

04May09
Last night’s rainstorm saw me sludging off downtown to Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grande Ole Opry. Having long since given up on hosting the Opry, the Ryman now boasts live acts that run the gamut from Marty Stewart’s annual country jam session, to stand ups like Cedric the Entertainer, to Elvis Costello, and to Iron & Wine. Last night, however, the old Union Gospel Tabernacle played host to those quintessential indie rockers: Death Cab for Cutie.

Aside from it’s long history, the Ryman is actually a very cool venue. Paying homage to its days as a church, the seats are in fact wooden pews. Everything is set at sort of an odd, curved angle so that when you walk inside, the stage is in a completely different spot than you would have guessed based on the exterior architecture. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house, and even though I was towards the back of the main floor, when I wasn’t distracted by the couple in front of me who couldn’t keep their hands (or mouths or tongues) off of each other, I had an excellent view.

Ben Gibbard is a squirrly little guy, a nerd through-and-through, with nondescript features, but with a voice so unique and emotive that everything else about him sort of falls away as soon as he opens his mouth. I might liken last night’s show to that scene from The Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The stage was all smoke and lights and sound and the only thing that really saved it from disaster was Gibbard’s voice drawing everything together.

They opened the set with “Your Heart is an Empty Room” and encouraged us to get out of our seats, saying, “This is a rock show, afterall.” There was a surprising lack of songs from Narrow Stairs, but they did at least play “Cath”, “Grapevine Fires”, and, after proclaiming, “This is a love song,” all nine-and-a-half minutes of “I Will Possess Your Heart”. Overall, the set was a very neat mix of old songs and new songs. But maybe the best moment of the night came when Gibbard stood in the single spotlight with nothing but his acoustic guitar and played “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” while the rest of the band sat down on the drum platform behind him. He allowed the crowd to sing a few lines for him and it was a really nice, quiet interlude to their performance. The full band came back together to play “Marching Bands of Manhattan”, which brought the energy way back up in time for them to close out the set with “Soul Meets Body”.

After thanking the crowd and taking a bow, they headed off stage, and for a brief minute, it really did look like they weren’t going to do an encore. But there’s no way they could have avoided coming back on stage after the roar that went up from the audience after they walked off. I’ve been to hundreds of gigs in my life, but never, not once, have I seen a crowd applaud and rally for an encore the way the crowd did last night. The applause was deafening and everyone seemed to be banging in sync on the wooden pews. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, but in reality was probably only five minutes, Death Cab took the stage again under the glow of dozens of blue and white fairy lights.

After two songs to calm us down, the lights went black, but a blue spotlight came up almost instantly on Ben at the piano, and when he played the first chord of “Transatlanticism”, the entire audience seemed to stop breathing. It was the absolute best way to close out what had already been an outstanding performance. His voice was gritty and raw with emotion, but that just made the song all the more beautiful. After several long minutes of “I need you so much closer”, he got off the piano and switched to his guitar for several more long minutes of “So come on”, finally closing out that last note with just as much, if not more, intensity as he started the set. They took one more bow, and Chris Walla with his pip squeak, adorable voice thanked us and told us all to get home safely. And if they hadn’t already played their hearts out for two-and-a-half hours, I would have been sorely disappointed to see them leave the stage for good.

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One Response to “BFAM Day 4: You’re the Only Song I Want to Hear”

  1. 1 libby

    well now i am even more confused
    i know you said they decided to have two performances- did that mean that the original night that sold out… un-sold out?
    because now i am ridiculously jealous i did not get to see them.


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